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What is Six Sigma?

The world of manufacturing has largely focused on high-quality output and customer satisfaction. This is the goal of almost any business; to improve customer experience, reduce costs and increase the bottom line. Many methodologies have been created to help organizations meet the goals that make them competitive in the toughest market conditions. However, one method has proven time and time again to be the answer: Six Sigma.

In this article, we’ll take a brief overview of Six Sigma, as well as its principles and who can benefit from the six sigma methodology. We’ll also discuss the different certifications you can get to be a professional in the field.

An Overview of Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a quality improvement methodology that uses a data-driven approach to eliminate defects in a process. Motorola created six Sigma in 1986 to improve its manufacturing process. However, it wasn’t until General Electric adopted the methodology in the 1990s that it truly came into the limelight.

Although Six Sigma’s origins are in the manufacturing industry, process operators can use Six Sigma in almost any industry. Whether it is the transportation, hospitality, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, food, beverages, or education industry, Six Sigma can be applied wherever there is a process.

Six Sigma aims to make processes near-perfectly by ensuring that 99.99966% of all output is free from defects. In other words, this can be translated to 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). When an organization achieves this, we can say it has reached a Sigma level of 6, which is the highest in Six Sigma.

Here’s is a table outlining the various Six Sigma levels (highest to lowest):

Sigma LevelDefects Per Million Opportunities (DPMO)Percentage of Defects

Defect vs. Defective

A defect is an undesirable result (a mistake or flaw) that the customer didn’t expect. Defects usually arise due to failure to meet the customer’s specifications or requirements. Furthermore, a product can have several flaws, and they may not negatively impact the functionality of the product noticeably. However, they still need to be eliminated to get the product closer to specification.

Just because a product has defects does not mean it is defective. To be labeled as defective, the defects need to be significant enough to render the entire product unusable, meaning it has completely failed to meet customer specifications.

Important Principles of Six Sigma

As with any methodology, there are principles you need to follow. If you follow the important Six Sigma principles outlined below, you can significantly increase your chances of producing a near-perfect product. 

Here are five of the most important ones.

1. Focus on the Customers

A business cannot survive without its customers, so the age-old adage that the “customer is king” is important. Six Sigma emphasizes that organizations should strive to understand their customer’s needs. And this involves identifying what quality means to the customer and producing products that address their needs.

2. Identify Variation in the Process Using Data

Variation happens when you have an unexpected result. However, defects start to pop up when the variation goes beyond the acceptable limits. A process operator must seek to identify and eliminate everything that is causing variation to reduce the occurrence of defects. This involves collecting data about the process and then analyzing it to identify the root cause of variation.

3. Eliminate Variation

With the root cause identified, the process operator will attempt to eliminate the variation. This involves addressing the root cause of the problem to ensure that defects are kept to a minimum. Furthermore, the process is streamlined by removing any steps that don’t bring any value to the customer. This leads to greater quality control and efficiency.

After the source of variation is gone, the process needs to be improved continuously. This will ensure that improvements are sustained long-term and that the process doesn’t revert to its previous state. Process operators need to develop standard procedures, which can also be used in future process improvement projects.

4. Involve All Stakeholders

Six Sigma requires teamwork for it to be successful. That means everyone involved in the process needs to contribute and take responsibility for the process improvement. Furthermore, all team members need to be educated in the ways of Six Sigma and be varied enough in terms of background and expertise to offer unique perspectives. This will ensure that everyone is well-equipped to handle the Six Sigma projects and identify variation and formulate elimination strategies from multiple angles.

5. Be Flexible and Responsive

A successful Six Sigma project is just the beginning, as it requires that everyone accept the improvement. The changes need to be cemented into the organization’s culture through the appropriate change management strategy. This will ensure that the organization is flexible and responsive to the improvement so that people and departments can adopt the changes with relative ease.

Who Can Benefit from Six Sigma

Six Sigma benefits both organizations and individuals. For organizations, the biggest benefit is that it helps them achieve customer satisfaction. When an organization consistently produces products that meet customer specifications, satisfaction levels are bound to go up. 

Furthermore, if customers are consistently happy, they become loyalists and advocates, bringing more business to the organization. With satisfied customers coming back and referring others, the organization will also improve its bottom line.

Can Six Sigma Help You Get a Job

Individuals who undergo Six Sigma training are instrumental in helping their organization reduce waste and defects and increase efficiency in processes. With Six Sigma knowledge, one can leverage it to get a promotion or ask for a raise or both. Furthermore, Six Sigma expertise is highly sought after, meaning that certification holders can stand out more on the job market, making them more hireable over their peers.

Six Sigma Certifications

When it comes to Six Sigma certifications, also known as Belts, there are five levels. You don’t need to have every one of these certificates. So it is best to look at your career preferences and goals to determine which certification to go for. Here’s a brief explanation of each, along with the salary you can expect.

Six Sigma White Belt

If you want the quickest route into the world of Six Sigma, then a White Belt certification is worth considering. You can become a White Belt in 4-8 hours, and you’ll learn the fundamentals of Six Sigma. This basic knowledge will equip you to participate in your organization’s problem-solving and change management projects.

Six Sigma White Belts earn an average of $64K per year.

Six Sigma Yellow Belt

A Yellow Belt certification expands on the fundamental concept of Six Sigma and goes into the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) methodology. It is also a great entry point into Six Sigma professionalism and can take 1 to 3 weeks to complete. As a Yellow Belt, one can lead and participate in improvement projects part-time, as long as they aren’t complex and are supervised by a Green Belt. 

Six Sigma Yellow Belts earn an average salary of $70K per year.

Six Sigma Green Belt

A Green Belt certification is designed to equip you with advanced concepts of Six Sigma, including a high-level understanding of DMAIC. As a Green Belt, you can take charge of or participate in complex projects, but you’ll need to be supervised by a Green Belt. Green Belts work on Six Sigma projects full time and can lead and participate in small-scale data collection and process improvement projects without supervision. It takes 2 to 5 weeks to get the certification.

Six Sigma Green Belts earn an average salary of $86K per year.

Six Sigma Black Belt

As a Black Belt, you’ll be able to lead and complete complex and large-scale Six Sigma projects efficiently. You won’t need supervision since you will have mastered the advanced concept of process improvement and statistical analysis. Your team will consist of White, Yellow and Green Belts, who you’ll have to supervise and mentor. It takes about four weeks to complete your Black Belt Training.

Six Sigma Black Belts earn an average salary of $104K per year.

Six Sigma Master Black Belt

To be one, you’ll need to fulfill the role of a Black Belt for 5 to 6 years, exhibiting strong leadership, communication, interpersonal and problem-solving skills in the process. A Master Black Belt is the highest Six Sigma certification and entails supervising and mentoring other Belts, including Black Belts. With this certification, you will also handle process improvements projects that affect the organization on a micro and macro level and drive change management.

Six Sigma Master Black Belts earn an average salary of $125K per year.


No matter what industry you work in, Six Sigma can help your organization produce quality output. This, in turn, increases customer satisfaction and positively impacts the bottom line. It can advance your career as an individual by putting you in better roles and higher pay grades. 

Since Six Sigma skyrocketed in popularity, thanks to General Electric, the methodology has proven time and time again to be what many organizations need to achieve operational efficiency. And it is why Six Sigma experts are in high demand.

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