Updated: Feb 18

Brief outline of the history of Six Sigma

  • Early 1980’s Motorola Inc. in the USA used ‘Six Sigma’ to describe an in-house initiative for reducing defects in production processes.

  • Late 1980’s following the success of it’s earlier initiative, Motorola extended the Six Sigma methods to its critical business processes, beyond purely “defect reduction”.

  • In 1991 Motorola certified its first “Black Belt” Six Sigma experts, which indicates the beginning of the formalization of the accredited training of Six Sigma methods.

  • In 1991, Allied Signal, (a large avionics company which merged with Honeywell in 1999), adopted the Six Sigma methods, and claimed significant improvements and cost savings within six months.

  • In 1995, General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch implemented Six Sigma in GE, and by 1998 GE claimed Six Sigma had generated over three-quarters of a billion dollars of cost savings.

  • By the mid-1990’s Six Sigma had developed into a transferable “branded” corporate management initiative and methodology, notably in General Electric and other large manufacturing corporations, but also in organizations outside the manufacturing sector.

  • By the year 2000, Six Sigma was effectively established as an industry in its own right, involving the training, consultancy and implementation of Six Sigma methodology in sectors other than manufacturing.

Source: businessballs.com

In healthcare, the numbers behind sigma levels become really critical, considering that human lives are involved.

What is Six Sigma?

According to the American Society for Quality, “Six Sigma is a method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes. This increase in performance and decrease in process variation lead to defect reduction and improvement in profits, employee morale, and quality of products or services.” Six sigma performance levels range from 1 to 6. A level 1 performance translates to 690,000 defects per million opportunities or an accuracy rate of 30.85%. A process that is well-controlled is said to have Six Sigma quality, yielding 99.999% accuracy. In healthcare, the numbers behind sigma levels become really critical, considering that human lives are involved.

An understanding of the implications of “defects” in healthcare is scary and serves to emphasize the importance of six sigma in healthcare. The table below puts things in perspective and will help you determine your organization’s current sigma level. Even if your organization’s current performance level is not where you would like it to be, improvement is achievable. It starts with setting a goal, having a strategy to improve on existing practices and continuous monitoring to ensure process efficiency.

Sigma Level Defects per million % Yield

6 3.4 99.999

5 233 99.977

4 6,210 99.38

3 66,807 93.32

2 308,537 69.15

1 690,000 30.85