Six Sigma: Definition and underlying theory

Roger G. Schroeder, Kevin Linderman, Charles Liedtke, Adrian S. Choo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

551 Scopus citations


Six Sigma has been gaining momentum in industry; however, academics have conducted little research on this emerging phenomenon. Understanding Six Sigma first requires providing a conceptual definition and identifying an underlying theory. In this paper we use the grounded theory approach and the scant literature available to propose an initial definition and theory of Six Sigma. Our research argues that although the tools and techniques in Six Sigma are strikingly similar to prior approaches to quality management, it provides an organizational structure not previously seen. This emergent structure for quality management helps organizations more rigorously control process improvement activities, while at the same time creating a context that enables problem exploration between disparate organizational members. Although Six Sigma provides benefits over prior approaches to quality management, it also creates new challenges for researchers and practitioners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)536-554
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Operations Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by National Science Foundation grant, NSF/SES-0080318.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Case/field study
  • Organizational issues
  • Quality management
  • Six Sigma


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