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Six Sigma is a set of tools and strategies for process improvement originally developed by Motorola in 1985. Six Sigma became well known after Jack Welch made it a central focus of his business strategy at General Electric in 1995, and today it is used in different sectors of industry.
Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization ("Champions", "Black Belts", "Green Belts", "Orange Belts", etc.) who are experts in these very complex methods. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified value targets, for example; process cycle time reduction, customer satisfaction, reduction in pollution, cost reduction and/or profit increase.
The term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with manufacturing, specifically terms associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes. The maturity of a manufacturing process can be described by a sigma rating indicating its yield or the percentage of defect-free products it creates. A six sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of the products manufactured are statistically expected to be free of defects (3.4 defects per million), although, as discussed below, this defect level corresponds to only a 4.5 sigma level. Motorola set a goal of "six sigma" for all of its manufacturing operations, and this goal became a byword for the management and engineering practices used to achieve it.
Historical overview 
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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, controlled and improved.
- 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", "Green Belts", etc. to lead and implement the Six Sigma approach.
- A clear commitment to making decisions on the basis of verifiable data and statistical methods, 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, but not to the 3.4 DPMO level necessarily. Organizations need to determine an appropriate sigma level for each of their most important processes and strive to achieve these. As a result of this goal, it is incumbent on management of the organisation to prioritize areas of improvement.
Six Sigma is a registered service mark and trademark of Motorola Inc. As of 2006[update] Motorola reported over US$17 billion in savings from Six Sigma. Other early adopters of Six Sigma who achieved well-publicized success include Honeywell (previously known as AlliedSignal) and General Electric, where Jack Welch introduced the method. By the late 1990s, about two-thirds of the Fortune 500 organizations had begun Six Sigma initiatives with the aim of reducing costs and improving quality.
In recent years[update], some practitioners have combined Six Sigma ideas with lean manufacturing to create a methodology named Lean Six Sigma. The Lean Six Sigma methodology views lean manufacturing, which addresses process flow and waste issues, and Six Sigma, with its focus on variation and design, as complementary disciplines aimed at promoting "business and operational excellence". Companies such as IBM and Sandia National Laboratories use Lean Six Sigma to focus transformation efforts not just on efficiency but also on growth. It serves as a foundation for innovation throughout the organization, from manufacturing and software development to sales and service delivery functions.
The International Organisation for Standards (ISO) has published ISO 13053:2011 defining the six sigma process.
- DMAIC is used for projects aimed at improving an existing business process. DMAIC is pronounced as "duh-may-ick" (<ˌdʌ ˈmeɪ ɪk>).
- DMADV is used for projects aimed at creating new product or process designs. DMADV is pronounced as "duh-mad-vee" (<ˌdʌ ˈmæd vi>).
The DMAIC project methodology has five phases:
- Define the problem, the voice of the customer, and the project goals, specifically.
- Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data.
- Analyze the data to investigate and verify cause-and-effect relationships. Determine what the relationships are, and attempt to ensure that all factors have been considered. Seek out root cause of the defect under investigation.
- Improve or optimize the current process based upon data analysis using techniques such as design of experiments, poka yoke or mistake proofing, and standard work to create a new, future state process. Set up pilot runs to establish process capability.
- Control the future state process to ensure that any deviations from target are corrected before they result in defects. Implement control systems such as statistical process control, production boards, visual workplaces, and continuously monitor the process.
Some organizations add a Recognize step at the beginning, which is to recognize the right problem to work on, thus yielding an RDMAIC methodology.
DMADV or DFSS 
- Define design goals that are consistent with customer demands and the enterprise strategy.
- Measure and identify CTQs (characteristics that are Critical To Quality), product capabilities, production process capability, and risks.
- Analyze to develop and design alternatives
- Design an improved alternative, best suited per analysis in the previous step
- Verify the design, set up pilot runs, implement the production process and hand it over to the process owner(s).
Quality management tools and methods used in Six Sigma 
Within the individual phases of a DMAIC or DMADV project, Six Sigma utilizes many established quality-management tools that are also used outside Six Sigma. The following table shows an overview of the main methods used.
Implementation roles 
One key innovation of Six Sigma involves the "professionalizing" of quality management functions. Prior to Six Sigma, quality management in practice was largely relegated to the production floor and to statisticians in a separate quality department. Formal Six Sigma programs adopt a ranking terminology (similar to some martial arts systems) to define a hierarchy (and career path) that cuts across all business functions.
Six Sigma identifies several key roles for its successful implementation.
- Executive Leadership includes the CEO and other members of top management. They are responsible for setting up a vision for Six Sigma implementation. They also empower the other role holders with the freedom and resources to explore new ideas for breakthrough improvements.
- Champions take responsibility for Six Sigma implementation across the organization in an integrated manner. The Executive Leadership draws them from upper management. Champions also act as mentors to Black Belts.
- Master Black Belts, identified by champions, act as in-house coaches on Six Sigma. They devote 100% of their time to Six Sigma. They assist champions and guide Black Belts and Green Belts. Apart from statistical tasks, they spend their time on ensuring consistent application of Six Sigma across various functions and departments.
- Black Belts operate under Master Black Belts to apply Six Sigma methodology to specific projects. They devote 100% of their time to Six Sigma. They primarily focus on Six Sigma project execution, whereas Champions and Master Black Belts focus on identifying projects/functions for Six Sigma.
- Green Belts are the employees who take up Six Sigma implementation along with their other job responsibilities, operating under the guidance of Black Belts.
Some organizations use additional belt colours, such as Yellow Belts, for employees that have basic training in Six Sigma tools and generally participate in projects and 'white belts' for those locally trained in the concepts but do not participate in the project team.
Corporations such as early Six Sigma adopters General Electric and Motorola developed certification programs as part of their Six Sigma implementation, verifying individuals' command of the Six Sigma methods at the relevant skill level (Green Belt, Black Belt etc.). Following this approach, many organizations in the 1990s started offering Six Sigma certifications to their employees. Criteria for Green Belt and Black Belt certification vary; some companies simply require participation in a course and a Six Sigma project. There is no standard certification body, and different certification services are offered by various quality associations and other providers against a fee. The American Society for Quality for example requires Black Belt applicants to pass a written exam and to provide a signed affidavit stating that they have completed two projects, or one project combined with three years' practical experience in the body of knowledge. The International Quality Federation offers an online certification exam that organizations can use for their internal certification programs; it is statistically more demanding than the ASQ certification. There are many other organizations that provide certification.
Certification is not necessary to use the tools and generate improvements, however some organisations require certifications for internal and new hire employees in roles which require six sigma expertise.
University certification programs 
In addition to certification service provider institutes, there are Six Sigma certification programs offered through a few four-year colleges and universities. These programs provide the same courses verifying individuals' command of the Six Sigma methods at the relevant skill level from Green Belt to Black Belt etc.
- Boston University
- Cal State Fullerton
- Emory University
- Franklin University
- George Washington University
- Kent State University
- Ohio State University
- Rutgers University
- University of Texas
- Villanova University
- University of Houston
- University of Michigan
- The United States Military Academy
- Brigham Young University - Hawaii
Origin and meaning of the term "six sigma process" 
The term "six sigma process" comes from the notion that if one has six standard deviations between the process mean and the nearest specification limit, as shown in the graph, practically no items will fail to meet specifications. This is based on the calculation method employed in process capability studies.
Capability studies measure the number of standard deviations between the process mean and the nearest specification limit in sigma units, represented by the Greek letter σ (sigma). As process standard deviation goes up, or the mean of the process moves away from the center of the tolerance, fewer standard deviations will fit between the mean and the nearest specification limit, decreasing the sigma number and increasing the likelihood of items outside specification.
Role of the 1.5 sigma shift 
Experience has shown that processes usually do not perform as well in the long term as they do in the short term. As a result, the number of sigmas that will fit between the process mean and the nearest specification limit may well drop over time, compared to an initial short-term study. To account for this real-life increase in process variation over time, an empirically-based 1.5 sigma shift is introduced into the calculation. According to this idea, a process that fits 6 sigma between the process mean and the nearest specification limit in a short-term study will in the long term fit only 4.5 sigma – either because the process mean will move over time, or because the long-term standard deviation of the process will be greater than that observed in the short term, or both.
Hence the widely accepted definition of a six sigma process is a process that produces 3.4 defective parts per million opportunities (DPMO). This is based on the fact that a process that is normally distributed will have 3.4 parts per million beyond a point that is 4.5 standard deviations above or below the mean (one-sided capability study). So the 3.4 DPMO of a six sigma process in fact corresponds to 4.5 sigma, namely 6 sigma minus the 1.5-sigma shift introduced to account for long-term variation. This allows for the fact that special causes may result in a deterioration in process performance over time, and is designed to prevent underestimation of the defect levels likely to be encountered in real-life operation.
The role of the sigma shift is mainly academic. The purpose of six sigma is to generate organizational performance improvement. It is up to the organisation to determine, based on customer expectations, what the appropriate sigma level of a process is. The purpose of the sigma value is as a comparative figure to determine whether a process is improving, deteriorating, stagnant or non-competitive with others in the same business. Six sigma (3.4 DPMO) is not the goal of all processes.
Sigma levels 
It must be understood that these figures assume that the process mean will shift by 1.5 sigma toward the side with the critical specification limit. In other words, they assume that after the initial study determining the short-term sigma level, the long-term Cpk value will turn out to be 0.5 less than the short-term Cpk value. So, for example, the DPMO figure given for 1 sigma assumes that the long-term process mean will be 0.5 sigma beyond the specification limit (Cpk = –0.17), rather than 1 sigma within it, as it was in the short-term study (Cpk = 0.33). Note that the defect percentages indicate only defects exceeding the specification limit to which the process mean is nearest. Defects beyond the far specification limit are not included in the percentages.
|Sigma level||Sigma (with 1.5σ shift)||DPMO||Percent defective||Percentage yield||Short-term Cpk||Long-term Cpk|
Software used for Six Sigma 
Statistics analysis tools with comparable functions 
- ARIS Six Sigma
- Bonita Open Solution BPMN2 standard and KPIs for statistic monitoring
- MATLAB or GNU Octave
- Microsoft Visio
- R language (The R Project for Statistical Computing). Some contributed packages at CRAN contain specific tools for Six Sigma: SixSigma, qualityTools, qcc and IQCC.
- SDI Tools
- Software AG webMethods BPM Suite
- SPC XL
Six Sigma mostly finds application in large organizations. An important factor in the spread of Six Sigma was GE's 1998 announcement of $350 million in savings thanks to Six Sigma, a figure that later grew to more than $1 billion. According to industry consultants like Thomas Pyzdek and John Kullmann, companies with fewer than 500 employees are less suited to Six Sigma implementation, or need to adapt the standard approach to make it work for them. Six sigma however contains a large number of tools and techniques that work well in small to mid size organisations as well. The fact that an organization is not big enough to be able to afford Black Belts does not diminish its abilities to make improvements using this set of tools and techniques. The infrastructure described as necessary to support six sigma  is as a result of the size of the organization rather than a requirement of six sigma itself.
In healthcare 
Six Sigma strategies were initially applied to the healthcare industry in March 1998. The Commonwealth Health Corporation (CHC) was the first health care organization to successfully implement the efficient strategies of Six Sigma. Substantial financial benefits were claimed. For example, in their radiology department, throughput improved by 33% and costs per radiology procedure decreased by 21.5%; Six Sigma has subsequently been adopted in other hospitals around the world.
Lack of originality 
Noted quality expert Joseph M. Juran has described Six Sigma as "a basic version of quality improvement", stating that "there is nothing new there. It includes what we used to call facilitators. They've adopted more flamboyant terms, like belts with different colors. I think that concept has merit to set apart, to create specialists who can be very helpful. Again, that's not a new idea. The American Society for Quality long ago established certificates, such as for reliability engineers."
Role of consultants 
The use of "Black Belts" as itinerant change agents has (controversially) fostered an industry of training and certification. Critics argue there is overselling of Six Sigma by too great a number of consulting firms, many of which claim expertise in Six Sigma when they have only a rudimentary understanding of the tools and techniques involved, or the markets or industries they are acting in.
Potential negative effects 
A Fortune article stated that "of 58 large companies that have announced Six Sigma programs, 91 percent have trailed the S&P 500 since". The statement was attributed to "an analysis by Charles Holland of consulting firm Qualpro (which espouses a competing quality-improvement process)". The summary of the article is that Six Sigma is effective at what it is intended to do, but that it is "narrowly designed to fix an existing process" and does not help in "coming up with new products or disruptive technologies." Advocates of Six Sigma have argued that many of these claims are in error or ill-informed.
A more direct criticism is the "rigid" nature of Six Sigma with its over-reliance on methods and tools. In most cases, more attention is paid to reducing variation and searching for any significant factors and less attention is paid to developing robustness in the first place (which can altogether eliminate the need for reducing variation). The extensive reliance on significance testing and use of multiple regression techniques increases the risk of making commonly-unknown types of statistical errors or mistakes. Another serious consequence of Six Sigma's array of P-value misconceptions is the false belief that the probability of a conclusion being in error can be calculated from the data in a single experiment without reference to external evidence or the plausibility of the underlying mechanism. Since significance tests were first popularized many objections have been voiced by prominent and respected statisticians. The volume of criticism and rebuttal has filled books with language seldom used in the scholarly debate of a dry subject. Much of the first criticism was already published more than 40 years ago. Refer to: Statistical hypothesis testing#Criticism for details.
Articles featuring critics have appeared in the November–December 2006 issue of USA Army Logistician regarding Six-Sigma: "The dangers of a single paradigmatic orientation (in this case, that of technical rationality) can blind us to values associated with double-loop learning and the learning organization, organization adaptability, workforce creativity and development, humanizing the workplace, cultural awareness, and strategy making."
Stifling creativity in research environments 
A BusinessWeek article says that James McNerney's introduction of Six Sigma at 3M had the effect of stifling creativity and reports its removal from the research function. It cites two Wharton School professors who say that Six Sigma leads to incremental innovation at the expense of blue skies research. This phenomenon is further explored in the book Going Lean, which describes a related approach known as lean dynamics and provides data to show that Ford's "6 Sigma" program did little to change its fortunes.
According to an article by John Dodge, editor in chief of Design News, use of Six Sigma is inappropriate in a research environment. Dodge states "excessive metrics, steps, measurements and Six Sigma's intense focus on reducing variability water down the discovery process. Under Six Sigma, the free-wheeling nature of brainstorming and the serendipitous side of discovery is stifled." He concludes "there's general agreement that freedom in basic or pure research is preferable while Six Sigma works best in incremental innovation when there's an expressed commercial goal."
Lack of systematic documentation 
One criticism voiced by Yasar Jarrar and Andy Neely from the Cranfield School of Management's Centre for Business Performance is that while Six Sigma is a powerful approach, it can also unduly dominate an organization's culture; and they add that much of the Six Sigma literature lacks academic rigor:
One final criticism, probably more to the Six Sigma literature than concepts, relates to the evidence for Six Sigma’s success. So far, documented case studies using the Six Sigma methods are presented as the strongest evidence for its success. However, looking at these documented cases, and apart from a few that are detailed from the experience of leading organizations like GE and Motorola, most cases are not documented in a systemic or academic manner. In fact, the majority are case studies illustrated on websites, and are, at best, sketchy. They provide no mention of any specific Six Sigma methods that were used to resolve the problems. It has been argued that by relying on the Six Sigma criteria, management is lulled into the idea that something is being done about quality, whereas any resulting improvement is accidental (Latzko 1995). Thus, when looking at the evidence put forward for Six Sigma success, mostly by consultants and people with vested interests, the question that begs to be asked is: are we making a true improvement with Six Sigma methods or just getting skilled at telling stories? Everyone seems to believe that we are making true improvements, but there is some way to go to document these empirically and clarify the causal relations.
Criticism of the 1.5 sigma shift 
The 1.5 sigma shift has also become contentious because it results in stated "sigma levels" that reflect short-term rather than long-term performance: a process that has long-term defect levels corresponding to 4.5 sigma performance is, by Six Sigma convention, described as a "six sigma process." The accepted Six Sigma scoring system thus cannot be equated to actual normal distribution probabilities for the stated number of standard deviations, and this has been a key bone of contention over how Six Sigma measures are defined. The fact that it is rarely explained that a "6 sigma" process will have long-term defect rates corresponding to 4.5 sigma performance rather than actual 6 sigma performance has led several commentators to express the opinion that Six Sigma is a confidence trick.
See also 
- Design for Six Sigma
- Kaizen – a philosophical focus on continuous improvement of processes
- Lean Six Sigma
- Management fad
- Six Sigma for ROI
- Total productive maintenance
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Further reading 
- Adams, Cary W.; Gupta, Praveen; Charles E. Wilson (2003). Six Sigma Deployment. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann. ISBN 0-7506-7523-3.
- Breyfogle, Forrest W. III (1999). Implementing Six Sigma: Smarter Solutions Using Statistical Methods. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-26572-1.
- De Feo, Joseph A.; Barnard, William (2005). JURAN Institute's Six Sigma Breakthrough and Beyond - Quality Performance Breakthrough Methods. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-142227-7.
- Hahn, G. J., Hill, W. J., Hoerl, R. W. and Zinkgraf, S. A. (1999) The Impact of Six Sigma Improvement-A Glimpse into the Future of Statistics, The American Statistician, Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 208–215.
- Keller, Paul A. (2001). Six Sigma Deployment: A Guide for Implementing Six Sigma in Your Organization. Tucson, AZ: Quality Publishing. ISBN 0-930011-84-8.
- Pande, Peter S.; Neuman, Robert P.; Roland R. Cavanagh (2001). The Six Sigma Way: How GE, Motorola, and Other Top Companies are Honing Their Performance. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-135806-4.
- Pyzdek, Thomas and Paul A. Keller (2009). The Six Sigma Handbook, Third Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-162338-8.
- Snee, Ronald D.; Hoerl, Roger W. (2002). Leading Six Sigma: A Step-by-Step Guide Based on Experience with GE and Other Six Sigma Companies. Upper Saddle River, NJ: FT Press. ISBN 0-13-008457-3.
- Taylor, Gerald (2008). Lean Six Sigma Service Excellence: A Guide to Green Belt Certification and Bottom Line Improvement. New York, NY: J. Ross Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60427-006-8.
- Tennant, Geoff (2001). SIX SIGMA: SPC and TQM in Manufacturing and Services. Aldershot, UK: Gower Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-566-08374-4.