Six Sigma Origins

The roots of Six Sigma as a measurement standard can be traced back to Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) who introduced the concept of the normal curve. Six Sigma as a measurement standard in product variation can be traced back to the 1920’s when Walter Shewhart showed that three sigma from the mean is the point where a process requires correction. Many measurement standards (Cpk, Zero Defects, etc.) later came on the scene but credit for coining the term “Six Sigma” goes to a Motorola engineer named Bill Smith. (Incidentally, “Six Sigma” is a federally registered trademark of Motorola).
In the late 1970’s, Dr. Mikel Harry, a senior staff engineer at Motorola’s Government Electronics Group (GEG), began to experiment with problem solving through statistical analysis. Using his methodology, GEG began to show dramatic results – GEG’s products were being designed and produced faster and more cheaply. Subsequently, Dr. Harry began to formulate a method for applying six sigma throughout Motorola. His work culminated in a paper titled “The Strategic Vision for Accelerating Six Sigma Within Motorola.” He was later appointed head of the Motorola Six Sigma Research Institute and became the driving force behind six sigma.
In the early and mid-1980s with Chairman Bob Galvin at the helm, Motorola engineers decided that the traditional quality levels — measuring defects in thousands of opportunities – didn’t provide enough granularity. Instead, they wanted to measure the defects per million opportunities. Motorola developed this new standard and created the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma helped Motorola realize powerful bottom-line results in their organization – in fact, they documented more than $16 Billion in savings as a result of our Six Sigma efforts.
Dr. Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder, an ex-Motorola executive, were responsible for creating the unique combination of change management and data-driven methodologies that transformed six sigma from a simple quality measurement tool to the breakthrough business excellence philosophy it is today. They had the charisma and the ability to educate and engage business leaders such as Bob Galvin of Motorola, Larry Bossidy of AlliedSignal (now Honeywell), and Jack Welch of GE.
Since then, tens of thousands of companies around the world have adopted Six Sigma as a way of doing business. This is a direct result of many of America’s leaders openly praising the benefits of Six Sigma. Leaders such as Larry Bossidy of Allied Signal (now Honeywell), and Jack Welch of General Electric Company. Rumor has it that Larry and Jack were playing golf one day and Jack bet Larry that he could implement Six Sigma faster and with greater results at GE than Larry did at Allied Signal. The results speak for themselves.
Together, Harry and Schroeder elevated six sigma from the shop floor to the boardroom with their drive and innovative ideas regarding entitlement, breakthrough strategy, sigma levels, and the roles for deployment of Black Belts, Master Black Belts, and Champions. In effect, they created a business revolution that continues to challenge the thinking of executives, managers and employees alike. Their strategies and tools have been perfected through the years by Six Sigma Academy. In brief, their contribution was the unique combination of business leadership plus quality and process improvement tools and techniques which made it possible for leaders to recognize the value of six sigma, not just as a tool for operational efficiency, but as an enterprise wide business strategy with direct bottom line impact.