In teaching Six Sigma workshops at Dartmouth, we ensure that everyone understands that “Six Sigma,” as presented in the industry, is in fact mathematically 4.5 sigma. So when folks say Six Sigma is 3.4 defects per million (dpm), they are in fact not referring to plus-and-minus six standard deviations from the mean (even though they may not know it), as 3.4 dpm is only 4.5 sigma.
The true six sigma defect rate is 2 defects per billion. The figure shows this error.
Where does this confusion come from? When Six Sigma was developed, it was defined as a Cp of 2 and a Cpk of 1.5. These process capability indices are where the confusion lies. A Cpk of 1.5 permits a shifting of the process mean of 1.5 sigma, hence the true statistical measure of Cpk = 1.5 is 4.5 sigma (or 3.4 ppm). True statistical six sigma (Cpk = 2) is elusive indeed at 2 dpb!