The “sigma” in the name refers to the statistical concept of standard deviation. In a normal, or bell curve, distribution, the most common results center around the middle. The farther out from the center, the more standard deviations away the result is.

When companies wish to improve the overall quality of their products, they must first define what level of mistakes is acceptable. A 99% “confidence level” means that, when tested, any product chosen at random will be perfect is 99%. That sounds high until you realize that still means one out of every product will be defective. For mass market consumer items shipped and sold in the millions of units, that’s a lot of defective products people are returning to stores for refunds and making complaints about.

Large companies have had statisticians who calculated how many units for the quality control department to test, but often the emphasis was on quantity of production, not quality. What happened on the plant floor stayed on the plant floor. The American automobile operated that way for years, and it’s one factor that drove consumers into the arms of Japanese and German car companies in the early 1970s. The foreign cars were not just better designed, they were a lot less likely lemons.

Engineer Bill Smith introduced the Six Sigma concept to Motorola in 1986, and, as CEO, Jack Welch introduced it to General Electric in 1995.

When the number of defects found in a product are six standard deviations away from the mean, that means there are defects in only 3.4 products out of every million. That’s a 99.99966% confidence level.

That’s a lot fewer mistakes and lot fewer disappointed customers. By 2005, Motorola said implementing Six Sigma had saved it over $11 billion. Giving customers free replacements for defective products cost both money and credibility with the market. These days, millions of consumer see one mistake broadcast on Facebook and Twitter. And it’s easier to build engineer high quality into the manufacturing process than to fix mistakes after they occur.

Thomas Pyzdek has been an advocate of high quality since 1967, long before it became trendy. He’s a Six Sigma consultant and expert, author of numerous books on quality control and the founder of the Pyzdek Institute. His book The Six Sigma Handbook is the standard reference on the subject. The institute offers training and certification to Six Sigma professionals. He is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality. The ASQ gave him its Edward’s Medal and the Simon Collier Quality Award.

Like karate, Six Sigma ability goes up by the color of belt, ranging from white for beginners to black for experts. The Pyzdek Institute offers training and certification for all levels, plus coaching, and is the most well-respected certifications in the field. The institute has Master Black Belt coaches in Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia as well as the United States. All the institute’s training promotes Pyzdek’s unique and proven approach to process improvement and Lean Six Sigma.

Pyzdek organized the institute to serve as a resource for everybody who wishes to learn more about Six Sigma. Some of its training is self-coached and some requires a coach. It is an investment in the Six Sigma expert’s career, but for everybody in the quality field The Pyzdek Institute gives training that will advance that career.

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