The Association of Motorola and Six Sigma in 1980s and 1990s

The Association of Motorola and Six Sigma in 1980s and 1990s
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The Evolution of Six Sigma at Motorola

The relationship between Motorola and Six Sigma starts from the late 1970s. The competitive marketplace of the late 70s and early 80s brought stiff challenges to Motorola. Motorola’s customers were unhappy over product defects and customer support. Credit for the establishment of Six Sigma goes to Motorola’s CEO Bob Galvin who, searching for solutions, decided to position quality as a source of competitive advantage. In 1980, he launched a four-point plan to increase global competitiveness, adopt a participating management culture, improve quality tenfold within five years, and create a company-wide training center. The evolution of Six Sigma is traceable to the “Design for Manufacturability” course, one of the key operational initiatives of the four-point plan. This course changed measurement of quality from the hitherto used percentages to parts per million and laid down the goal of process improvement to ensure no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. An improvement on this approach led to the formalization of Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), initially a statistical measure of variation from a desired result.

1980s: Elimination of Defects

Motorola identified the reason for poor quality on many little defects made during the manufacturing process rather than inherent design flaws. Next, they decided to apply the newly developed Six Sigma as a simple quality initiative aimed at measuring and reducing deviance from the optimal state to eliminate defects from the manufacturing process. Cracked solder joints on circuit boards was one of the major quality-related issues facing Motorola in the early 1980s. Application of the Six Sigma process helped Motorola determine optimal operating conditions and substantially reduce solder joint defects. The major challenge faced by Motorola while implementing Six Sigma was the tendency of employees to fudge the system rather than make improvements. Employees tried to improve the sigma level by increasing the number of opportunities for defects, like counting five opportunities for every solder joint, rather than by reducing defects. Motorola ensured the success of Six Sigma by making employees the stakeholders of the concept. Motorola made it the responsibility of everyone to Define, Measure, Analyze, Identify, and Control the process improvement. This approach made workers understand that the purpose behind the Six Sigma System was to ensure solder joints did not leak. Motorola’s unprecedented success with Six Sigma allowed it to receive in 1988, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, an award that strives to identify firms that are worthy role models for other businesses.

1990s: Consolidation and Expansion

The 1990s was also a period of consolidation. Motorola initially followed a “bottom-up” approach by starting the training for quality and statistical methods from the bottom of the company. This approach was a mistake, for many workers required remedial education to understand statistical process controls and other techniques. Also, workers could not turn to their untrained bosses for help. Motorola established the “Motorola University” in 1992 to provide executive training on Six Sigma, and by the end of the 1990s Motorola spread Six Sigma competency throughout the organization and developed strong Six Sigma teams. Motorola’s first certified Black Belt came in the early 1990s and the first certified Master Black belt came in 1999. By the late 1990’s Six Sigma became well entrenched in Motorola’s manufacturing processes, and Motorola now extended Six Sigma to improve supplier quality and to replicate the successful processes around the world. During this second phase, a typical Six Sigma project included how to replicate a process working well in Schaumburg, Illinois for use in Malaysia.

2000s: Digital Six Sigma

Motorola and Six Sigma

The association of Motorola and Six Sigma rose to a new level in 2003 when Motorola launched Digital Six Sigma. Digital Six Sigma is an improvement over classical Six Sigma on three major counts:

    1. Digital Six Sigma integrates information technology and new digital tools for improved training, decision-making, analysis and compliance, and to monitor performance on a continuous basis by automating process control data.
    2. Digital Six Sigma focuses on high-leverage issues that drive business improvements throughout the organization. The major thrust in the new approach was not to just eliminate defects, but to reduce “total cycle time” or the time from when a Motorola customer places an order to the delivery.
    3. Digital Six Sigma is widely used in design and innovation to understand customer requirements and translate them into real engineering requirements.

In recent years, Motorola has placed even more emphasis on training the workforce for Six Sigma competency. Motorola makes it mandatory for all employees to take a Six Sigma foundation course online and this online course leads to a badge system that runs parallel to the belt levels. A White Badge shows successful completion of the Six Sigma foundation course. A Yellow Badge shows successful training in quality tools specific to the work domain. The focus on Motorola and Six Sigma in recent years was to improve on their Green Belts. The increased thrust on training increases the commitment of the workforce to Six Sigma, a major factor for the success of Six Sigma at Motorola. The implementation of Six Sigma has produced over $18 billion in savings for Motorola over the past 20 years. Rey More, Motorola’s Chief Quality Officer says “Without Six Sigma, we would be one of those companies famous for having great ideas and not being able to make any money off them.” Many organizations over the past 20 years have emulated the successful association of Motorola and Six Sigma.


    1. Six Sigma in Action. Motorola University
    2. Reynard, Sue, Motorola Celebrates 20 Years of Six Sigma. iSixSigma Magazine (January-February 2007). Retrieved from
    3. Thomas Pyzdek, Motorola’s Six Sigma Programme. Quality Digest. Retrieved from

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