History of Six Sigma

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The history of Six Sigma now spans several decades. It began in a Motorola board room when an executive said - the real problem here at Motorola is that our quality stinks.

After being taken over by the Japanese in the 1970’s, Motorola recognized that its quality was bad and costly! Something had to be done...

Bob Galvin became Motorola's CEO in the early 1980’s.


Bill Smith

Bill Smith is credited with being the father of the Six Sigma process. Smith worked with co-founder Dr. Mikel Harry who eventually developed the four-stage Six Sigma process: Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (MAIC). The (D) Define was later added by GE.

Bill Smith wrote an internal quality report at Motorola which eventually caught the attention of CEO Galvin. 

The report sat on Galvin's desk for two years before Smith finally worked up the courage to ask Galvin if he had read it.

In the report Smith showed the statistical connection between how well a product did in the field vs. how much rework had been required during production.


Bob Galvin

In 1987 CEO Galvin launched a long term quality program, called “The Six Sigma Quality Program”. Goals were established to achieve Six Sigma performance by 1992. In 1988 Motorola won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.


In 1989 CEO Galvin invited Mikel Harry to head up Motorola's Six Sigma Research Institute. In his work Harry created the strategy to put quality tools into the hands of the masses.


Mikel Harry

In 1993 Mikel Harry cofounded the Six Sigma Academy. He went to work at Allied Signal and convinced CEO Larry Bossidy to adopt Six Sigma.

Things were heating up with the early reported successes. Texas Instruments and others soon embarked on their journeys!


Jack Welch

In 1995 Jack Welch invited his friend, Allied Signal CEO Bossidy, to speak at GE’s executive council meeting. Bossidy was a highly regarded ex-GE vice chairman. 

Welch did not attend, he was recovering from heart surgery. Upon return to work his executives informed him that Six Sigma was different. 

Welch was skeptical but requested a financial analysis. Their analysis showed that shifting their processes to Six Sigma capability would save GE $10 billion.

By October 1995 the Six Sigma process was company policy at GE. Dr. Harry spent the next 4 years training GE managers. Welch insisted that no one would be promoted to a management position without at least a Green Belt.

Welch stated that Six Sigma was the most ambitious undertaking the company had ever taken on! His statements to his executives are legendary.

“Quality can truly change GE from one of the great companies to absolutely the greatest company in world business.” When GE does something, it does it all the way!

“Everyone in this room must lead the quality charge. There can be no spectators on this. What took Motorola ten years, we must do in five - not through shortcuts, but in learning from others”.


Although the history of Six Sigma clearly shows that it began at Motorola, it was GE’s adoption and success that opened the eyes of the business world.

The Six Sigma process has been refined by many and continues to grow and evolve.

And the history of Six Sigma continues to be written with derivatives such as Design for Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. Individual company branding has also become very popular.

Countless firms now reap its rewards, does yours?

From History of Six Sigma to Six Sigma.

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