The roots of Six Sigma as a measurement standard can be traced back to Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) who introduced the concept of the normal curve. Six Sigma as a measurement standard in product variation can be traced back to the 1920’s when Walter Shewhart showed that three sigma from the mean is the point where a process requires correction. Many measurement standards (Cpk, Zero Defects, etc.) later came on the scene but credit for coining the term “Six Sigma” goes to a Motorola engineer named Bill Smith. (Incidentally, “Six Sigma” is a federally registered trademark of Motorola).
In the early and mid-1980s with Chairman Bob Galvin at the helm, Motorola engineers decided that the traditional quality levels — measuring defects in thousands of opportunities didn’t provide enough granularity. Instead, they wanted to measure the defects per million opportunities. Motorola developed this new standard and created the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma helped Motorola realize powerful bottom-line results in their organization in fact, they documented more than $16 Billion in savings as a result of our Six Sigma efforts.
Since then, hundreds of companies around the world have adopted Six Sigma as a way of doing business. This is a direct result of many of America’s leaders openly praising the benefits of Six Sigma. Leaders such as Larry Bossidy of Allied Signal (now Honeywell), and Jack Welch of General Electric Company. Rumor has it that Larry and Jack were playing golf one day and Jack bet Larry that he could implement Six Sigma faster and with greater results at GE than Larry did at Allied Signal. The results speak for themselves.
Six Sigma has evolved over time. It’s more than just a quality system like TQM or ISO. It’s a way of doing business. As Geoff Tennant describes in his book Six Sigma: SPC and TQM in Manufacturing and Services: “Six Sigma is many things, and it would perhaps be easier to list all the things that Six Sigma quality is not. Six Sigma can be seen as: a vision; a philosophy; a symbol; a metric; a goal; a methodology.” We couldn’t agree more.