Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a business management strategy, originally developed by Motorola in 1986. Six Sigma became well known after Jack Welch made it a central focus of his business strategy at General Electric in 1995, and today it is widely used in many sectors of industry.

Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods, includingstatistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization (“Black Belts”, “Green Belts”, etc.) who are experts in these methods.

The term “six sigma process” comes from the notion that if one has six standard deviations between the process mean and the nearest specification limit, as shown in the graph, practically no items will fail to meet specifications

Sigma is a Greek letter used in mathematics to denote standard deviation, a statistical measure of the extent to which a series of numbers or readings deviates from its mean. One Sigma indicates a wide scattering of the readings. If the mean is the required quality standard of a particular process or product, then One Sigma quality is not very good. The higher the number, the closer the readings come to total perfection. At the Six Sigma level, there are only 3.4 defects per million.

Features that set Six Sigma apart from previous quality improvement initiatives include:

  • A clear focus on achieving measurable and quantifiable financial returns from any Six Sigma project.
  • An increased emphasis on strong and passionate management leadership and support.
  • A special infrastructure of “Champions”, “Master Black Belts”, “Black Belts”, “Green Belts”, “Red Belts” etc. to lead and implement the Six Sigma approach.
  • A clear commitment to making decisions on the basis of verifiable data, rather than assumptions and guesswork.

Quality expert Joseph Juran on Six Sigma:

[It’s] a basic version of quality improvement. There is nothing new there. It includes what we used to call facilitators. They’ve adopted more flamboyant terms, like belts with different colors. I think that concept has merit to set apart, to create specialists who can be very helpful. Again, that’s not a new idea. The American Society for Quality long ago established certificates, such as for reliability engineers.

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Wikipedia, “Six Sigma

Economist.com, “Ideas: Six Sigma

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