In the 1970s, Motorola was struggling to compete with the multitude of Japanese consumer products companies. At the nadir of this struggle, executive Art Sundry explained “Our quality stinks,” which ironically became a major catalyst for the future transformation of Motorola.
In the mid-80s, Motorola experienced even further change when engineer Bill Smith introduced the Six Sigma concept to then CEO Bob Galvin.
What is Six Sigma?
Essentially, Six Sigma is an immensely technical concept that aids engineers in fine-tuning products, projects, and services. Yet it should be noted that, as a whole, Six Sigma is not entirely limited to a simple definition, for it is often referred to in a variety of fashions.
For example, initially, Six Sigma was nothing more than a statistical term. Yet after Motorola implemented this methodology in 1987, Six Sigma transformed into a problem-solving strategy, then later into an expansive management system. Thus, thanks to the improvements at Motorola, Six Sigma is now considered to be one of the most popular methods for cultural change.
The Six Sigma Doctrine
At its core, Six Sigma is a scientific methodology which management implement in order to improve overall efficiency, customer satisfaction, and financial gains.
Within this methodology, there is often a four-stage problem-solving technique. This technique was first developed by Mikel Harry, who many consider being the godfather of Six Sigma (considering this, Harry has stated that it is Bill Smith who is the father of Six Sigma).
Harry, in working with Smith, established the four-stage problem-solving technique of measure, analyze, improve, and control (MAIC). The MAIC approach then became a fundamental part of the Six Sigma doctrine that helped change the culture of Motorola. Yet, for some, this technique was found to be lacking. Therefore, some engineering managers have found more success with the extension of this technique: DMAIC.
The DMAIC strategy (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) is almost exactly similar to MAIC, but within this strategy, engineering managers will first be asked to define that which they hope to achieve and measure.
So, if engineering managers want to improve overall productivity, they might use current data to define a quarter’s production goal. Engineering managers will measure productivity throughout the quarter, then analyze this data to determine if the team is on track to meet quarter goals. If the team is behind, managers will make the adjustments needed for improvement by identifying and eliminating the fundamental components of the issues.
By eradicating root causes, engineering managers are able to achieve one of the key doctrines of Six Sigma: control. By acquiring and implementing control, managers and companies are able to attain the exact improvements that they desire. This is not only important for present-day improvements, but also those in the future as well.
For example, if a company’s ultimate goal is to be the most successful, innovative company in their industry, then they will need a multitude of micro-goals that are designed to aid in this process. This harmony between micro/macro goals transfers down through the company, making engineering managers in charge of a multitude of macro and micro goals. Managers can then analyze these goals and use the DMAIC technique to make certain that they are achieved.
Utilizing Six Sigma
It should be noted that although control is the last step in the DMAIC strategy, it is always present in the methodology as a whole. This is due to DMAIC and Six Stigma’s inherent purpose, which, as aforementioned, is to improve overall functioning so that vast improvement are made on a multitude of levels.
Therefore, if an engineering manager is in the analyzing stage, he or she always has the control to redesign their strategy to better align with their overall goal. Furthermore, managers should utilize their power to quickly eradicate what isn’t working no matter what stage they are in.
As examined, the Six Sigma and DMAIC methodologies function more in a cyclical, dynamic fashion where companies can personalize and transfigure these strategies to fit their goals. Thus, both should be thought of as platforms for constant analysis. This is extremely important to keep in mind as it can be dangerous if managers assume their role has diminished simply due to them implementing a universally accredited methodology like Six Sigma.
In fact, the truth might be quite the opposite. While engineering managers should feel extremely confident in implementing Six Sigma, their managerial role – and overall importance to the company as a whole – might actually increase due to possessing a direct, systematic alignment with myriad company goals. Considering this, managers should be both patient and confident in defining and redesigning their methodology.
Remember, products, as well as levels of customer satisfaction, can differ from year to year. So it is best for managers to stay alert and flexible so they can make the necessary adjustments to their Six Sigma platform as and where needed.
An advanced degree program for engineers who want to become leaders without losing their foundation in engineering, the online Master of Engineering Management from Ohio University focuses on leadership and management skills and their direct relationship to engineering process improvement, project management, effective communication, and innovative solutions.