In business, it’s easy to have a clear-cut idea of what you want to achieve. Executing your strategy, however, can be incredibly tough. This is what Motorola found in the 1970s. Their industry started facing a degradation of profitability due to an increase in competitors and technology becoming more and more important in day-to-day America. Competitive forces erode profitability and if a strategy is not created to deal with competitors, a company can be placed under a very real risk of collapse. The methodology they utilized to deal with these forces led to the creation of one of the most important efficiency-enhancing methodologies utilized in contemporary business.
1980s – The Beginning
Motorola’s CEO Bob Galvin noticed an increase in customers unhappy over product defects and customer support. He decided that the way they should set themselves apart from competitors should be by improving quality tenfold within five years, encouraging managers to participate in decisions as well as execute them, and subject all employees to training. They isolated problems in their circuit board soldering as contributing to faulty products and therefore unhappy customers, so knew that their manufacturing process had to be improved.
It wasn’t until 1986 that they created one of the best quality-checking systems ever. That year, engineer Bill Smith had been quietly working on a way to standardize product defect measurements. He devised a series of steps that revolved around reducing deviance from the circuit board’s optimal state to a set statistical measure of variation from their desired result. This statistical variance was Six Sigma. In more understandable terms, it meant that they reduced their defects to no more than 3.4 defects per 1 million opportunities.
1990s – Cementing the Strategy
Smith’s methodology became known as Six Sigma, and won Motorola international recognition, including the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which treated Motorola as a role model for other businesses. In the 1990s, Motorola launched their Motorola University. This provided extensive training in Six Sigma, and by 1999 they had certified an employee with such knowledge that he was given the highest ranking of a Six Sigma Master Black belt. Many companies encourage their employees to have a basic awareness of Six Sigma, as it is such an efficiency-increasing force. Any employee can learn how to implement Six Sigma; a Six Sigma White Belt Certification is not just limited to Motorola Employees.
2000s – Going Digital
Motorola realized that the future landscape of their business will be digital, so they upgraded their Six Sigma for the digital world. Contemporary Six Sigma now integrates information technology automation to increase analysis, but also decision-making and training. It has been applied to Motorola’s delivery system and has decreased the cycle time from when a customer places an order to when they receive their product. It is a system that is now widely used in design and innovation across industries.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence is tipped to play a big role in increasing the efficiency of Six Sigma in the upcoming years. The fusion of AI and Six Sigma can create automated processes that can greatly enhance efficiency. To what extent? Well, that can only be revealed with time.