Six Sigma is a methodology that provides organizational tools to continuously improve the capability of business processes.
“Six Sigma is a quality program that, when all is said and done, improves your customer’s experience, lowers your costs, and builds better leaders." — Jack WelchAt heart, Six Sigma for many organizations defines the journey to achieve a measure of quality that almost always hits a target of perfection. A data-driven and disciplined approach/methodology for removing any and all defects (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit), Six Sigma can be implemented in any process from the shop floor to the front desk. In most cases, Six Sigma seeks to remove waste at every stage from creation of a product to the customer experience in receiving their product.
The beginnings of Six Sigma hark back to the 19thCentury, with Carl Fredrick Grauss's introduction of the Bell Curve. Jump forward to the 1920s, statistician Carl Shewhart of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics shows the way in which the process requires correction after deviating three sigma from the mean.
However, it wasn't until the 1970s, when senior Motorola executive Art Sundry began to recognise the sheer number of errors being made in the manufacturing process, and a solution began to take shape in the form of Six Sigma.
Based on the widely-accepted story from multiple authors and researches, it was Motorola engineer Bill Smith that was finally able to rise to the challenge of continuously manufacturing top-quality products via the methodologies of Six Sigma in 1986. The system is influenced by, but different than, a number of other management improvement strategies, including Total Quality Management and Zero Defects.
WATCH: An Introduction to Six Sigma, Quality Gurus
"A statement from a college football coach that comes to mind. When asked to comment on the “extraordinary” last second play that won the game the coach responded that it was nothing special, they practice it every day. He said an extraordinary play is simply an ordinary play executed flawlessly and an extraordinary time."
- Ron Prince, VP Process Management, Macy's
Six Sigma focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing process control, whereas lean drives out waste (non-value-added) and promotes work standardization and flow. Six Sigma practitioners should be well versed in both. Six Sigma seeks to minimise errors to the point of only 3.4 errors in every million processes. This is done by continuously re-evaluating and assessing every stage of a process, to minimise variation at a miniscule level, before evaluating the entire process once more.
This can be carried out in a vast number of ways, but nowadays Six Sigma is most recognised for the combination of the methodology with Lean, creating Lean Six Sigma. However, it is also mixed to create further methodologies, such as 5S, Kaizen, Flow and much more.
Introductions & Definitions
What is Six Sigma? - Six Sigma Daily
"No matter the setting, the goal remains the same: Six Sigma seeks to improve business processes by removing the causes of errors that lead to defects in a product or service. It accomplishes this by setting up a management system that systematically identifies errors and provides methods for eliminating them."
About Six Sigma - 6Sigma.us
"Six Sigma is more than “training”; it is an approach based on data, geared toward projects with quantifiable business outcomes. For instance, in 1999 GE Capital was able to save $2 Billion with Six Sigma. Processes are improved by controlling variation and understanding the intricacies within them. This results in more predictable and profitable business processes."