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Six Sigma: Quality Standard of Champions Published: Sunday, June 7, 1998 By: Ramón L. Rivera

In a Six Sigma organization, employees assess their job functions with respect to how they improve the organization. Through an executive policy, they define their ideal state of performance in their roles, and quantify where they are currently with respect to these ideals. Then they work to minimize the gap and achieve Six Sigma by a certain date. A former statistical yardstick for quantifying the quality in manufacturing environments, six sigma has evolved as a strategic management tool.

A true Six Sigma organization produces not only excellent product or service but also maintains highly efficient core and support processes and systems that work effectively with the overall company=s strategy. Six Sigma is a breakthrough change strategy for accelerating improvements in process, products and services. It is a statistical term, first used in the electronics and computers industry, to describe an almost-perfect process. A company reaches the Six Sigma level of perfection when its processes are 99.99966 percent error-free, and defects measure a mere 3.4 per million opportunities.

In 1988, Motorola Corp. became one of the first companies to receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The award strives to identify those excellent firms that are worthy role models for other organizations. One of Motorola=s innovations that attracted a great deal of attention was its Six Sigma strategy. The concept changed the discourse of Quality from one where Quality levels were measured in percentages (parts per hundred) to a discussion of parts per million or even parts per billion. The underlying premise is that modern technology is so complex that old ideas about acceptable quality levels are no longer applicable. Six Sigma asks that processes operate such that the nearest product or service requirement is at least plus or minus six standard deviations away from the process mean. This is to be achieved through product and process design in a robust fashion. In a six sigma design, the variability of the process represents one half the maximum allowable range of a product requirement.

Six Sigma is a reach, which often requires revolutionary changes. The traditional quality paradigm defined a process as capable if the process=s natural spread, plus and minus three sigma, was less than the allowable range of the product requirement. Under the assumption of normality, this translates to a process yield of 99.73 percent. A typical reasonably well-controlled process is usually about Four Sigma (Sigma being the standard deviation) or 6,000 defects per million opportunities (dpmo). Thus, Six Sigma, which translates into a quality level of no more than 3.4 dpmo, represents a 2,000 times improvement over conventional wisdom.

Embarking on a six sigma program means delivering top-quality service and products while virtually eliminating all internal inefficiencies. A gauge of quality, six sigma is also a measure of the overall company=s effectiveness, by allowing to focus the efforts in reducing variation along every step on the road to Customer Delightment. In administrative processes, six sigma may mean not only the obvious reduction of cycle time during production but, more importantly, optimizing response time to inquiries, maximizing the speed and accuracy with which inventory or materials are supplied, and foolproofing support processes from errors, inaccuracies and inefficiencies. For an organization to reach Six Sigma successfully, the strategy must define a standard approach. Through an executive policy, the organization should establish its six sigma challenge, vision, and new balanced scorecard. Process characterization follows and the common goal then becomes to reduce variability in everything. In today=s competitive, market-driven world, a company`s survival rests in its ability to add significant value to its customer base. Six sigma can become a strategic vehicle for achieving breakthrough change, unleashing creativity and accelerating improvements that can impact the marketplace positively.


Copyright 1998 QBS, Inc.
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