By Sandra Torres
Although Six Sigma is usually associated with manufacturing or chain supply management, it can also be used to make any business successful. Jack Welch, former CEO at General Electric, gave proof to that when he made Six Sigma central to his very successful business strategy in 1995. In fact, it was Welch that brought Six Sigma to prominence in the United States. It has since been used in all sectors of business seeking to improve the quality of products and services.
What is Six Sigma? What does it mean?
Six Sigma is simply process improvement strategy, a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. It was developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in the mid 1980s, and is considered a TQM (Total Quality Management) spin off. Six Sigma is based on a set of techniques and tools. It is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process – from manufacturing to transactional and from products to services. A Six Sigma defect is defined as anything outside of customer specifications.
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, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization, namely Champions, Black Belts, Green Belts, Yellow Belts, etc. These are then considered experts in the methods. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified value targets, for example: reducing process cycle time, reducing pollution, reducing costs, increasing customer satisfaction, and increasing profits.
The term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with manufacturing, specifically terms associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes. The maturity of a manufacturing process can be described by a sigma rating indicating its yield or the percentage of defect-free products it creates. A Six Sigma process is one in which 99.9999998% of the products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects. Motorola set a goal of “Six Sigma” for all of its manufacturing operations, and this goal became a by-word for the management and engineering practices used to achieve it.