This is a companion article to the feature, “Keeping Your Team Lean.” 

Six SigmaSince being introduced by Bill Smith in 1986, Six Sigma techniques have been used as a strategy for process improvement across a myriad of business and industrial sectors worldwide. Based in statistics, Six Sigma is a quality control method that relies on a set of detailed descriptions, assessments, and requirements to increase the probability of maximum output during manufacturing processes. In 1995, Jack Welch, then chairman of General Electric, expanded Six Sigma’s application to new areas like education, government, healthcare, manufacturing, and community service establishments.

Even though its use in industries has evolved, however, Six Sigma has never veered from its intrinsic goal of improving all processes. The Six Sigma philosophy operates from the premise that all works are processes that can be defined, measured, analyzed, improved, and controlled. When applied to business operations, for example, the Six Sigma process includes a progression of detailed, sequential, quality control steps that contribute to improved profit and customer satisfaction. It helps reduce product defects and liability, lowering costs and reducing process and production cycle times.

Today, many businesses rely on a range of Six Sigma steps to signify that a process is well controlled. These steps may include control charts, process mapping, statistical process control, or failure mode and effects analysis methods, to name a few. A process, however, is only considered to be under maximum control if it falls within certain parameters. Ensuring control is critical, because any increase in performance or decrease in process variation in turn reduces defects and improves profits, employee morale, and the quality of products or services. This emphasis on control reflects an overarching Six Sigma principle: If inputs are carefully regulated, outputs can also be controlled.

Randell Orner, PhD, MBA, LBC is a 20-year veteran of the biomed industry. Shannon Barr-Marinetti, DBA is a college professor and business consultant. For more information, contact chief editor Jenny Lower at [email protected].

Photo credit: © Petr Vaclavek |