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Success Story – Motorola Leads The Way With Six Sigma Quality Programs



July 2013
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The Motorola Corporation has compiled an impressive record of defining and implementing new quality initiatives and translating those initiatives into profits. Traditional quality methods assume that an out-of-control condition corresponds to an observation falling outside of ±2s or ±3s. Motorola decided that this standard was too loose, giving too many defects. In the 1980’s, they moved toward a 6s standard. To achieve this goal Motorola established the practice of Quality System Reviews (QSRs) and placed a great deal of emphasis on classical statistical process control (SPC) techniques.


To achieve the 6s standard, Motorola infused the total quality management philosophy into its entire organisation. Quality programs were not assigned to and policed by a single group, but became part of everyone’s job. Motorola’s approach was based on the following key ingredients.

  • Overriding objective of total customer satisfaction.
  • Uniform quality metrics for all parts of business.
  • Consistent improvement expectations throughout the firm.
  • Goal-directed incentive plans for management and employees.
  • Coordinated training programs.

Motorola has carefully documented the road map to follow to its quality goals (Motorola 1991). The first step in the process is a detailed audit of several key parts of the business. These include control of new product development, control of suppliers (both internal and external), monitoring of processes and equipment, human resource considerations, and assessing customer satisfaction, among others. Even top management takes part in many of these audits by paying regular visits to customers, chairing meetings of the operating policy committees, and recognizing executives who have made outstanding contributions to the company’s quality initiatives.

Kumar and Gupta (1993) report on their experience with a TQM program put in place in Motorola’s Austin, Texas, assembly plant. In May 1998, management began the task of implementing an SPC program at Austin. The process began by bringing in an outside consultant to design the program and assigning an internal coordinator to ultimately takeover the duties of the consultant. To be sure that employees bought into the initiative, management organised participative problem solving teams. Each team included a manufacturing manager, a group leader, operators from the two shifts, a representative from the QA department, and an Engineer. Austin had a total of six teams. To further ensure a buy-in from the employees, management initiated a plant-wide training program in SPC. Training was tailored to job function.

The plants QA department instituted a certification program at Austin for vendors. As a result, about 60% of the vendors supplying the plant were certified. Within the plant, traditional SPC methods were employed: attribute data were collected and charted and machines were shut-down when out-of-control situations were detected. Members of the QA team employed design of experiments techniques to identify causes of problems.

What is the bottom line? Over the first two years of this initiative, the Austin plant reported a decrease in scrap rates of 56%. By developing a clear cut and coordinated strategy, Motorola was able to achieve major improvements in traditional quality measures in this facility. Motorola’s overall success is a testament to the fact that this was not an isolated example. It demonstrates that American companies can complete effectively with overseas competitors when the quality effort is a true companywide initiative.

Source: Production and Operations Management by Steven Nahmias, Santa Clara University.


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