Six Sigma Saga

So what's all the fuss about Six Sigma?

That's a question I had been trying to answer since I arrived at Quality Progress late last year. Like a lot of other people, I had been hearing some contradictory and confusing things.

First, I was told that Six Sigma was the latest concept in quality thinking. But then I learned that it actually got started at Motorola more than a decade ago. Someone said Six Sigma referred to the width of a bell curve measured out that many standard deviations. But then I read that this approach also relied on a shift over time of 1.5 sigma.

Another thing I heard was that Six Sigma was all the rage on Wall Street and at blue-chip companies. But somehow this didn't square with the reports I was getting about the Six Sigma Academy--that it was run by a couple of hard riding cowboys whose real passion was rodeo.

It soon became apparent that the only way to get some answers was to meet with Mikel J. Harry face to face. As he explains it, Mike is not the father of Six Sigma, but rather its godfather. "I put the math to it and dressed it up for school," he says.

In July I traveled to Scottsdale, AZ, where Mike is based, to spend some time learning about the theory and practice of Six Sigma. I came away with a notebook full of quotes and comments about Six Sigma, wild cows and the challenges that face the quality profession. As you'll read in the article that resulted (see Cowboy Quality," p. 27), Mike isn't afraid to speak his mind.

October is National Quality Month, and I think it's appropriate that we feature Six Sigma in this issue. But I want to point out another article that focuses on how quality is being practiced today (see "Complacency--the Enemy of Quality," p. 37). It was written by Mark Hagen, QP's assistant editor, and describes how three companies are actively pursuing quality initiatives during the current economic boom.

Historically quality has had its greatest following at times of financial strife, being seen as a way "out of the crisis," as W. Edwards Deming wrote. In fast growing markets and at high flying companies, quality can be easily overlooked, and so it's gratifying to see how Champion Mortgage, Manpower and  Newton Vineyard are applying quality tools--not out of desperation but as part of a well considered plan to maintain their leadership positions. 

26073PG6 Miles Maguire
MAGUIRE, M. tiff

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