Quality Pioneers – The Evolution of Six Sigma – First in a Series

One of the first assignments in our Black Belt course deals with the origins of the continuous improvement approach that we know today as Six Sigma.  Many students are surprised to learn that the body of knowledge and the tools and techniques have been evolving for well over 100 years.

This article is the first in a series that will explore the contributions of and the strong personal relationships between a number of pioneers in the field of continuous quality improvement.  Listed in chronological order by the year of their birth, they are Vilfredo Pareto, Sir Ronald Fisher, Walter Shewhart, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Joseph Juran, Dorian Shainin, Kaoru Ishikawa, Genichi Taguchi and Philip Crosby.

Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher.  He is best known for the 80/20 rule, which was named after him as the Pareto principle.  The Pareto principle was built on observations of his, such as that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by about 20% of the population.  His observations were later generalized into the Pareto principle by Dr. Joseph Juran.  The Pareto chart is used to view causes of a problem in order of severity from largest to smallest. It is a statistical tool that graphically demonstrates the Pareto principle.

Sir Ronald Fisher (1890-1962) was a British statistician, biologist and geneticist.  He graduated from Cambridge University in 1913 and by 1918 had introduced the methodology of Analysis of Variance, a considerable advance over the correlation methods used previously.  Beginning in 1919 he pioneered the principles of Design of Experiments.

Walter A. Shewhart (1891-1967) was a physicist, engineer and statistician who concerned himself with the practical application of statistics in industry.  He worked at Western Electric from 1918 to 1924 and at Bell Telephone until his retirement in 1956.   Often referred to as the “father of statistical control”, he set forth the essential principles of the control chart in 1924.   He was a student of Sir Ronald Fisher.

Shewhart pointed out the importance of reducing variation in a process and the understanding that continual process adjustment in reaction to non-conformance actually increased variation and degraded quality.  He framed the problem in terms of assignable cause (later called special cause) and chance cause (later called common cause) variation and introduced the control chart as a tool for distinguishing between the two.   He stressed that bringing a process into a state of statistical control, where there is only chance cause variation, and keeping it in control, is necessary to predict future output and to manage a process economically.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) was a statistician, college professor, author, lecturer and consultant.  His education included an MS in Physics and Mathematics and a PhD in Physics.  Deming was introduced to Walter Shewhart while interning at Bell Telephone in 1927.  He began a long collaboration with Shewhart, with Shewhart beginning as one of Deming’s teachers.

Dr. Deming was widely credited with improving U.S. production during WWII.  He started his own consulting business in 1946.  While working under General MacArthur as a census consultant in Japan after WWII, he taught statistical process control methods to Japanese business leaders.  He is best known for his work in Japan from 1950 onward at the behest of JUSE (the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers).  Deming is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage.  He worked in Japan for many years to consult and to witness the economic growth that he had predicted as a result of application of techniques learned from Walter Shewhart.  A number of Japanese manufacturers applied his techniques widely, and experienced theretofore unheard of levels of quality and productivity. The improved quality combined with the lowered cost created new international demand for Japanese products.

Later, he became a professor at New York University while engaged as an independent consultant in Washington, D.C.  Dr. Deming conducted classes on sampling and quality control at NYU and many other locations, and reached more than 100,000 people with his four-day seminars.

As he began to move toward the application of statistical methods to industrial production and management, Deming found great inspiration in the work of Shewhart.  Shewhart’s idea of common and special causes of variation led directly to Deming’s Theory of Management. Deming saw that these ideas could be applied not only to manufacturing processes but also to the processes by which enterprises are led and managed. This key insight made possible his enormous influence on the economics of the industrialized world after 1950.

Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at roger@keyperformance.com.

About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 48 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to www.keyperformance.com.