Matt Hrivnak

Kaizen: There's always another future state

The Quality Paradigm:  Six Sigma

Born out of the 1980s and the need to improve Motorola’s quality, Six Sigma is the most recognizable quality program out there.  At the time when Bill Smith first developed the methodology behind Six Sigma, other quality programs were already spreading their way around the business world.  Most of these programs were referred to as “buzzwords” and never taken very seriously.

The true history of applied quality dates back to the early 1900s, with several main contributors like Walter A. Shewhart, Joseph M. Juran, Kaoru Ishikawa, and Genichi Taguchi.  While they played an important part in the foundation of statistical quality control thinking, they are not the most widely known, especially outside of Quality Engineering. 

During the 1950s and 60s, Dr. W. Edwards Deming was working with Japanese companies to help improve their quality and production processes.  He developed several basic quality and managerial ideas, first noted as his ‘14 Points for Management.’  Later, he would introduce what was termed the ‘Deming Cycle’, which is methodology for problem solving that followed a continuous, circular path:  Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA).  His ideas drastically improved the quality and efficiency of products coming out of Japan.  He would go on to win several awards until his death in 1993.

At the same time Deming was working in Japan, Armand V. Feigenbaum was developing his own set of quality initiatives at General Electric would come to be known as “Total Quality Control”.  This was the main subject in his book, Quality Control:  Principles, Practice, and Administration, which was later renamed, Total Quality Control.  In the years since, this has all been grouped into an idea called Total Quality Management (TQM).  TQM, which is commonly referred to as the precursor of much of Six Sigma, is a management approach to quality in which every customer concern is regarded in high esteem and every employee is responsible for maintaining the highest level of quality.

Six Sigma continues this approach with every employee’s interactions with products and the subsequent response from customers, both internal to the company as well as the end user.  There is a process, which is more or less the skeleton of Six Sigma, and closely related to the Deming Cycle:  the DMAIC process.  This process is a defined methodology to problem solving, where each letter stands for a different phase of a quality control project. 

In order of execution:

Define:  Define the problem at hand.

Measure:  Begin measuring the problem area or process to determine the current capabilities

Analyze:  Analyze the data from the Measure phase

Improve:  Develop and implement measures to correct the underlying problem as realized in the Analyze phase

Control:  Continue to monitor the implementations and repeat the process continually

 That, in a nutshell, is an overview of Six Sigma and its history.  At the present time, there are always companies trying to implement a Six Sigma program to improve their quality.  Just like Lean Manufacturing, sometimes they fail and sometimes they succeed, and it’s all determined by the management involved.  Six Sigma also incorporates the certification of several individuals within the company at various levels in a fashion similar to Karate, as there are Black Belts, Green Belts, Yellow Belts, etc.  This practice, which once grew Six Sigma, is now a haven for under trained and over certified individuals as you can get a Black Belt just by going online and paying a few dollars.  Sadly, many lazy managers will resort to hiring Black Belts to do the Six Sigma implementation instead of doing the work themselves. 

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Comments (1) Posted by matt on Thursday, April 24th, 2008

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