Six Sigma: Six Degrees of Preparation


What is Six Sigma and how is it used in manufacturing?

As technology and business strategies have evolved over the years, manufacturing processes have developed that focus on increasing efficiency. From the growth of the United States economy and dominance of the traditional assembly line system in the early 20th century, the manufacturing industry has come along way. One of the dominant concepts for process improvement is Six Sigma.

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools that seeks to improve the quality of the output of a process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing.

History of Six Sigma

The concept was developed in 1986 by engineer Bill Smith who worked at Motorola. The concept was developed when he realized at Motorola an association between decreased costs of production and an increase in quality of products. The term “Six Sigma” came from the statistical concepts applied to manufacturing, based on the sigma rating associated with the percentage of defect-free products. The goal of a Six Sigma process is 99.99966% defect-free or has 3.4 defective units per million. Motorola has reported that Six Sigma has saved them over $17 billion by the end of 2006. It was also adopted by Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric in 1995. At this time, almost half of the Fortune 500 companies have adopted Six Sigma in their organization’s manufacturing processes.

Implementation of Six Sigma

In order to succeed in implementing Six Sigma in your manufacturing processes, it has to be fully integrated into your business strategy and practices and be at the core of management’s vision for the company. The most important resource in deploying Six Sigma is having your employees trained to fully understand its methodology and processes. There are a variety of quality management tools and methods that can be utilized to optimize your manufacturing processes. Six Sigma projects typically follow the DMAIC methodology.


The DMAIC project methodology has five phases:

Define: This step clearly articulates the business problem, goal, potential resources, project scope and high-level timeline.

Measure: This step is based on data collection, which aims to establish performance metrics that can be compared to your results at the conclusion of the project.

Analyze: The purpose of this step is to identify, validate, and select the root cause of elimination. There are a variety of ways to do this – with tools like a fishbone diagram, or other analysis tools that range from simple to complex to identify root causes.

Improve: In this step, solutions are identified, tested and implemented in order to prevent process problems.

Control: To sustain the progress made through solutions, this step monitors improvements to ensure continued and sustainable success.