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What is the Purpose of Six Sigma?

written by: Joe Taylor Jr. • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/8/2013

Beyond simply identifying manufacturing defects, the purpose of Six Sigma can extend to five different outcomes depending on the desires of a manager or a project leader.

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    Six Sigma The original purpose of Six Sigma, as developed by companies like Motorola and General Electric, was to identify and eliminate causes of manufacturing defects within large-scale industrial projects. Over the past few decades, a legion of managers in a variety of industries have adapted Six Sigma methodologies to suit their own uses. For example, some project management professionals rely on Six Sigma tools to measure team effectiveness.

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    Five Clues to the Purpose of Six Sigma

    In general, companies tend to adopt Six Sigma for five specific reasons:

    1. Improve Customer Satisfaction

    At its core, the purpose of Six Sigma is to measure and eliminate defects in manufacturing and development. While some managers use Six Sigma to increase efficiency, the most successful companies rely on the system to reduce customer complaints and product malfunctions. When used in a project management setting, Six Sigma can provide a framework for repetitive project cycles that helps measure progress against long term goals.

    2. Standardize Business Development

    Companies that adopt Six Sigma can choose between two implementations of the strategy, depending on their desired outcome. When the purpose of Six Sigma at an organization is to overhaul an existing product or service, leaders can use the “DMAIC" method, in which participants define, measure, analyze, improve, and control their results. The “DMADV" method helps companies that view the purpose of Six Sigma as an opportunity to develop entirely new products and services by defining, measuring, analyzing, defining, and verifying their plans.

    3. Coordinate Metrics with Suppliers and Customers

    Six Sigma incorporates a variety of established quality management measurements into its own methodologies. Therefore, many companies use Six Sigma to interface more directly with both clients and vendors. For example, a client organization that relies heavily on customer surveys and a third-party supplier that analyzes manufacturing variances can both be addressed through a unified Six Sigma strategy.

    4. Ensure Industry and Government Compliance

    At it's core, the purpose of Six Sigma involves reducing manufacturing errors to a rate below 3.4 parts per million. Many key enterprise purchasers, including large corporations and government offices, now use this metric to review prospective vendors. Implementing Six Sigma strategies can help companies win or maintain lucrative, large contracts.

    5. Develop Career Growth Opportunities

    For many companies, the purpose of Six Sigma involves one or more of the goals outlined above. However, individuals can enjoy tremendous professional development opportunities by helping their employers adopt Six Sigma tools and training. Along with the inherent benefits of improving business practices, executives with exposure to Six Sigma methodologies can more easily shift jobs to other companies that share similar outlooks. Promoting a yellow belt, a green belt, or a black belt in Six Sigma on a resume signals key competencies to prospective employers.

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    Finding Your Own Purpose of Six Sigma

    Depending on its implementation, Six Sigma can be seen as a rigid system for standardization or a common ground for innovation. As with any project management process, setting expectations for outcome early can mean the difference between success and failure. Fortunately, the broad support for Six Sigma in the business sector allows managers to easily find guidance and support for its methodologies.