Understanding 6 Sigma

You may have noticed the increase of discussion and publication about a topic called 6 Sigma. However, what isn’t as obvious is what 6 Sigma actually is. First created by Motorola, 6 Sigma is an intensive, highly focused, and greatly effective quality control strategy. Its primary goal is to maintain the performance of an organization virtually error-free.

When measuring the performance of a company, its Sigma level is given. Traditionally operated businesses will usually be found running at a 3 or 4 Sigma performance level, even though their rate of problems per opportunity usually falls between 6,200 and 67,000 per one million.

On the other hand, an organization running at 6 Sigma will instead see an average of only 3.4 problems per million opportunities. This tremendous difference is can make the difference between success and failure in a market where the expectations of customers rise as quickly as the complexity of today’s products and processes.

Surprisingly enough, however, 6 Sigma – though considered an entirely new and innovative strategy – does not involve any new technologies, theories, or techniques. Instead, its foundation is methods that have existed for a long time and have proven their efficacy time and time again. In fact, 6 Sigma disregards a large amount of the density of traditional Total Quality Management (TQM) in favor of a much more direct, common sense-based, and practical mindset.

Unfortunately, though, after lifetimes of learning, training, and thinking in traditional ways, the more reality-based 6 Sigma does not come naturally to many people. To compensate for this issue, specially trained, proven individuals, known as 6 Sigma Black Belts, have become available to assist organizations using their proficiency in the application of the 6 Sigma strategy.

Of course, all this is not to say that everything about 6 Sigma is obvious and simple. In fact, some of the techniques utilized by the Black Belts are quite advanced, and require state-of-the-art computer technologies.

Fortunately, these tools can be applied to quite an easy performance improvement model, frequently referred to by 6 Sigma Black Belts as the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control Model, so that any business can apply 6 Sigma to its own processes.

Now that you know what 6 Sigma is, it’s time to find out how you can improve the function of your own business and maximize your potential through practical and realistic quality control. The strategy has worked wonders for Motorola, and is currently growing its successes with organizations around the globe.


Originally developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986, the Six Sigma Training program was created using some of the most innovative quality improvement methods from the preceding six decades. The term "Six Sigma" is derived from a field of statistics known as process capability. The term 6 Sigma refers to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that operate with "six sigma quality" over the short term are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma's goal is to improve overall processes to that level of quality or better.