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Six Sigma: The Key to Quality Improvements


If you're unfamiliar with the concept, Six Sigma is an effective means to provide enhanced business performance, exceed customer satisfaction and increase profits via significantly improved processes throughout your manufacturing operations. Since being pioneered at Motorola in the mid-1980s, the approach has achieved remarkable success throughout a diverse range of industries, from health care to insurance to software development.

Although some have labeled Six Sigma "a rigorous statistical quality control mechanism," it can furnish multiple far-reaching, positive impacts for a business.

Initially, Motorola targeted Six Sigma to quantify the defects that can happen during manufacturing processes, so that the company could substantially reduce those defects. The company claimed that this approach saved them several million dollars. Additionally, GE credited Six Sigma with adding $300 million to its 1997 operating income figures.

"Six Sigma is a quality program that, when all is said and done, improves your customer's experience, lowers your costs and builds better leaders," declared Jack Welch, GE's then-chairman and CEO.

What Exactly Is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a methodology designed to develop new, transformative improvements. It relies on statistical calculation and prediction of error rates and timed correction of errors to maximize output potential. It differs from lean manufacturing in that lean manufacturing applies definitive factors for manufacturing processes on a minute-by-minute basis in real time.

Basically, Six Sigma manages variation and reduces defects in processes throughout your manufacturing operations. The primary motivation to implement Six Sigma is the knowledge that all of your customers seek consistently and predictably high-quality products or services, preferably without any imperfections.

Six Sigma allows you to measure any process variations that may cause defects or unacceptable deviation from your targeted outcomes. That way, you can manage your systems to reduce or eliminate defects. Thus, Six Sigma enables your business to improve the quality of manufacturing outputs and marketing results by ensuring a minimum number of errors.

A vital underlying principle to note is that Six Sigma is not just about product quality or tracking defective products. The driving force when implementing Six Sigma needs to be determining what is of critical importance to internal or external customers and what provides value to them — or value in the context of the market.

One classic example of misusing Six Sigma occurred at Polaroid. In the late 1980s, the company had annual sales of $2 billion and was performing well on the stock exchange. A decade later, it became a Six Sigma company. However, in 2001, Polaroid filed for bankruptcy. Some experts believe the company's mistake was choosing to concentrate on product quality improvements while neglecting to accommodate the needs of its customers.

Proper Implementation Can Lead to Important Benefits

If you're thinking of executing a Six Sigma plan, experts advise that the optimal results occur when all levels of management are enthusiastic about the plan's implementation.

You might also want to pursue Six Sigma certifications. Doing so may lead to opportunities that bring to your business high-profile Six Sigma projects with quantified results and demonstrated efficiency. You will likely find, as many firms have, that certification is an effective way to enhance your professional profile and boost your reputation inside and outside your organization.

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Tim Sinclair
Tim Sinclair
(843) 577-5843
40 Calhoun Street, Suite 320
Charleston, SC 29401
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