6 Sigma Systems

The Toyota Production System is a 6 Sigma Operation. There are also other systems operating at 6 Sigma. I’m going to start off by discussing what is 6 Sigma and then give you some examples of 6 Sigma systems.

Every system should strive for perfection. On your way to perfection, you will pass through 3 Sigma, 3 ½ Sigma, 4 Sigma, and so on. There is a sweet spot at 4 Sigma. 6 Sigma may be a perfection goal, but 4 Sigma is a productive accomplishment.

The Toyota Production System is a 6 Sigma System

The Toyota Production System is a System that has taken Toyota to 6 Sigma. This first step is just to show you that there are operators that achieve 6 Sigma. We start with Toyota.

A 6 Sigma System means that the system operates with 3 or fewer defects per million opportunities for defects. Toyota needs to manufacture about 11 cars, without a defect, to accomplish 6 Sigma.

Not only does Toyota accomplish 6 Sigma but they do it by installing supplier parts in their cars. Toyota actively works with its suppliers to improve its operations in support of Toyota’s quality goals.

Toyota is not the only 6 Sigma system.

Other 6 Sigma Systems – Lockheed Martin Missiles

Lockheed’s customer was very clear that when you press the button the missile fires. Those were their top three requirements that required a 6 Sigma System. When you think about it a little bit you can understand the reasoning. So how did this come about?

Number one was customer requirements. The requirements were clear and concise. This left no room for confusion and it made it clear for us where to put the primary focus of development.

This was a large complex project and like any large project, things go wrong. Lockheed agreed with the customer that the customer could attend any internal Lockheed meeting. This meant that Lockheed did not hide any significant problem and the customer did not blow up any problem, since problems are a common part of any big project. Finally, thankfully not enough missiles have been fired to prove 6 Sigma, but that is the goal and vision.


If a parachute wasn’t a 6 Sigma system, would anybody really jump out of a plane with one? I am not an expert on parachutes but I will make a couple of points. The first point is that the materials such as harness, cabling, and parachute material must be of high quality, have built-in redundancy, and are consistently tested, to achieve 6 sigma.

Once you have the materials they need to be packaged so that they deploy to 6 Sigma requirements. This means it must be simple and easily reproducible.

Airplanes are 6 Sigma

Regarding airplanes, Recently, an airplane found an engine on fire and was able to, without radical procedures, fly the plane to a safe, uneventful landing. Planes operate at 6 Sigma.

I highlight three reasons airplanes operate as a 6 Sigma System. Airplane subsystems are isolated as much as possible. That’s how come a plane can still fly successfully with one of two engines burning. Critical systems have backups. If the plane’s control panel fails, you can still fly the plane. Subsystem isolation is a critical design criterion.

The flight of an airplane has a human and mechanical aspect. Both of those are regulated by a non-airline entity that focuses on safety. The Federal Aviation Administration not only requires scheduled checking but also emergency improvements required. The FAA also governs pilot certifications and performance requirements. The FAA separates the safety of flight from the industry operational flight and this helps create a 6 Sigma system.

Pilots train extensively. I heard a story about an airline pilot flying into the old Hong Kong airport. On approach, warning sounds and flashing lights started to go off in the cockpit. Then more and more until it became overwhelming. The pilot, recognizing that there was no time to work on or fix the problems, told his crew to fly the plane like a Cessna. He landed the plane without incident. He was a 6 Sigma Pilot.

In conclusion

There are 6 Sigma System(s) operating out there and you could have one also. Any system could be improved, and continuously improved. At least make 6 Sigma a vision.