date 2015-06-12
The History of Six Sigma

The History of Six Sigma


It was a simple board meeting for Motorola, they just had to answer the question: “Why are our competitors ahead of us?” Maybe they were not supplying enough or maybe the stores they were supplying to weren’t pushing the sale sufficiently. They were left confused until executive member Art Sundry spoke up and said “Our quality stinks!” At the time this would have been an unthinkable thing to say in boardrooms, but Motorola were different; they took Sundry’s words to heart and started thinking of a way to improve their quality.

Motorola set themselves a target of a ten-times over quality improvement. This goal seemed impossible at the time until they introduced a four point plan which laid down the foundations for what would later become Six Sigma. The four points were:

1. Become competitive globally
2. Empower their employees to participate in organisational wide decisions.
3. Drastically improve their quality
4. Launch a Motorola 

In 1985 Bill Smith placed a paper on Motorola CEO Bob Galvin’s desk which coined the term Six Sigma and detailed his plans to achieve Motorola’s high target. This paper was ignored for two years before Smith built up the courage and asked Galvin whether he read it or not. In 1987 Motorola founded the Six Sigma improvement program, and entrusted it upon their communications sector, which was headed by future CEO George Fisher at the time.

At the turn of the decade, Motorola established the Six Sigma Research institute. This institute helped introduce the concept of Black Belt Six Sigma specialists, which gave us the chain of ranks that we have today. Whilst all this was going on, Motorola enjoyed substantial success with a five-fold growth in sales and a stock price jump of 21.3 percent. Two other companies were also enjoying the success of Six Sigma; Allied Signal took on the program in 1993, while General Electric adapted it in 1995 by adding DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) and optimising the Six Sigma blend.

Jumping ahead past the millennium and landing in 2002, Michael George wrote the book “Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma with Lean Speed.” Lean Six Sigma took the quality control of regular Six Sigma while fusing it with the speed and efficiency of Lean, effectively creating the perfect blend of the two.

It is due to Six Sigma’s constant adaptability that it has survived over twenty years and is still being taught to this day. With an estimated number of over 1 million black belts in the world, it’s safe to say that Six Sigma could be with us for another twenty years.

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