Understanding Six Sigma Practices

Six Sigma is a popular Business Management Strategy that was formerly developed by Motorola to seek improvement in the quality of outputs of processes by identification and removal of causes of defect or errors. It uses a set of methods to manage quality which may be statistical in nature and enables the creation of unique infrastructure of people within an organization who have gained expertise in these methods.

Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization has its critical factors aimed at customer satisfaction. The targets can be of financial in nature aimed to either reduce cost or increase profit or process oriented aimed at improving delivery times, safety or cycle time.


The origination of Six Sigma practices was in the manufacturing sector but its application has been extensive in other types of business processes. It was first formulated by Bill Smith at Motorola in the year 1986. Subsequently it has been encouraged by other quality improvement methodologies like TQM and Zero Defects. The term “Six Sigma” emerges from a area of statistics acknowledged as process capability studies.


The term “ Six Sigma process “ comes from the concept if one has six standard deviations between the process mean and the closest specification limit , practically all items will meet specifications. The calculation method in Process Capability studies evaluates the number of standard deviations between the process mean and the closest specification limit in units of sigma. The Sigma is the Greek letter used as a statistical representation for Standard Deviation.


Initially Six Sigma referred to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce high volume of output lying within customer specification. Processes that adopt this quality are assumed to produce long term defects below 3.4 DPMO (Defects per million opportunities). In Six Sigma a defect is anything (process or output) that deviates from specifications of the customer.


In Six Sigma opportunity is the term used to signify the total chances for a defect or error. Process Sigma can be easily evaluated using a Six Sigma Calculator which allows the input of Opportunities and Defects for the calculation. In recent times, several practitioners have developed a methodology named Lean Six Sigma which is a combination of Six Sigma values with lean manufacturing ideas.


For the successful and productive implementation of Six Sigma several key roles have been identified. They are Executive Leadership, Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts and Yellow Belts. Executive Leadership is inclusive of the CEO and members of top level management who are accountable for setting up the vision for it implementation.


The Champions are the ones who take the responsibility to implement the Six Sigma practices across the organization and in addition act as mentors to Black Belts. Master Black Belts identified by Champions dedicate their time to Six Sigma to ensure consistent application and serve as guides to Black and Green Belts.


Black Belts assist in the application of the Six Sigma in specific projects and operate under Master Black Belts. Green Belts are the employees who carry out Six Sigma implementation under the direction of Black Belt together with their other job responsibilities. Yellow Belts are those employees trained in the fundamental application of Six Sigma all through the stages of the project.


Some of the main quality management tools and methods used in Six Sigma are the 5 Whys, Chi-square test of independence and fits, Cost-benefit analysis, Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA), Histograms, Pareto Charts, Process Capability, Regression Analysis, Root Cause Analysis, Run Charts etc.


Six Sigma follows two project methodologies bearing the acronyms DMAIC and DMADV. DMAIC is used for projects intended at improvement of an existing business process. It has five phases Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. The DMADV is targeted for projects that are intended to create new products or designs for processes. It features the five phases Define, Measure, Analyze , Design and Verify. It is alternatively known as DFSS (Design for Six Sigma).


There are several critical success factors that lead to effective Six Sigma deployment. Organizations that give primary focus on regularly measuring and driving management and constantly aligning initiatives and priorities have a higher return on their programs. Motorola reported the savings of $11 billion for a 10 year period ranging from 1985 to 1995 by their Six Sigma adoption.


The critical success factors Executive Engagement, Communications and Projects are detailed as follows. On Executive Engagement factor, there should be clear prioritization, dependence on facts and data in decision making, linking of Six Sigma to Corporate strategies and regular review for progress verification.


About Communications factor, there should be a Human Resources Plan to support the Six Sigma roles, communication of important facts in company meetings, advocating of a common language based on Six Sigma and regular updates on Six Sigma news and successes. Of the Projects factor there should be a one year Six Sigma project inventory that is documented and updated regularly, the appropriate Champions and Black Belts assigned, linking Six Sigma projects to customer requirements and implementing a tracking system to assist replication and reusability.


The Six Sigma quality and management methodology can produce significant benefits to business, organizations and individuals by effective implementation. For the organization, there can be cost savings, superior quality of product or service, decrease in process cycle times, development of staff skills and standard. For the individual there is enhanced knowledge and skills and world wide recognized status.

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