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Six Sigma

Six Sigma Pioneer Mikel Harry Dies at 65

His influence on the methodology can’t be denied

Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 08:02

(Quality Digest: Chico, CA) -- Mikel Harry, one of the early developers of Six Sigma, died yesterday, April 25, 2017, in Chandler, Arizona. He was 65. Harry, along with Bill Smith, was one of the architects of Six Sigma within Motorola. He was sometimes referred to as the “father of Six Sigma” although Harry referred to himself as the “godfather” of Six Sigma, and pointed to Motorola engineer Bill Smith as the true father of the methodology.

Harry has been widely recognized and cited in many publications as the principal architect of Six Sigma and the world’s leading authority within this field. His book, Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations (Crown Business, 2000) has been on the bestseller list of The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Amazon.com.

He began his Arizona State University doctoral internship at Motorola GEG Radar Operations in 1983, and in that same year began working with Dorian Shainin at Motorola GEG on several engineering problems. He later taught the Shainin Methods for the GEG training department (Advanced Diagnostic Tools).

In 1985, Motorola engineer Bill Smith coined the term “Six Sigma” to describe an expected level of design margin and product quality. Smith and Harry worked together to come up with a four-stage problem-solving approach: measure, analyze, improve, control (MAIC), which became a cornerstone for the Six Sigma process.

Mikel J. Harry

In many interviews, including several with Quality Digest, Harry acknowledged that Six Sigma as practiced at Motorola and later at Unisys and other companies under Harry’s guidance has morphed to become whatever was needed for particular companies, departments, or industries. In a 2006 interview with Quality Digest, Harry elaborated on that idea.

“People forget that Six Sigma is not an absolute; it’s a vision,” he said. “It’s a vision at the business level, the operations level, and the process level. Six Sigma relies on tools. Lean Sigma, ISO Sigma and all these little other “X” Sigmas are exploratory tributaries.
“To me Six Sigma is simply an umbrella, and sitting under that umbrella are many types of tools and practices.

“Let’s look at Six Sigma in a small firm of perhaps five people painting a house. You’ve got a general contractor, and you have four painters working for him. He reads about Six Sigma and asks, ‘How can I go do it?’ He’s not going to do reproducibility studies, and Cp and CpKs. He needs a simpler and more fundamental form of Six Sigma. Maybe that’s the lean tool. And so that person believes he’s practicing Six Sigma.
“Well, he is. It’s a matter of degree.”

Harry was president and chairman of the board at the Six Sigma Management Institute, which he founded in 2003. He also served as vice chairman of the Six Sigma Academy, an international consultancy he founded in 1994. 

Harry received the lifetime Engineering Excellence Award from Arizona State University, where he also earned a doctorate degree.

Comments about Mikel Harry and his achievements can be left on Harry’s web page at Forever Missed.


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For 40 years Quality Digest has been the go-to source for all things quality. Our newsletter, Quality Digest, shares expert commentary and relevant industry resources to assist our readers in their quest for continuous improvement. Our website includes every column and article from the newsletter since May 2009 as well as back issues of Quality Digest magazine to August 1995. We are committed to promoting a view wherein quality is not a niche, but an integral part of every phase of manufacturing and services.