On behalf of Six Sigma Academy, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the evolution of six sigma since this seems to be a lively topic of conversation among many practitioners (even cartoonists!) these days.
The roots of six sigma as a measurement standard can be traced back to Carl Frederick 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, and so on) later came on the scene but credit for coining the term “six sigma” goes to a Motorola engineer named Bill Smith (six sigma is a federally registered trademark of Motorola).
In the late 1970’s, Dr. Mikel Harry, a senior staff engineer at Motorola’s Government Electronics Group (GEG), began to experiment with problem solving through statistical analysis. Using his methodology, GEG began to show dramatic results – GEG’s products were being designed and produced faster and more cheaply. Subsequently, Dr. Harry began to formulate a method for applying six sigma throughout Motorola. His work culminated in a paper titled “The Strategic Vision for Accelerating Six Sigma Within Motorola.” He was later appointed head of the Motorola Six Sigma Research Institute and became the driving force behind six sigma.
Dr. Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder, an ex-Motorola executive, were responsible for creating the unique combination of change management and data-driven methodologies that transformed six sigma from a simple quality measurement tool to the breakthrough business excellence philosophy it is today. They had the charisma and the ability to educate and engage business leaders such as Bob Galvin of Motorola, Larry Bossidy of AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), and Jack Welch of GE. Together, Harry and Schroeder elevated six sigma from the shop floor to the boardroom with their drive and innovative ideas regarding entitlement, breakthrough strategy, sigma levels, and the roles for deployment of Black Belts, Master Black Belts, and Champions. In effect, they created a business revolution that continues to challenge the thinking of executives, managers and employees alike. Their strategies and tools have been perfected through the years by Six Sigma Academy. In brief, we believe our contribution was the unique combination of business leadership plus quality and process improvement tools and techniques which made it possible for leaders to recognize the value of six sigma, not just as a tool for operational efficiency, but as an enterprisewide business strategy with direct bottom line impact.
Having said all that, I believe every six sigma practitioner, consulting firm, and black belt has contributed to the evolution of six sigma. We should therefore focus our time and resources, not on diatribes about who can claim credit for six sigma, but rather on continuously improving upon the strategies and tactics to achieve breakthrough results in business excellence. For example, six sigma has been indisputably successful in eliminating waste, reducing variance and increasing productivity and profits. But its potential to create new business models for growth and innovation is barely tapped. I urge all of us to take six sigma to the next level by being thought leaders inspiring creativity and originality in our successors, instead of simply regurgitating what others have said before us. Doing so will ensure six sigma will become the global standard for conducting business, not just another management trend doomed to fall by the wayside.
There is a hill to scale ahead of us, and enough oxygen for everyone. It is incumbent upon all of us to blaze a trail toward the next frontier of six sigma and demonstrate the leadership businesses are clamoring for.
Daniel T. Laux
Six Sigma Academy