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Six Sigma

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What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma stands for Six Standard Deviations (Sigma is the Greek letter used to represent standard deviation in statistics) from mean. Six Sigma methodology provides the techniques and tools to improve the capability and reduce the defects in any process.

It was started in Motorola, in its manufacturing division, where millions of parts are made using the same process repeatedly. Eventually Six Sigma evolved and applied to other non manufacturing processes. Today you can apply Six Sigma to many fields such as Services, Medical and Insurance Procedures, Call Centers.

Six Sigma is a set of practices originally developed by Motorola to systematically improve processes by eliminating defects. A defect is defined as nonconformity of a product or service to its specifications.

While the particulars of the methodology were originally formulated by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986, Six Sigma was heavily inspired by six preceding decades of quality improvement methodologies such as quality control, TQM, and Zero Defects. Like its predecessors, Six Sigma asserts the following:

1. Continuous efforts to reduce variation in process outputs is key to business success
2. Manufacturing and business processes can be measured, analyzed, improved and controlled
3. Succeeding at achieving sustained quality improvement requires commitment from the entire organization, particularly from top-level management

The term "Six Sigma" refers to the ability of highly capable processes to produce output within specification. In particular, processes that operate with six sigma quality produce at defect levels below 3.4 defects per (one) million opportunities (DPMO). Six Sigma's implicit goal is to improve all processes to that level of quality or better.

Six Sigma is a registered service mark and trademark of Motorola, Inc. Motorola has reported over US$17 billion in savings from Six Sigma as of 2006.

In addition to Motorola, companies that adopted Six Sigma methodologies early on and continue to practice them today include Honeywell International (previously known as Allied Signal) and General Electric (introduced by Jack Welch).

Six Sigma methodology improves any existing business process by constantly reviewing and re-tuning the process. To achieve this, Six Sigma uses a methodology known as DMAIC (Define opportunities, Measure performance, Analyze opportunity, Improve performance, Control performance).

Six Sigma at many organizations simply means a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving towards six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process -- from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.

The statistical representation of Six Sigma describes quantitatively how a process is performing. To achieve Six Sigma, a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. A Six Sigma defect is defined as anything outside of customer specifications. A Six Sigma opportunity is then the total quantity of chances for a defect. Process sigma can easily be calculated using a Six Sigma calculator.

The fundamental objective of the Six Sigma methodology is the implementation of a measurement-based strategy that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects. This is accomplished through the use of two Six Sigma sub-methodologies: DMAIC and DMADV. The Six Sigma DMAIC process (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) is an improvement system for existing processes falling below specification and looking for incremental improvement. The Six Sigma DMADV process (define, measure, analyze, design, verify) is an improvement system used to develop new processes or products at Six Sigma quality levels. It can also be employed if a current process requires more than just incremental improvement. Both Six Sigma processes are executed by Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts, and are overseen by Six Sigma Master Black Belts.

According to the Six Sigma Academy, Black Belts save companies approximately $230,000 per project and can complete four to 6 projects per year. General Electric, one of the most successful companies implementing Six Sigma, has estimated benefits on the order of $10 billion during the first five years of implementation. GE first began Six Sigma in 1995 after Motorola and Allied Signal blazed the Six Sigma trail. Since then, thousands of companies around the world have discovered the far reaching benefits of Six Sigma.


Six Sigma Discussion Threads:

Six Sigma - Statistical Tools - Valid or Hype? Value? Can a CQE do the same?

Six Sigma Discussion Forum