Overview of Six Sigma

Culture Eats Process For Lunch


An overview of Six Sigma as an organisational management strategy starts with a brief look at the history of Six Sigma.

The term 'sigma' is a symbol for a unit of measurement in product quality variation. It has been in use since the 1920's by mathematicians and engineers.

The objective of Six Sigma is to reduce process variation so that virtually all the products or services provided meet or exceed customer expectations.

In statistical terms, this is defined as being only 3.4 defects per million occurrences.




History of Six Sigma


Six Sigma as a measurement standard is rooted in the work Carl Frederick Gauss (1777-1855) who conceived and introduced the concept of the normal curve.

However Six Sigma as a standard metric in product variation emerged in the 1920's in the work of Walter Shewhart who demonstrated that three sigma from the mean is the point where a process requires correction.

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The genesis of Six Sigma as a powerful and popular toolset for driving up overall process quality standards was in the 1980s when Motorola engineers sought greater granularity with a measurement standard that measured defects per million opportunities rather than the current standard measurement in defects per thousand opportunities.

Bill Smith, a Motorola engineer is credited (by many) with the “invention” of the term “Six Sigma”.




Six Sigma - Delivering improved business results




An overview of Six Sigma - how and why it has grown

Over a number of years, Motorola created this new measurement standard together with the full process methodology and underpinned by the radical cultural change that was (and is) required to deliver it.

The business driver for all of this development was cost savings – allegedly bottoming out at a staggering $16 Billion – which was clearly enough to capture the attention of a wider audience eager to participate.

This wider dissemination of the principles and practise of Six Sigma was considerably accelerated with the enthusiastic and vociferous support of Larry Bossidy (Honeywell), and Jack Welch (General Electric Company).

Now of course, many hundreds of companies all over the world have adopted Six Sigma – in fact it has spawned a whole new business subculture of practitioners and advocates together with a vast industry of consultants, experts and trainers to support them.

As with most business “new/big ideas” Six Sigma is now big business in its own right!




What is Six Sigma?





How does Six Sigma work?


There are three basic elements to Six Sigma:

  • Process improvement

  • Process design/re-design

  • Process management

For a concise and informative summary from the UK Government's Department of Trade & Industry please download this 5 page PDF which explains how Six Sigma aims to maximise customer satisfaction and minimise defects:

Overview of Six Sigma




Overview of Six Sigma cont -> The basic tools






The Human Dimension of Six Sigma


Quality expert Jeff Cole advises:

"Whether you’re new to Six Sigma or a seasoned veteran, being able to manage the human side of a process change is vital.

If the people who need to follow this new process don’t do so, you’ve lost your investment.

The body of knowledge for change management rivals that of Six Sigma—it is both broad and deep. Use these tips to help weave change management into your next project."

Corporate trainers "Vital Smarts" compared the strategies of companies who succeeded at change with Six Sigma and those whose initiatives failed miserably.

What they discovered is that successful companies fostered two specific skill sets the others didn’t...

The Human Side Of Change

"Six Sigma solutions, while satisfying because of the results generated, tend to fall short of reaching their full potential if they are only technically oriented..." says Cristopher del Angel, project manager, Proudfoot Consulting Co:

The Human Side of Six Sigma

"Culture devours massive amounts of well-intended process change throughout corporate America leaving unaware teams scratching their heads as they stare in amazement at the smoking wreckage of what was anticipated to be a simple process improvement. Want to avoid chargrilled process change? Start with the basics", says Jeff Cole.

The reason why understanding your cultures is so important is that they are the single biggest determinant of how people in your organisation will behave - and especially in the context of a change initiative:

Organisational culture - determines how your people will respond

The pre-programme review and planning process




The people side: Leading your people through change, putting it all together and managing the whole messy business


Even a cursory survey of the literature of articles, case studies and evidenced based materials on realised business benefits and ROI in Six Sigma implementation will quickly show you that the people-side of any form of organisational change is on the critical path to success.

The articles featured above are an accurate representation of this.

The business of change management is not a fuzzy, huggy, soft skilled, after-thought or optional extra - it is essential to your success as a Six Sigma practitioner.

Regardless of whether you recognise it or not, any introduction of Six Sigma to an organisation, or any implementation of Six Sigma is a change initiative that requires some form of change leadership and change management.

The simple fact of life is that every point of intersection between a changed business process and a human being has the potential for resistance - and thus failure - and this is mitigated by the recognition and implementation of some form of appropriate change management.

Practitioners Masterclass




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The overwhelming issue

If you investigate the evolution of thought and practise in business transformation and organisational change you rapidly discover 2 quite different streams of thought:

(1) The engineer's approach to business improvement with the focus on business process.

(2) The psychologist's approach to understanding human responses to change with the focus on people.

The single biggest reason for the astonishingly high 70% failure rate of ALL business change initiatives has been the over-emphasis on process rather than people - the failure to take full account of the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it.

Closely allied to that reason is the lack of process to directly address the human aspects of change.

Six Sigma stands in the ebb and flow of a long line of management practises that have been popular for a while. Anyone over about aged 45 reading this will recall the era of Business Process Re-engineering that followed the last major economic recession.

It is deeply instructive to take on board the words of Michael Hammer, co-author of "Re-engineering the Corporation", in what he has more recently had to say about the people issues:

"I don't regret saying anything [in the book]; it's more what I left out. In particular, the human side is much harder than the technology side and harder than the process side. It's the overwhelming issue."

The theme of this site is change management and the objective is to give you the broad strategies for managing change, and a very practical practitioners' masterclass in leading your people through change, putting it all together and managing the whole messy business - and thus succeeding with your Six Sigma project!

If you have arrived on this site in search of material on Six Sigma may I encourage you to bookmark this site - or better still take a quick at this page:

How to manage change - Executive Summary




Additional Resources on Six Sigma


ISO 9000 vs. Six Sigma: A Visual Guide

Steps In Six Sigma Methodology

What Is Lean Six Sigma?

Six Sigma Certification

Six Sigma Case Study




Additional Resources


5S Training and Resource Center?

What Is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing Tools

Toyota Production System

Business Process Mapping

Total Quality Control










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Is your organisation
overwhelmed by change?

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practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management



practitioners masterclass,change management training,change managers,change management



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