The Evolution of Six
Before, January 15, 1987, Six Sigma was solely a statistical term. Since
then, the Six Sigma crusade, which began at Motorola, has spread to other
companies who are continually striving for excellence. While it is progressing,
it has extended and evolved from a problem-solving technique to a quality
strategy and ultimately into a sophisticated quality philosophy. However, this
unique philosophy only became well known after GE’s Jack Welch made it a central
focus of his business strategy in 1995. Today, Six Sigma is the fastest growing
business management system in industry .
To elaborate the evolution of Six Sigma, one Six Sigma authority has to be
introduced: Mikel Harry, who is called the “godfather” of Six Sigma and is
acknowledged as the leading authority on theory and practice. Even though he did
not invent the concept, the way that it is currently practiced bears the
unmistakable marks of Harry’s personality and personal history.
Harry's history path is followed here to reveal the evolution of Six Sigma.
The evolution began in the late 1970s, when a Japanese firm took over a
Motorola factory that manufactured television sets in the United States and the
Japanese promptly set about making drastic changes to the way the factory
operated. Under Japanese management, the factory was soon producing TV sets with
1/20th the number of defects they had produced under Motorola management.
Finally, Motorola recognized its quality was awful. Since then. Motorola
management decided to take quality seriously. When Bob Galvin became Motorola's
CEO in 1981, he challenged his company to achieve a tenfold improvement in
performance over a five-year period.
In 1984, after Harry was awarded a doctorate from Arizona State University,
he joined Motorola where he worked with Bill Smith, a veteran engineer who was
in Mikel Harry's words, “the father of Six Sigma”. During 1985, Smith wrote an
internal quality research report which caught the attention of Bob Galvin. Smith
discovered the correlation between how well a product did in its field life and
how much rework had been required during the manufacturing process. He also
found that products that were built with fewer nonconformities were the ones
that performed the best after delivery to the customer. Although Motorola
executives agreed with Smith's supposition, the challenge then became how to
create practical ways to eliminate the defects. With the concept of “logic
filter”, one of Harry's papers at Arizona State University, together with Smith,
Harry developed a four-stage problem-solving approach: Measure, Analyze,
Improve, Control (MAIC). Later, the MAIC discipline became the road map
for achieving Six Sigma quality.
On January 15, 1987, Galvin launched a long term quality program, called “The
Six Sigma Quality Program”. The program was a corporate program which
established Six Sigma as the required capability level to approach the standard
of 3.4 DPMO. This new standard was to be used in everything, that is, in
products, processes, services and administration. The Corporate Policy Committee
of Motorola then updated their quality goal as follows:
“Improve product and service quality ten times by 1989, and at least one
hundred fold by 1991. Achieve Six Sigma capability by 1992. With a deep sense
of urgency, Galvin spread dedication to quality to every facet of the
corporation, and achieve a culture of continual improvement to assure Total
Customer Satisfaction. There is only one ultimate goal: zero defects in
everything we do.”
The revised corporate quality goal stated that everyone was responsible for
and to each other regarding this objective. In addition, it affirmed that no one
could assume she or he had done enough until the entire goal of Six Sigma was
achieved company-wide. After implementing Six Sigma, in 1988, Motorola was among
the first recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Since then,
Six Sigma has constantly caught the attention of industry. However, at Motorola,
Six Sigma was only a disciplined problem-solving methodology.
In 1988, at Unisys Corp. Harry discussed with Cliff Ames, one of Unisys’
plant managers, about how to leverage the Six Sigma technique throughout an
organization and how to recognize the people who were equipped with Six Sigma
tools. Since Ames was a lover of karate and Harry himself was a martial arts
enthusiast, in some respects, they shared the same eastern martial arts
philosophy. People in martial arts are incredibly skilled, have a precise
command of tools, are very dedicated, and are very humble to learn. Based on
this insight, Harry decided to designate those with Six Sigma skills as “Black
In 1989, Galvin invited Harry to head up Motorola's Six Sigma Research
Institute and challenged him to do “short cycle quality knowledge transfer and
rapid dissemination of quality knowledge into a world-wide company”. Harry
answered the challenge with Six Sigma implementation strategy that attempted to
put quality tools into the hands of large numbers of workers and managers
throughout the organization. From that moment, Six Sigma skills were not solely
owned by quality engineers, but began to transfer from the quality department to
the entire organization.
In 1993, at Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), Harry teamed with Richard Schroeder who
later joined him to found Six Sigma Academy. Inspired by Kjell Magnuson, one of
ABB’s business unit presidents, Harry realized that high level executives only
focused on clear and quantifiable gains. Further, Harry recognized that it
should not be quality first, but business first which will lead to the
realization of quality. In addition, from his Marine Corps experience, he
understood the importance of tactics. To exploit the full power of Six Sigma by
focusing on bottom-line results, Harry refined Six Sigma deployment tactics
which included: Champion, Master Black Belt, Black Belt, and Green Belt.
At that time, enamored by Motorola's success, several other companies, such
as Texas Instruments, began a similar pursuit. But, it wasn't until late 1993
that Six Sigma really began to transform business. That's the year that Harry
and Schroeder moved to Allied Signal and its CEO, Larry Bossidy, decided to
adopt Six Sigma.
By adequately selecting the right Six Sigma projects and promptly providing
the right support for them, Bossidy suggested that high level executives should
also understand Six Sigma tools. To respond to that, Harry developed a
methodology for a leadership team to select high financial leverage projects. At
Allied Signal, an entire system of leadership and support systems began to form
around the statistical problem solving tools of Six Sigma.
Not long after Allied Signal began its pursuit of Six Sigma quality, Jack
Welch, then Chairman and CEO of General Electric, influenced by Bossidy, then
began to get interested in Six Sigma. In fact, before Six Sigma, according to
Welch, neither he nor Bossidy quality enthusiasts. They felt the earlier quality
programs were too heavy on slogans and light on results. In June 1995, Welch
invited Bossidy to attend GE’s Corporate Executive Council meeting and share his
experience with Six Sigma. After that meeting, GE conducted a cost-benefit
analysis on Six Sigma implementation. The analysis showed that if GE, then
running at three to four sigma quality level, were to raise its quality to six
Sigma, the cost saving opportunity was somewhere between $7 billion and $10
billion. This amounted to a huge number - 10 to 15 percent of sales.
Then, in January 1996, teaming with Six Sigma Academy, Welch announced the
launch of Six Sigma at GE. At that time, he called Six Sigma the most ambitious
undertaking the company had ever taken on. He stated: “Quality can truly change
GE from one of the great companies to absolutely the greatest company in world
business.” Needless to say that when GE does something, it does it all the way.
Welch said to GE’s Corporate Executives: “Everyone in this room must lead the
quality charge. There can be no spectators on this. What took Motorola ten
years, we must do in five - not through shortcuts, but in learning from others”.
From that moment, Jack Welch became the global promoter of Six Sigma.
There are two important contributions from GE’s way of implementation to the
evolution of Six Sigma. First, Welch demonstrated the great paradigm of
leadership. Second, Welch backed the Six Sigma program up with a strong rewards
system to show his commitment to it. GE changed its incentive compensation plan
for the entire company so that 60 percent of the bonus was based on financials
and 40 percent on Six Sigma results. The new system successfully attracted GE
employees’ attentions to Six Sigma. Moreover, Six Sigma training had become a
prerequisite for advancement up GE’s corporate ladder. Welch insisted that no
one would be considered for a management job without at least a Green Belt
training by the end of 1998.
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