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In the context of modern approaches to technology and improvement of the process of manufacturing, it is important that the practical managerial improvement tools have a firm theoretical basis. For that reason, there is a growing interest in a variety of different techniques used for improvement in industrial sectors in general and in Six Sigma, in particular. Alongside the successful implementation in the industrial and manufacturing practices of such world-leading companies as Motorola, it is especially significant to note that Six Sigma has a rather developed conceptual basis. Moreover, one of the important factors for its success in the industrial environment is that it relies on deliberated and precise set of steps and procedures.
Thus, considering consistency, theoretical background, and earlier practices of successful implementation of Six Sigma for the purposes of processes improvement, this set of tools remains an important object for research and investigation. The reason for that lies in the fact that researchers want to discover more opportunities for the application of Six Sigma in various environments and contexts.
Thus, the objective of this paper is to provide an exhaustive analysis of the application of Six Sigma techniques and DMAIC method. In particular, this paper is to describe the main framework of Six Sigma process, explore different organization that has successfully utilized the Six Sigma in their daily practices, identify how it can be used in the modern context, and discuss and analyze new techniques, tools, and methods accompanying the Six Sigma process.
The Six Sigma process
Despite the popularity of the Six Sigma process in industrial settings, the academic research concerning its elements and theoretical background began quite recently and gained a lot of adherents very quickly. The first important aspect of understanding Six Sigma and its process is to define its goals, role, and practical objectives. Thus, considering that Six Sigma is a system that was originally designed for industrial application, its main objective is to improve the production in various ways.
According to Linderman, Schroeder, Zaheer, and Choo (2003), in the case of Six Sigma, the main idea is that “improvement only occurs through incidental or implicit learning, that is, by chance events that are rarely understood” (p. 193). Although in some ways, such interpretation limits the theoretical basis of Six Sigma, it is also a key to its success in industrial settings. In other words, the methods and tools incorporated in the Six Sigma process adapt to the incidental structure of every particular setting and base the produced effect of improvement on the special features of a particular environment.
Linderman et al. (2003) also point out that, in the case of Six Sigma, “the creation of knowledge occurs through intentional or explicit learning that employs formal improvement methods, and intentional learning requires regulation of actions taken by organizational members” (p. 194). It means that specific goals of the company try to incorporate the human actions of the employees and everyone involved in the process.
In other words, the process of Six Sigma sets an objective of using human potential and specific human actions for the improvement of the industrial process by means of regulating and controlling it. It is equally important to note that Six Sigma relies on motivation as the main trigger of organizational improvement. The regulatory function, in this case, is an additional positive effect of the approach applied rather than a specific objective.
In such a way, the major role of the Six Sigma process is to develop the conditions for achieving organizational goals. The five major stages used by Six Sigma that include DMAIC method consider the controlling function as a final phase of the organizational structure in the working environment. However, only in the nurtured conditions of motivated employees and measured and analyzed industrial processes, it is possible to achieve particular organizational goals.
Five steps of a Six Sigma project
Alongside the goals and objectives of Six Sigma, it is paramount to describe and analyze its constituent parts, all the techniques and tools in the framework of the Six Sigma process. Particularly, the most commonly used by Six Sigma set of tools is the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC), which is mainly utilized for the purposes of improving certain products and services (Pyzdek & Keller, 2014, p. 237). This main principle refers to the 5-stage method with an underpinning conceptualization.
First of all, the stage of defining refers to the identification of precise goals set for improvement process. The most important goals that need to be considered refer to the needs of target customers, namely their expectations of a product or service, a set of features they would like to see in such product, as well as innovations that would increase their satisfaction with this product or service. Overall, it means that Six Sigma “advocates establishing goals based on customer requirements, not on internal considerations” (Linderman et al., 2003, p. 195).
The next goals to define are “the goals will be the strategic objectives of the organization, such as greater customer loyalty, a higher ROI or increased market share, or greater employee satisfaction” (Pyzdek & Keller, 2014, p. 238). Considering how highly the factor of motivation is estimated in the framework of Six Sigma, it is quite reasonable that the goals of employees and various aspects that improve their job satisfaction play an important role. The next step is the definition of a variety of goals related to the levels of operational and product research, design and development stages. In such a way, the goals of human actors of the process of production are prioritized over the operational and organizational objectives.
The next stage of DMAIC is measuring. According to Pyzdek and Keller (2014), the basic purpose of measuring is to find and establish “valid and reliable metrics to help monitor progress towards the goal” (p. 238). Among the tools that Six Sigma utilizes for creating their metrics, there are “process Sigma measurements, critical-to-quality metrics, defect measures and 10× improvement measures” (Linderman et al., 2003, p. 195). In particular, despite the attention to human factor and actions of both consumers and employees, there should be a reliable support of data, practical evidence underpinning plan for the improvement process.
The stage of analyzing in DMAIC is aimed at diminishing the possibility that there will be some crucial differences between the estimated goals and actual capacity of a certain product or project based on reliable metrics. At this stage of the application of Six Sigma, various means of data analysis and statistical research allow managers to evaluate how realistic the expectations of customers and employees, as well as project and operational goals are.
Following an exhaustive analysis, the most important stage of the process of Six Sigma is the stage of improvement. The system should be improved with consideration for finding better, more efficient, faster, or more convenient solutions. If a need for improvement is customer-related, new solutions and improved ways of dealing with a particular product or service should eliminate the problem.
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In the situation, when a need for improvement concerns an operational or organizational level, the solution may require finding more efficient or cost-effective ways of producing a particular product, etc. However, it is also important to note that any change can only be justified with the use of analysis and data obtained at the previous stages.
Finally, the controlling stage of Six Sigma is, perhaps, the most complex in terms of fragility. Given the fact that new system should enhance motivation among employees or attend to emerging needs of target customers, there should be no imposition on human actions of the system. Control refers to the need of establishing some institutionalized model behind a new system. The changes may include “modifying compensation and incentive systems, policies, procedures, MRP, budgets, operating instructions and other management systems” (Pyzdek & Keller, 2014, p. 238). In other words, for the improvement that was achieved to stay stable, there should be a certain pattern or model behind the new system.
In such a way, with the implementation of DMAIC, it is possible, in the context of Six Sigma, to maintain the process of constant improvement. One of the most important features of Six Sigma is that it is unproblematic to utilize both at the level of entire organizations and at the level of single projects. Such approach also helps to minimize some of the risks associated with the adaptation of a new improvement strategy since it can be tested on single projects. Overall, the model of DMAIC provides a pattern for the continuous process of improvement that will allow managers to be more responsive to the needs of the systems at its different levels, with special consideration for human factors and their role in organizational improvement.
Successful utilization of the Six Sigma process
In the contemporary business environment, there is a growing demand for new tools and techniques for organizational improvement. One of the most significant specifics of the recently emerged systems and methods developed for organizational improvement is that they try to be more responsive to human factor rather than set industrial goals. In many ways, the success of Six Sigma in some of the major corporation relies on the fact that it was one of the first sets of improvement tools with such an agenda.
Among the companies that were the first to implement Six Sigma in their practices, there were “Motorola, General Electric, Boeing, DuPont, Toshiba, Seagate, Allied Signal, Kodak, Honeywell, Texas Instruments, Sony”, etc. (Kwak & Anbari, 2006, p. 711). In those companies, it showed results “beyond that what can be obtained through other means” (Antony & Banuelas, 2002, p. 21). In terms of cost-efficiency, one of the major nuances of the Six Sigma process is that “the return on investment for the improvement effort and the strategic importance of the process will determine whether the process should be improved and the appropriate target sigma level as a goal” (Linderman et al., 2003, p. 195).
In other words, the understanding of each part of Six Sigma as a level strategic importance should also include the element of cost-efficiency. Six Sigma attempts to rationalize the distribution of costs and benefits rather than cut the expenses for the development of a particular project or service because the latter approach does not result in the improvement of the quality. In such a way, different levels of Six Sigma denote variations in the strategic distribution of the company’s resources, cost and benefits analysis, and human factors.
Practical implementation of the Six Sigma process in Motorola
The very idea of Six Sigma originated in Motorola, Inc. The company conceptualized the theoretical basis of this system before utilizing some of the major tools and techniques of Six Sigma from 1987 until 1994. During the time of its active implementation, the areas, in which Six Sigma technologies were used included improvement in the management involvement and organizational commitment, smoothing and improving cultural change, refining organizational infrastructure, conducting tracings for an overall improvement of organizational culture and engagement, and project management skills (Antony & Banuelas, 2002, p. 21).
The major accomplishment associated with the step of defining is that Six Sigma allows managers to find a compromise between organizational needs and considerations for customer appeal and employees’ job satisfaction. In the case of Motorola, it was important for the company to stay compatible in the market of many rival electronics companies from Asia, and the advantage of Motorola was to enhance customer appeal by increasing the role of customers’ needs in the process of manufacturing (Schroeder, Linderman, Liedtke, & Choo, 2008).
Due to the stage of measuring, the assumptions obtained confirmation from reliable metrics. In such a way, the strategy of Motorola was based not on a hunch but statistical data. The stages of analyzing and improving were milestones for Motorola project because they are intermediately related to the quality of products. Those stages coordinated improvement with realistic expectations, and controlling stage of the project improved Motorola’s process control planning and strategy of monitoring all the systems.
Assessment of new techniques, tools, or methods
One of the key statements of Six Sigma is that “due to dynamic market demands, the critical-to-quality characteristics of today would not necessarily be meaningful tomorrow” (Antony, 2004, p. 304). In many ways, it means that the process of improvement needs to be continuous. One of the techniques of Six Sigma that can be used and developed is that final stage of controlling can eventually turn into the stage of defining.
Due to such possibility, the process of improvement can be more adaptive to a rapidly changing business environment. Another innovative technique that can be refined and implemented in various contemporary business models is the idea of finding consensus between consumer goals, operational goals, and estimated possibility of realizing both of them. A set of techniques used by Six Sigma for the stage analyzing can reduce various organizational risks associated with unrealistic expectations from the improvement process.
In the contemporary business environment, there is a growing demand for new tools and techniques for organizational improvement. Six Sigma improves the system by making it responsive to human factor rather than abstract operational goals. In many ways, the success of Six Sigma in corporations like Motorola relies on DMIAC technique, which can be useful in the modern context because it helps to reduce unrealistic expectation from the improvement process by taking into consideration statistical data and risks of human factors.
Antony, J., & Banuelas, R. (2002). Key Ingredients for the Effective Implementation of Six Sigma Program. Measuring Business Excellence, 6(4), 20-27.
Antony, J. (2004). Some Pros and Cons of Six Sigma: An Academic Perspective. The Total Quality Management Magazine, 16(4), 303-306.
Kwak, Y. H., & Anbari, F. T. (2006). Benefits, Obstacles, and Future of Six Sigma Approach. Technovation, 26(5), 708-715.
Linderman, K., Schroeder, R. G., Zaheer, S., & Choo, A. S. (2003). Six Sigma: A Goal-Theoretic Perspective. Journal of Operations Management, 21(2), 193-203.
Pyzdek, T., & Keller, P. A. (2014). The Six Sigma Handbook. New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill Education.
Schroeder, R. G., Linderman, K., Liedtke, C., & Choo, A. S. (2008). Six Sigma: Definition and Underlying Theory. Journal of Operations Management, 26(4), 536-554.