The Faces of Six Sigma

The Rise of Quality

The Corporate Days

The Essence of Leadership

Impressions of the Writer

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Neil DeCarlo, a professional writer who has covered many topics in the quality management field since beginning my career in the late eighties at Florida Power & Light (FPL). True to the nature of a journalist, my role has been to observe the global plans, and local realities, associated with any number of branded performance improvement initiatives. From the senior officers to the line workers of major corporations, I have witnessed the actions and felt the emotions of those who try to "do quality."

After many years of thinking, researching and writing about quality, I became pretty confident that I understood its basic precepts and practices — until I crossed paths with Dr. Harry and this "new" approach he called Six Sigma. The term was not foreign to me, as I remembered it from my days at FPL. Motorola had pushed the quality management envelope so far that it achieved Six Sigma quality for some of its products. I remembered hearing about the Bandit pager in this context, and even recalled writing about Six Sigma for someone, somewhere, a long time ago.

I wrote something like this: "Motorola has driven its quality improvement program to the point at which it is reaching Six Sigma for some of its products and processes." I don't remember the exact words. What I do remember was thinking, "Six Sigma is what you achieve when you rigorously apply existing quality tools."

Since having that thought, about a decade went by before I heard any more buzz about Six Sigma again - and it all came in a flurry. Six Sigma was a management system, not just a quality target. It was responsible for saving many billions of dollars for more than a few corporations that deployed and implemented the Breakthrough Strategy on a widespread scale. Some of these corporations include:

With numbers like these, I simply had to learn more about Six Sigma, so I sought out its main proponent, Dr. Mikel Harry. I felt quite fortunate the day I got through to him on the phone, after a healthy period of persistence on my part. I wanted to know why, and how, Six Sigma was able to connect the ideal of quality with the hard realities of financial performance.

For about 90 minutes, Dr. Harry talked about quality, but he also talked about business. Most significantly, he made the connection between the two by linking such concepts as process capability, product design and the bottom line of a corporation. As a characterization of that phone conversation, Dr. Harry introduced me into the world of quality economics - an exciting, leapfrog-type development over the bland, mechanistic world of quality engineering.

As had many of my executive clients, I myself had become tired of the quality mantra, and especially of its failure to connect its aims with the aims of business. There was quality, there was business and there was a very wide chasm between the two. For the first time ever, Dr. Harry showed me how quality and business belonged together, not separated in language, culture and organization as they were in almost every corporation for which I worked over the years.

I was so moved by my discussion with Dr. Harry that I decided I would attach myself to him - do everything in my power to learn more. After all, I greatly prided myself on reporting on the front edge of new developments in business. It was obvious to me that Dr. Harry was residing on that edge in terms of his breakthrough thinking and practice. He was clearly out in front, leading change, and I wanted to be there with him.