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Who uses Six Sigma?

There are a growing number of companies who are now using Six Sigma. Despite Motorola's claim that they invented Six Sigma, historical records show that the principles behind the methodology date back to 1809. Carl Gauss, a German mathematician, published "Theoria Motus Corporum Arithmeticae" and in his book, Gauss introduced the concept of the bell curve, a shape that can often represent the variation that occurs in a controlled process.

While in the early days, Six Sigma was limited to complex manufacturing environments, today that has changed dramatically. Six Sigma has spread into every industry and into every functional area. Recent surveys show that the distribution of Six Sigma programs is now spread across a growing number of functional areas. Some of these are:

  • Manufacturing

  • Engineering

  • Administration

  • Test/Inspection

  • Plant operation

  • Customer service

  • Research/Development

  • Purchasing

  • Sales/Marketing

  • Shipping/Receiving

  • Document control

  • Pollution prevention

However, it is important to realize that Six Sigma is not right, for every company or every process. This is due in part to the fact that many small companies simply lack the resources that are necessary to implement Six Sigma. And other companies with the financial resources sometimes don't have enough support from upper management, to get Six Sigma initiatives off the ground.

It should also be noted that in large companies with global supply and manufacturing operations, implementing Six Sigma is no easy and/or small feat. Basically there are two ways it happens. One way is through a separate organization that provides Six Sigma services to the main business. In this model, all Six Sigma projects run through the independent organization, making it much easier to measure the impact of the changes. However, it should be noted that this arrangement can create a "we versus them" mentality that can ultimately undermine the effectiveness of the Six Sigma initiatives.

To avoid this problem, other businesses take a more integrated approach. As an alternative, Six Sigma is incorporated into every employee's job, with a few highly trained experts acting as facilitators. While this makes it more challenging to measure the impact of Six Sigma, it also helps create a culture, in which a commitment to quality and excellence is consistent throughout the business.

It is crucial to realize that Six Sigma relies heavily on teams of people working together and not on individual effort. A team can vary, but it will often include Six Sigma experts, such as: process experts, data specialists, communicators and customers. The definition of a customer, in this case, refers to any person, (internal or external), who is affected by a process or product change. Keep in mind that this could be a person on the production line, someone in sales or marketing, a distributor, or the ultimate end-user of a product or service. It is important to remember that the customer may be the most important person on the team, because it is the customer who defines quality. Ultimately it is his or her expectation of performance, reliability, competitive prices, or on-time delivery that sets the standard.

Another critical role is that of team leader. This is because the leader of a Six Sigma project must be extremely proficient in the technical aspects of Six Sigma statistics and process. Generally, if a project requires a high degree of Six Sigma expertise, it will be led by a Black Belt. These are employees who possess deep knowledge of all Six Sigma methods and tools, and are assigned to lead projects that return a bottom-line value of $150,000 to an organization, and are highly experienced.However, if a project isn't as complex, it will be led by a Green Belt. These employees are qualified to solve the majority of process problems that arise in manufacturing environments, and can always consult with Black Belts if they come up against a particularly challenging problem. The rest of the team are Yellow Belts. Yellow Belts are staff members, administrators, operations personnel, and anyone else who might play a role.

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