Six Sigma

"Six Sigma is a quality program that, when all is said and done, improves your customer’s experience, lowers your costs, and builds better leaders. — Jack Welch"

Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process – from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.

he statistical representation of Six Sigma describes quantitatively how a process is performing. To achieve Six Sigma — statistically — a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. A Six Sigma defect is defined as anything outside of customer specifications. A Six Sigma opportunity is then the total quantity of chances for a defect. Process sigma can easily be calculated using a Six Sigma calculator.

The fundamental objective of the Six Sigma methodology is the implementation of a measurement-based strategy that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects. This is accomplished through the use of two Six Sigma sub-methodologies: DMAIC and DMADV.

The Six Sigma DMAIC process (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) is an improvement system for existing processes falling below specification and looking for incremental improvement.

Yellow Belt Training

Many companies who are rolling out a Six Sigma-related changes will offer Yellow Belt training to team members as a way to bring everyone on board and provide a basic literacy regarding the process and jargon associated with Six Sigma. For aspiring leaders and those interested in long-term application and development in Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma strategies, Green Belt training (or higher) is most common.

Green Belt Training

Professionals pursuing Six Sigma green belt training must have completed at least three years full-time employment, not counting internships, in projects directly related to process improvement. Upon completion of course work, professionals will also need to pass a multiple choice exam consisting of 100 multiple choice questions.

The curriculum in Green Belt training will vary from institution to institution but generally involves the in-depth analysis of case studies to demonstrate Six Sigma tools and processes. These tools and processes include both practical skills and theoretical knowledge. The subject matter falls into five main curricular categories:

1. “Define”
Professionals learn how to charter a project by developing a business case or studying a case already in process. Professionals in this leadership-track training will learn how to develop effective teams, allocate responsibilities, and take the voice of the customer or client into consideration when outlining goals for change. In addition, leaders will learn how to view data to gauge progress and make mid-course adjustments as needed.

2. “Measure”
In the second area of the curriculum, professionals will learn how to map the processes that support the organization’s effectiveness. By using specific Six Sigma measurement tools, leaders will study all aspects of data collection, reporting, and analyzing. Through understanding and becoming proficient in data collection tools, students will be able to calculate performance standards, set goals, and prepare reports designed to support project goals.

3. “Analyze”
Through a holistic view and deeper understanding of Six Sigma quantification tools, professionals will be able to compare and analyze data using a variety of proven methods. Through increased proficiency with Six Sigma tools, leaders will be able to identify root causes of process redundancy and determine other cause-and-effect relationships throughout the entire collection of processes that support the business. Green Belt Six Sigma students also learn how to communicate findings to the Black Belt leaders through developing expertise in reporting tools and communication necessary to support goal assessment.

4. “Improve”
Implementing improvements in processes aimed at increasing effectiveness and decreasing redundancy means sustaining the changes over the long haul. In this area of the curriculum, professionals learn how to sustain their improvements by setting control standards and monitoring progress using additional Six Sigma quantification tools.

5. “Control”
The fifth area in the curriculum involves advanced skills and tools geared toward applying statistics and other measurement tools to keep track of performance over time. This may include making adjustments to an improved process or documenting the results of one phase of a project while transitioning to a second phase. This is a highly-detailed and meticulous set of skills which require proper experience and training to fully implement.

Black Belt Training

In addition to the green belt training explained above, applicants for Six Sigma Black Belt certification must also have completed two Six Sigma projects with signed affidavits. They must also have completed at least three years of work in one of the core knowledge areas which must be full time paid employment, also excluding internships.

After course completion, students will take a multiple choice exam comprised of 150 questions. Professionals interested in taking the Black Belt leadership development path, do not need to first be certified as a Green Belt. Many reputable training programs allow students to complete all necessary course work toward becoming a certified Six Sigma Black Belt through an integrated course approach.

Because this is a leadership development area, the extended curriculum to achieve Black Belt status develops a much more precise set of tools and strategies. In Black Belt training, professionals will master Six Sigma philosophy, principles and be able to lead effective teams over a wide range of improvement strategies. Professionals seeking this elite level of training will also need to demonstrate proficiency at applying multivariate metrics to diverse improvement challenges. Lower level belt holders report to a certified Black Belt team leader, therefore managing diverse teams across a variety of benchmarks is another vital skill developed through this rigorous training.

Master Black Belt Training

In order to be approved to take the two part Master Black Belt certification exam (consisting of both multiple choice and a practical knowledge assessment), professionals must already have Black Belt certification and five years of directly applicable full time professional experience. If a leader can demonstrate proof of completion of 10 Six Sigma projects, then the mandatory five years experience requirement may be waived.

In addition to these requirements, candidates must submit a portfolio which can not include work at the green belt level. Only work completed after successfully achieving the Black Belt status will be accepted. The full requirements for the Master Black Belt portfolio can be viewed here.

This is the most elite Six Sigma certification and a highly sought after credential. This curriculum involves highly detailed application of Six Sigma tools aimed at leading full scale projects, interpreting risks, analyzing and tracking improvement goals over a wide-range of implementation strategies. In addition, professionals at this level are required to mentor other professionals, fully understand complex interactions of the most advanced Six Sigma measurement tools, and develop innovative projects throughout the longevity of their careers.

Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma strategies continue to be in high demand across the industry. At every level of certification there is increased prestige and opportunity. While earning the credentials can be rigorous, professionals advancing in Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma skills and knowledge may increase their career opportunities as more and more businesses look to Six Sigma methodology to achieve more aggressive business goals.