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A Basic Six Sigma History

Julie Lord

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When undertaking project management training, or simply working in the project management field you will more than likely have studied or at least heard about Six Sigma. It is important to understand the methodology properly in order to make the most of it, but actually knowing the basics of the history is useful as well.


So where does the Sigma come from? Well, in the 1920's the word was used regularly by various professionals, including mathematicians, engineers and scientists, to describe a unit of measurement in product quality variation. In this instance the Sigma would be - sigma - without a capital because it means something different in this context.

Six Sigma

In the 80's Motorola engineers began casually using the term Six Sigma to describe methods they would use in production to reduce defects in parts and products. The term Six Sigma began to be a representation for high quality. It is not known who first officially coined the term, however, Mikel Harry and Bill Smith are thought to be the two main contenders, although no one will ever know who actually came up with it first. As both were unsatisfied with the precision, they changed the measurement scale to parts per million which is what brought about using the term ‘Six Sigma’ and is when ‘Six Sigma’ became branded.

Six Sigma Extension

Towards the end of the 80's, Motorola extended the use of Six Sigma to all of its business processes, not just the critical processes involved in the engineering and production side of the company. During this time the term became branded.

Six Sigma Training & Successful Implementation

In the early 90's Motorola created its first Six Sigma experts, people who were able to create and refine accredited Six Sigma training methods. During the same time period Allied Signal began to use the methodology which made huge improvements and saved them a lot of money, all in less than half a year. In the mid 1990's the owner of General Electrics heard about the successes of the methodology and decided to implement it in his own organisation. Through using Six Sigma, general electric saved millions of dollars over the space of 3 years.

During this time, Six Sigma had become extremely notable, being successfully used in large corporations and organisations in and outside of the manufacturing industry.

By 2000 Six Sigma moved beyond being an industry methodology and actually became an industry in its own right being used globally to improve the performance and processes of organisations and businesses of every size.

During its development, Six Sigma went from being a useful general term for production line improvements, to becoming a massively popular methodology used by many organisations to improve quality and process improvement. In current times you can find many training courses, products and services related to Six Sigma.

Want To Know More About Six Sigma?

Consider investing in project management training courses relating to this useful methodology as an alternative to other approaches such as APMP , PRINCE2 or PMP. Also, consider investing in some books about Six Sigma, of which there are many to choose from - just make sure you read the reviews first to check the approach to learning matches your learning style.


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