Next-Generation Six Sigma

When Smith applied this mathematical concept to manufacturing and engineering at Motorola, it captured Bob Galvin’s passion for quality and business excellence. Six Sigma became the method for ensuring that […]

When Smith applied this mathematical concept to manufacturing and engineering at Motorola, it captured Bob Galvin’s passion for quality and business excellence. Six Sigma became the method for ensuring that products would meet the increasingly demanding expectations of customers. In 1988, Motorola became the first company to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In 1990, Motorola—together with companies like IBM, Texas Instruments and Xerox—created the Black Belt concept for experts who apply statistical methods to business problems. Allied Signal and GE successfully applied and popularized Motorola’s Six Sigma methods in a manner that gained international attention. In 2002, Motorola become one of the few organizations in history to win the Baldrige award for the second time.

Six Sigma was originally designed to address continuous quality improvement, but today it is significantly different than the Total Quality Management (TQM) approach of the 1980s:

Six Sigma


Executive ownership

Self-directed work teams

Business strategy execution system

Quality initiative

Truly cross-functional

Largely within a single function

Focused training with verifiable ROI

Mass training in statistics and quality, no ROI



At Motorola today, the application of Six Sigma goes well beyond counting defects in a process or product. The new Six Sigma provides an overall high-performance business system for the execution of business strategy. Six Sigma methodology has become a powerful business process improvement tool to help executives align the right objectives and targets, mobilize improvement teams, accelerate results and govern sustained improvements. The following are four key insights gained from Motorola’s 17-year experience with Six Sigma.

Insight 1: Begin with Strategic Alignment
The new Six Sigma begins as senior executives create a balanced scorecard of strategic goals and metrics, related to the highest leverage business improvement issues. Process owners are identified and create high-impact improvement project plans to achieve the strategic goals. In this new approach, processes are not limited to the classic product and service domains—they can involve market share growth, improved cash flow and enhanced human resource processes. Executives select improvement projects that will close critical business performance gaps.

Insight 2: Mobilize with a Method
Business Improvement teams use a systematic problem-solving method (DMAIC) to attain business impact. In the traditional form of Six Sigma approach, measurement was focused on the number of defects per million opportunities (DMPO) used to calculate the Six Sigma metric. Today, while we can still use DMPO, it is less appropriate for human-intensive processes like marketing and human resources. With the new Six Sigma, the focus on defects and sigma levels is less important than reducing variability around metric goals.

Insight 3: Accelerate to Maintain Momentum
Six Sigma Business Improvement teams use an action-learning framework to build their capability and execute the project. Executives select appropriate Black Belt and Green Belt team members based on functional expertise and provide appropriate resources. Black Belt and Green Belt candidates attend training with an assigned business improvement project. Throughout the training and project work, they’re learning problem solving, project management, process optimization and statistical skills while applying them to the business problem at hand.

Insight 4: Govern to Gain Results
Motorola’s Six Sigma methodology includes a process for governance. Leaders actively and visibly sponsor the key improvement projects required to execute the strategy. They rigorously review projects in the context of process metrics and business outcome goals. Executive process owners look at overall organizational dashboards, their own process metrics and the status of improvement projects chartered to make improvements to ensure the overall business system is functioning as desired. Leaders actively share best practices and knowledge about improvements with other parts of the organization that can benefit.

Motorola’s new approach to Six Sigma builds on its tradition of strong statistical analysis of improvement opportunities, but the new Six Sigma is driven by the executive team and is specifically used to achieve strategic objectives. It is a high-engagement approach for a high-performance environment.

For more information about Motorola’s approach to the Next-Generation Six Sigma, see

As chief learning officer and president of Motorola University, Fred Harburg and his team are responsible for building the strategic human capabilities and intellectual capital of 100,000 Motorola associates globally. Fred has held international leadership roles and worked with several premier fortune 100 companies, including IBM, General Motors, Disney and AT&T.