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Grand-Daddy of Quality - Mikel Harry - GoLeanSixSigma.com

If Bill Smith was the father of Six Sigma, Mikel Harry, in his words, was the godfather. We lost Dr. Harry earlier this year but this month would have marked his 66th birthday. Dr. Harry worked with pioneer Bill Smith at Motorola to refine the Six Sigma method and spread it throughout Motorola.

Dr. Harry wrote the international bestseller Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Organizations with Richard Schroeder and devoted his life to spreading Six Sigma as breakthrough quality method. Within 2 years of the introduction of Six Sigma, Motorola won the first Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Dr. Harry went on to bring Six Sigma into many successful Fortune 100 businesses with tremendous results.

Claims to Fame – What Did He Invent?

Six Sigma Training:

He worked with Bill Smith to develop Six Sigma Training.

Mikel Harry worked with Bill Smith while at Motorola to take the structure of Six Sigma and turn it into a repeatable training program. The initial focus was on a course to teach project leaders (original Black Belt curriculum) to provide resources for improvement projects. As part of the training he developed the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve & Control) structure which is still standard today. It was originally just “MAIC” with the Define phase added later to better scope and refine the projects.

The training quickly spread the expertise throughout the organization which led to Motorola’s success and to their winning the first Malcolm Baldrige Award. Dr. Harry went on to refine the Black Belt curriculum with companies such as Texas Instruments, IBM, Kodak, Digital Equipment and Asea Brown Boveri.

DAMIC - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Belt Levels:

He coined the Karate-based “Belt Levels” within Six Sigma.

Mikel Harry originally referred to project leaders as “process characterization experts” but his client at Unisys asked him to come up with something catchier so he could sell it internally. Mikel Harry suggested using the term “Black Belt” which caught on quickly. The original belt levels were used to clarify roles:

Yellow Belt was added to designate a beginner or team member level and White Belt indicates basic awareness. The different levels are still helpful in demonstrating the amount and level of training achieved by an individual. The belt levels are widely recognized today in terms of the recognition and salary they command. As of today, a Google search of the term “Six Sigma Black Belt” results in 1,160,000 references!

The Roles of Lean Six Sigma - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Little Known Facts:

  • He got his PhD while working at Motorola Radar Operations
  • He was a platoon leader in the US Marine Corps

Mikel Harry at the Bahama Bistro:

Quote of the Day:

  • “Black Belts in the kitchen? Something will break!”

Putting Mikel Harry into Action:

  • “So we need Green Belts and Yellow Belts?”
  • “New uniforms for the waitstaff!”

Mikel Harry was generous in his praise of Bill Smith, his Six Sigma colleague and collaborator at Motorola and he worked his whole life to refine and spread the powerful process improvement method. Six Sigma has since been aligned with Lean methods and the combination is referred to as Lean Six Sigma. As originally intended, the Six Sigma method is adaptable to different industries, organizations and processes. We lost Dr. Harry too soon but his impact on the world of quality lives on.

Happy Birthday Mikel Harry!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at GoLeanSixSigma.com, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.