History of Six Sigma

The history of Six Sigma, the business methodology, started not very long ago. However, many of the tools and concepts that lie beneath the methodology have been around for decades and even centuries and have all contributed to its history.

The actual business and quality culture of Six Sigma - where processes should not produce more than 3.4 defects per million parts - started in the USA at Motorola in the mid 1980s. In fact, the term Six Sigma was coined there. Motorola had immense success with their Six Sigma program and the quality culture there was changed forever. In just a short few years, Motorola had racked up millions of dollars in savings and cost reductions.

Other companies noticed this new culture of operational excellence and quickly adopted the concept. Companies like Texas Instruments, Allied Signal, and General Electric were some of the first to follow in Motorola's footsteps. When these companies started to see immense gains from their implementation of the program, that is when everybody started to notice the power of Six Sigma. The popularization of Six Sigma is usually credited to General Electric.

GE started their Six Sigma program in 1994 under the leadership of Jack Welch who was CEO at the time. He had noticed Motorola's success and loved that the Six Sigma concept was based on principles of fact-based decision making. As with Motorola, the quality and business culture within GE started to change. The language used in everyday business conversation became much more technical and statistical. In 1999, just five years after starting the program, GE reported $2 billion of savings from their initiative. This was a huge milestone in the history of Six Sigma. It was the turning point when the whole world started to look at Six Sigma and it gained extreme popularity. Therefore the phrase, "Started by Motorola, perfected by GE."

As you can see, the pioneers through the history of Six Sigma were all in the manufacturing industry. By the early 2000s, through the relatively short history of Six Sigma, it grew and evolved massively. Even non-manufacturing companies took notice and started to implement the initiative. Today, there are thousands of companies using Six Sigma. Some companies have it completely embedded in their culture (like GE) while others use it as required. Either way, one cannot dispute the popularity and successes that the methodology has shown. Banks, insurance companies, hotels, R&D firms, marketing firms, construction companies, and many other businesses are using the Six Sigma methodology to great business advantage.

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