Quality Pioneers – The Evolution of Six Sigma – Third 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 third 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.

Kaoru Ishikawa (1915-1989) was a Japanese university professor and influential quality management innovator.  He is best known for developing the cause and effect (fishbone) diagram.  He joined the faculty of the University of Tokyo in 1947 and became full a professor in 1960.  Ishikawa joined the quality control research group of JUSE in 1949 and translated, integrated and expanded the concepts of Dr. Deming and Dr. Juran into the Japanese system.  He introduced quality circles via JUSE in 1962.

After WW II, Japan looked to transform its industrial sector, which was still perceived as a producer of cheap wind-up toys and poor quality cameras. It was Ishikawa’s skill at mobilizing people towards a common goal that was largely responsible for Japan’s quality-improvement initiatives.  Ishikawa built on principles from other quality gurus, especially W. Edwards Deming.  Ishikawa expanded Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle into:

  • Determine goals and targets.
  • Determine methods of reaching goals.
  • Engage in education and training.
  • Implement work.
  • Check the effects of implementation.
  • Take appropriate action.

Ishikawa showed the importance of the Seven Basic Quality Tools: cause-and-effect diagram, check sheet, control chart, histogram, Pareto chart, scatter diagram and stratification.  NOTE:  Some lists replace stratification with flow chart or run chart.   He explored the concept of quality circles – a philosophy which he drew from obscurity into worldwide acceptance.  He believed in the importance of support and leadership from top level management. He continually urged top level executives to take quality control courses, knowing that without the support of the management, these programs would ultimately fail.   He stressed that it would take firm commitment from the entire hierarchy of employees to reach the company’s potential for success.

Armand V. Feigenbaum (1922-2014) was an American quality control expert and businessman.  He was Director of Manufacturing Operations at General Electric from 1958 to 1968, and was later the President and CEO of General Systems Company, an engineering firm that helps companies to define business operating systems.  He served as President of the American Society for Quality from 1961 to 1963.

He defined quality as a customer determination based upon a customer’s actual experience with a product or service, measured against his or her requirements – stated or unstated, conscious or merely sensed, technically operational or entirely subjective -and always representing a moving target in a competitive market.  He stated that an important feature of a good quality program is that it controls quality at the source.  He also said that quality is the total composite product and service characteristic of marketing, engineering, manufacturing, and maintenance through which the product and service in use will meet the expectations of the customer.  He pioneered the concept of a “hidden” plant—the idea that so much extra work is performed in correcting mistakes that there is effectively a hidden plant within any factory – and the idea that quality must be actively managed and have visibility at the highest levels of management.

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.