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By Oskar Olofsson
"Six Sigma" is the name of a process to measure, to control, and to improve quality in a variety of endeavours. Although its origins are in manufacturing, the concept may be applied to a variety of processes, including the provision of services and the design and development of new products and services.
Motorola has taken a copyright on the name, which refers to the desired defect rate.
The term originated in statistical methodologies. "Sigma" is the Greek letter ‘Σ', shown in lower case as ‘σ'. In statistics this means the standard deviation from the mean, which is an indicator of how far the samples deviate from the average value.
A "defect" is a value which is outside the accepted range. The number "opportunities" for a defect is calculated by multiplying the number of products by the number of metrics (length, weight, etc.) being measured. Then an "n σ" process is determined by the percentage of defects in the output. "3 σ" was an earlier standard that permitted a 6.7% defect rate. A "6 σ" process has no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.
In short, the Six Sigma goal is to keep the number of defects extremely low.
This section of our web site covers many topics:
A Six Sigma program is implemented by a series of projects. Each project has a specific goal, to remedy or improve a specific process. At the end of a project, control measures are implemented to ensure that quality remains high.
To begin a program requires several important steps:
As with any major initiative, the first step is to obtain a commitment from upper management to initiate and follow-through with the Six Sigma process. Any such process will require capital and operational investment, energy and other resources.
Each project will focus on correcting or improving a process. The process owner, typically a department head or plant manager, must also be committed and involved for that project to succeed.
the team includes several people who must have the technical training in statistical controls and the process. They should be brought together in a central staff department for deployment to work with line departments on specific projects.
This department must be set up, and its staff hired or trained. Ideal team members will bring industry-specific expertise as well as Six Sigma experience to this department.
Identify in-house project managers who care passionately about quality, and can commit to the required training. Hire new staff already qualified as Six Sigma Black Belts. Engage consultants as required to build the department and to help in specific projects.
Identifying suitable candidate projects is an important and continuing activity. It is important to select a project that is meaningful, right-sized so that it can begin and come to completion, and has a suitable ROI. See How to Choose a Project for more details.
The first project will be closely watched by its stakeholders, and also by heads of other departments who will want to learn from any mistakes.
By Oskar Olofsson