What Is Six Sigma?


Quick Answer

Six Sigma is a quality improvement program developed by multinational telecommunications company Motorola in 1986. In order to achieve the Six Sigma standard, the number of defects in a manufacturing process should be no more than 3.4 per million. Since its launch, according to Investopedia, Six Sigma has evolved into a general business-management philosophy that has been adopted by hundreds of companies around the world.

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Full Answer

By the late 1990s, two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies were using Six Sigma. In 2005, Motorola attributed savings of $17 billion to its own use of the process. General Electric, an early adopter of Six Sigma, defines it as a process that helps a company to focus on developing and delivering products and services that are nearly flawless. The central idea, according to General Electric, is to measure the number of "defects" -- failures to deliver exactly what a customer requires -- in a process, and then systematically eliminate them until the number of defects is as close to zero as possible. Training in Six Sigma is available from a number of vendors, including Motorola itself. In 2008, the principles behind Six Sigma were combined with the ideology of lean manufacturing to create a new methodology known as Lean Six Sigma. According to Motorola, this improvement program aims to reduce waste and optimize customer value.

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