Services /

Six Sigma /Overview

Six Sigma originated as a set of practices designed to improve manufacturing processes and eliminate defects, but its application was subsequently extended to other types of business processes as well. In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as any process output that does not meet customer specifications, or that could lead to creating an output that does not meet customer specifications.

Six Sigma was heavily inspired by six preceding decades of quality improvement methodologies such as quality control, TQM, and Zero Defects.

Like its predecessors, Six Sigma doctrine asserts that:

  • Continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results (i.e., reduce process variation) are of vital importance to business success.
  • Manufacturing and business processes have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, improved and controlled.
  • Achieving sustained quality improvement requires commitment from the entire organization, particularly from top-level management.

Features that set Six Sigma apart from previous quality improvement initiatives include:

  • A clear focus on achieving measurable and quantifiable financial returns from any Six Sigma project.
  • An increased emphasis on strong and passionate management leadership and support.
  • A special infrastructure of "Champions," "Master Black Belts," "Black Belts," "Yellow Belts", etc. to lead and implement the Six Sigma approach.
  • A clear commitment to making decisions on the basis of verifiable data, rather than assumptions and guesswork.

The term "Six Sigma" comes from a field of statistics known as process capability studies. Originally, it referred to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that operate with "six sigma quality" over the short term are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). Six Sigma's implicit goal is to improve all processes to that level of quality or better.

In recent years, some practitioners have combined Six Sigma ideas with lean manufacturing to yield a methodology named Lean Six Sigma.