Here at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we believe that small, incremental improvements over time can produce dramatic results. That’s why throughout our organization, we implement a process known as Lean Six Sigma to improve the efficiency and quality of everything we do.
For example, thanks to the Lean Six Sigma techniques used to inform our quality assurance procedures in our on-site warehouse, during the summer of 2021, we recorded a 5.4 sigma level, which equates to an impressive 45 defects per 1 million opportunities.
What Is Six Sigma?
The origins of Six Sigma date back to the 18th century, when German mathematician Friedrich Gauss developed one of the pillars of statistical theory: the normal distribution curve, also known as a bell curve. Once a mean, or average, for a data set is established, outlier values are then measured in units of standard deviation, represented by the Greek alphabet letter Σ (sigma).
During the Industrial Revolution, companies and manufacturers began using Gauss’ normal distribution curve to measure acceptable standards. NIHF Inductee Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin, was greatly inspired by this idea when developing manufacturing techniques based on the concept of interchangeable parts — a precursor to the modern assembly line.
Over time, these ideas continued to evolve and large companies including Motorola, Ford and General Electric began to create processes to improve efficiency and eliminate defects. The effectiveness of these strategies led Six Sigma to influence not just manufacturing procedures, but all areas of an organization.
Applying Six Sigma in the Classroom
Though originally developed for the business world, the key ideas behind Six Sigma are easy to understand and can be applied to any situation where improvement can be tracked and recorded over time, including in the classroom.
If you’d like to see how Six Sigma could benefit your students, you might consider starting with the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process.
Before students begin tackling any sort of problem, it’s important to first define and outline the scope of the issue. This first step is crucial because narrowing the focus of what a student wants to achieve can not only save them time but also lead them to a higher quality outcome.
During this phase, students should determine baseline measurements of the problem they are trying to solve or the goal they’ve set out to accomplish. For example, let’s say a student creates a goal to read more books. To achieve this, they would measure how many books they’ve completed so far during a specified timespan. This number would represent the baseline amount from which success can be determined.
Continuing with our reading example, students should take time to determine the variables currently impacting the amount of time they are reading. Perhaps a lack of interesting reading material or distraction-free spaces is limiting the time they spend reading. This step also encourages the creation of a measurable goal that is both realistic and achievable. For the sake of this example, the goal could take the form of the total number of books a student wants to read over a given amount of time.
This phase encourages experimentation to see if new variables can have a positive impact on the desired result. If there is an exact number of books a child wants to read, for example, here they can determine if a lower number would still amount to a success.
In this final step, students can determine if the steps they’ve taken are both sustainable and have led to a desired outcome. If this is the case, then a student can implement the process of their own design and should expect to achieve a successful result.
By introducing your students to this kind of improvement process, you can show them how concepts from a variety of fields and industries can be adapted and applied to help them achieve their goals.
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