A brief history of Six Sigma

It was the introduction of the basic normal curve concept by Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) that first gave the basis of the Six Sigma measurement standard. Later in the 1920's, Walter Shewhart demonstrated that a measurement of 3 sigma out from the mean indicates when a process correction may be necessary, it was this observation that led the way for the statistical measurement of variation within a process. It was in the mid 1980's that Bill Smith, an engineer working at Motorola, who first coined the phrase 'Six Sigma' which subsequently enveloped a host of measurement standards and methodologies, which makes up the Six sigma of today.

It was when Bob Galvin was Chairman of Motorola in the mid 1980's that motorola engineers, who were at that time measuring defects per thousand opportunities, decided to measure defects that happened every million opportunities. The new standard was created with new methodologies and were introduced into the working culture of Motorola. The results in product quality improvements were dramatic, leading to unprecedented increases in oganisational revenues and bottom line profits reported as estimated savings of around $16,000,000,000 over subsequent years.

Motorola's success subsequently pathed the way for companies from every part of the world to adopt the Six Sigma methodology as a way of enhancing and improving their products, processes and services. A major success story of Six Sigma implementation is that of General Electric (GE) under the leadership of Jack Welch. In 1995 Jack Welch decided that GE was in need of a major overhaul to combat the multitude of defects that dogged the company. He embraced Six Sigma and literally indoctrinated its methodology through every part of the organisation, within 5 years GE reported savings of $12,000,000,000 increasing income from $1.5 billion to $15 billion.

Since that time Six Sigma has evolved into a customer centric quality initiative that strives to eliminate product and process variations that would otherwise cause defects, in fact a Six Sigma process would only produce a staggering 3.4 defects for every million opportunities. To put this into context one only has to think about the aviation and pharmaceutical companies.