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Evolution of Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a business-driven methodology that provides an organization with tools and techniques enabling them to eliminate defects, improve quality and reduce variations. This in turn helps the organization make its business processes more consistent, effective, and efficient. Though initially Six Sigma was developed for the betterment of manufacturing industries, its concepts are now utilized and employed by many other industries as well. It is also to be noted here that the implementation of Six Sigma not only benefits the organization but also its employees and customers.

Even though the study of Six Sigma is relatively new, its roots can be traced back to the 16th century. The concept of Six Sigma started during the time of ‘Industrial Revolution’, when Eli Whiteny, an inventor, introduced the idea of interchangeable parts also known as the ‘Uniformity System’, that emphasized on making products that can be quickly adopted by other facilities, thus preventing wastage of time and cost. This idea was adopted by Henry Ford, who integrated it into his manufacturing process. In 1913, he introduced his automobile lines which marked the beginning of ‘Lean Manufacturing’. This era can be marked as ‘The Period of Revolution’.

Before the 19th century, Six Sigma was just a concept, a theoretical idea, but it gained its statistical importance when a mathematician named Carl Friedrich Gauss introduced ‘sigma (σ)’ to measure the shape of a Bell Curve also known as the Normal Distribution Curve. This curve gave the idea of variations in the process and it became an important tool for reducing defects and finding errors. Later, in 1924 Dr. Walter Shewhart developed a new tool called ‘control charts’ to show variability in a process. It was he who first introduced the ‘3σ’ hypothesis, which determined where the process needed to be improved in order to reduce defects, and it thus led to the beginning of statistical quality control in the process.

However, it was during 1980’s that two engineers Bill Smith and Mikel Harry of Motorola Company introduced a well-defined concept of Six Sigma that created a link between reducing defects and quality improvement. Thus, from a problem-solving tool, Six Sigma quickly evolved into a quality strategy tool. This phase of Six Sigma can be marked as ‘The Period of Evolution’. It is to be noted here that, it was Bill Smith who first coined the term Six Sigma, and he is also known as the father of Six Sigma. Now, the next phase called, ‘The Period of Adaptation’, began when other companies started adopting Six Sigma methodology after it paved way for Motorola’s success. However, Six Sigma gained global recognition when General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch centered all his focus on implementing Six Sigma methodologies to improve business processes within GE.

The Six Sigma methodology that we know today, underwent numerous other phases and changes, and it ultimately turned into one of the most important factors for success in many industries and business processes.


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