William B. Smith, Jr. (1929 - 1993) may not be a household name. But the world of business would look very different without his work.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Smith had already built up quite an impressive resume before joining Motorola in 1987. Having studied at the University of Minnesota School of Management, as well as graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Smith spent 35 years working in engineering and quality assurance.
Smith had spent years trying to convince executives to try his new system, but it wouldn’t be ‘till his time with Motorola that his greatest work, Six Sigma, would come to fruition.
While his work contributed to billions of dollars in Motorola’s back pocket, Smith remained a salaried employee and didn’t share in those profits. That’s not to say his efforts went unnoticed, though. Smith earned himself — and the company — plenty of accolades. In 1988, Motorola won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award — presented to them by President Ronald Reagan (click here to see a brilliantly ‘80s Motorola Annual Report, announcing the win).
Smith’s methodology was present in everything he did, even in his personal life. He was known for planning out everything, whether it was repairing a watch, fixing a car, or even learning how to play an instrument.
Smith even created a computer program that would predict winning racehorses — much to the bookie's dismay! This innovation led to a life-long hobby; Bill and his wife, Betty, joined a horse-owning partnership and enjoyed several lucrative years of racing. With that kind of attitude towards his recreational activities, it’s no surprise that Bill excelled in everything he put his mind to.
Motorola was in somewhat of a quandary in the decade leading up to Smith’s arrival. As John F. Mitchell rose through the ranks towards president and COO, he met with other senior staffers to address a quality issue across the entire product line. "Our quality stinks" Art Sundry, a fellow Motorola exec apparently yelled. The solution? A total culture change within the company... and a fresh, experienced, face to consult with Bill Smith.
A perfectionist at work and at home, Smith took to his new role within Motorola like a duck to water. Mitchell had already done great work in improving quality, but Smith had a trick up his sleeve that would change not only Motorola but businesses across the world.
Six Sigma was finally brought to life.
This game-changing methodology combines a series of proven principles and techniques in order to optimize business processes.
Within its early years, Six Sigma gained Smith plenty of industry attention. He personally received the Motorola CEO Quality Award in 1986 for his efforts. And the company went on to gain the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award just a couple of years later. This was an achievement that, without a doubt, wouldn’t have been possible without the work of Bill Smith.
He spent his final years traveling far and wide to promote the benefits of adopting Six Sigma.
Smith unexpectedly passed away in 1993. And so the father of Six Sigma was unable to see his methodology spread across the world of business as he had always hoped. His framework has even been featured in the tongue-in-cheek, corporate comic strip, Dilbert!
Six Sigma is a methodology that’s proven to optimize key processes within businesses and aims to remove any defects that may occur using other quality assurance practices. By taking William Edwards Deming’s ‘quality circle’ and improving upon it, Six Sigma’s process can lead to a defect level as low as 3.4 times in a million.
How can product teams achieve such an incredible rate? The Six Sigma methodology takes you through a five-phase process, laid out as follows:
Following Six Sigma leads to an increase in efficiency and quality, which in turn leads to a higher return on investment down the line. In a climate where customers demand the best quality, Six Sigma shines as a methodology all businesses should adopt. Companies already working under Six Sigma are reaping the benefits that come with it. High-quality products and business processes lead to sky-high customer satisfaction which, as we all know, is key to sustaining a strong consumer base and brand loyalty. Six Sigma offers practical tools that allow the business to map out the requirements of their customer base, which will help guide the improvement process. Alongside the benefits at a customer level, there are also budgetary benefits to Six Sigma. For businesses struggling with quality control, there are a number of ways to attempt to fix the issues — such as large scale investing, or even undergoing a restructuring of the business.
Unfortunately, these are costly processes. And, more often than not, it’s a long-drawn-out process that isn’t guaranteed to work. However, Six Sigma is a process that delivers big results without putting a dent in the budget. And don't forget, a business with fewer mistakes is a business that spends less overall.