Famous Six Sigma People

Written by Ms.Geethai Narayanasamy, ASQ CSSBB, Quality Management Professional, Chennai, India

The term ‘Six Sigma’ is a magical word that creates ripples in today’s business world. While knowing about the concept of ‘Six Sigma’ and various tools & methods that Six Sigma uses, one must also know about the founders and pillars who were the reason for shaping Six Sigma as a methodology as it is today.

A brief history of some of the famous people involved in Six Sigma and their contributions are described for the benefit of readers. While some of the points below are already discussed in ‘Six Sigma History’, we are again insisting the points to understand the contribution of these people and how the influence of top management can create huge success in any organization.

While discussing about Six Sigma, the role of Carl Fredrick Gauss is very important. Though he may not be an active contributor in Six sigma history, his invention of the concept ‘Normal curve’ laid foundation for Six Sigma (For Six Sigma is based on Normal curve and sigma value around the curve).

Another important person is Dr. A.Walter Shewhart who invented the concept of Statistical Process Control. His concepts ‘Chance cause’ and ‘Assignable cause’ is one of the founding stones of Six Sigma methodology. Worldwide, many companies use this concept within and outside Six sigma framework. He was the one who first used Control Charts for Process control. Now, nobody can imagine Six Sigma implementation without Control charts.

Coming to the official introduction of Six Sigma as a concept and methodology, we should know about engineers like Bill Smith, Michael Harry who did enormous research in developing Six Sigma as a concept and tool. One should also know about leaders like Bob Galvin, Jack Welch and Larry Bossidy for understanding the capabilities of this concept to its depth and providing enormous support and emphasis on utilizing Six Sigma to its full benefit.

Everyone knows that Six Sigma originated from Motorola. In 1985, Bill Smith an engineer in Motorola wrote a report on the correlation between product performance in field and rework done during production. Along with Michael Harry (Another engineer whose contribution to Six sigma is enormous), he started exploring a standard problem solving method for defect reduction (which was then a huge concern for Motorola). The approach was called MAIC: Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Bill Smith is regarded as the ‘Father of Six Sigma’, for he was one of the reasons for leading Motorola to a huge success of reducing the defects by 1/100th in four years and bringing it to Six Sigma level of performance (i.e. 3.4 defects per million opportunities). Within two years of introduction of Six Sigma in Motorola, Motorola won the famous Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award.

Another person who has equal credit in developing the concept of Six Sigma was Michael Harry. Under Bob Galvin’s request Michael Harry joined Motorola’s Six Sigma Research institute in 1989. He was the brain behind taking Six Sigma training and concepts to all employees in Motorola and thus leading Motorola to quick success in Six Sigma journey. Also, he was the brain behind creating Six Sigma roles as ‘Belts’ similar to martial arts.

Bob Galvin is one of the persons quoted as an example for a successful leader. He is known for taking and owning Six Sigma as a management approach and leading, motivating the team for its success. In 1981 Bob Galvin (then CEO of Motorola) challenged its Japanese competitor that Motorola will achieve tenfold improvement in performance. In 1987, Bob launched “The Six Sigma Quality Program” and made everyone in the organization responsible for achieving the common goal- reaching Six Sigma level. He also linked Six sigma to everyone’s KPIs and Performance assessment. Thus he proved to be a great leader demonstrating the commitment of leadership in Six sigma journey and also achieved the results by utilizing the right skilled people to lead and assist him in the journey.

Larry Bossidy – CEO of Allied Signal (Now Honeywell) was inspired by the Six Sigma success story of Motorola. He was also a friend of Bob Galvin, from whom he learnt the Six Sigma methodology. Bossidy’s thought process of i) Project selection based on cost saving and customer satisfaction ii) Role of Top level Executives in Six Sigma and providing them training in six sigma methodology (This is how the role of Six Sigma Champions got introduced) brought key changes in Six Sigma journey and got adopted into the Six Sigma framework that we use today.

Last but not the least, let’s discuss Jack Welch who is a strong promoter of Six Sigma and has written books about it. Jack Welch was the CEO of GE (General Electric), in 1995 when he adopted Six Sigma in GE to reduce defects and rework. Under the leadership of Jack Welch, GE reported a saving of $12 billion. With his leadership capabilities, Jack Welch has taken Six Sigma to greater heights and made it as a globally adopted strategy. Now GE is among one of the top few globally recognized training centers for Six Sigma.

Thus the above people have given us one of the finest tools of business management that can create wonders in our organizations.