Bloated processes. Rampant inefficiencies. Widespread error. If your organization is suffering from these issues, and more, implementing the Six Sigma methodology may be a way to move forward and drive improvement.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology that focuses on eliminating waste and defects while also improving services and products. This methodology creates sustained, significant improvements throughout an organization. Focused on results and rapid return on the resources invested, Six Sigma centers on improving processes and products through variation reduction and defect elimination.
Six Sigma got its name by popularizing the Six Sigma metric as a way of normalizing process improvement efforts across different functions in different processes. “Six Sigma” specifically means refining a process until there are only 3.4 defects per one million opportunities.
By standardizing on one metric and a single challenging goal, Six Sigma provides a basis for comparison and improvement for all processes throughout an organization.
History of Six Sigma
Six Sigma is not a new approach, but rather a relatively recent bundling of many of the quality tools that have been developed over the past hundred years. The result is an effective approach to reduce process and product variation and to eliminate defects. Some of the milestones include:
- 1920s: Walter Shewhart develops control charts
- 1940s: Edward Deming visits Japan and advocates for quality control
- 1950s: Joseph Juran visits Japan and spreads his Big Q, advocating quality throughout all parts of the organization
- 1987: Motorola engineer William Smith creates the term “Six Sigma” to help drive defect reduction and launches what will become the Six Sigma approach. In this same year, the International Organization for Standardization launches the ISO series of quality management system standards and the U.S. government introduces the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA)
- 1988: Motorola wins the inaugural MBNQA and begins to share its quality philosophy with other organizations, including Allied Signal who adopts the Six Sigma philosophy
- 1995: General Electric introduces its Six Sigma program under the leadership of Jack Welch
What is Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma combined the tools and techniques from Six Sigma with the Lean methodology, which focuses on identifying and reducing waste. In addition to the focuses being different, the difference between Lean and Six Sigma is that Six Sigma a project-based approach, with typical projects lasting from 3-6 months. Lean, however, focuses on ongoing, everyday continuous improvement everywhere in the organization and providing an infrastructure for that continuous improvement.
How Does Six Sigma Work?
Six Sigma provides a wealth of methods and tools to accomplish the goals of improved efficiency and better-quality results. Two of the main Six Sigma methodologies are DMAIC and DMADV, which are phased approaches. Although other quality programs use similar steps, Six Sigma ties specific tools in each phase to provide a more disciplined and consistent integration between structure and method.
This methodology is most frequently used to improve existing operations. The acronym stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, control.
- Define the exact nature of the defect in the process as well as the ultimate goal
- Measure in detail every aspect of the process
- Analyze the resulting data to find what root causes are leading to the defect
- Improve the process using this information
- Control the process to ensure changes are maintained and sustainable, and continue to produce the desired results
This methodology is typically used in the design of a new process, usually in relation to creating a new product or service. The acronym stands for define, measure, analyze, design, verify.
- Define the goal of the new process
- Measure in detail every aspect of the proposed new process
- Analyze the resulting data and create assorted options for creating the process, eventually choosing the best one
- Design the new process
- Verify the design through testing and creation of pilot projects before the final process is initiated
The difference between DMAIC and DMADV is that DMAIC is best utilized to improve an existing process, while DMADV is typically associated with creating a new product or design
Other Six Sigma Tools
In addition to DMAIC and DMADV, Six Sigma practitioners use a variety of quantitative and qualitative quality tools in different phases of Six Sigma projects, including:
- Control charts
- Process mapping
- The 5 Whys
- Pareto chart
- Failure Modes and Effects Analysis
- Fishbone Diagram
Six Sigma Metrics
Six Sigma also relies on metrics to measure performance, identify a baseline and identify goals for improvement. Typically, Six Sigma metrics fall into five categories: time, cost, quality, productivity and process measures. Within these categories, for example, there are many specific metrics, such as “cost per product” within cost, “backlog” within productivity and “rolled throughput yield” in process measures.
How to Implement Six Sigma
The first step in ensuring successful Six Sigma implementation buy-in at the executive level. Without that support, the system cannot work.
Education and training of employees is another essential step. Part of the methodology calls for training both leaders and employees in Six Sigma, which result in distinct levels of certification designated by belt colors. They include White, Yellow, Green, Black and Master Black Belt.
Getting buy-in is not always easy. One common criticism of Six Sigma is that it is “just common sense.” But of course, if making efficient and non-wasteful systems proved just a matter of common sense, every business and government would run that way.
Six Sigma provides a framework for making desired goals a reality. Eventually, any process can be transformed into one that produces consistent, quality results.
Why Implement Six Sigma?
Six Sigma methodology provides many benefits for an organization, including identifying inefficiencies in a process and providing the tools to eliminate defects. Reducing waste and cutting costs are a huge benefit. Another outcome is better products and services, as well as improved customer service.
Employees also benefit. Many Six Sigma strategies require employees to learn about the methodology, then apply it to their section of the overall operation. Many of the benefits from Six Sigma derive from these employee efforts.
Six Sigma ultimately represents opportunity. Organizations have an opportunity to work more efficiently and with fewer mistakes. Employees have an opportunity to hone their skills through Six Sigma training and by participating on project teams.
Ultimately, customers benefit the most, with improved products and services.
What is Six Sigma Certification?
To work most effectively with Six Sigma, employees throughout an organization should become trained and certified in Six Sigma methodology. Employees can earn Six Sigma certification at various levels.
- White Belt: Offers a basic understanding of Six Sigma methods and terminology
- Yellow Belt: Works part-time on Six Sigma project teams, typically in an assistant role to those with higher belt levels
- Green Belt: Assists Black Belts on project teams, has thorough knowledge of Six Sigma methods
- Black Belt: Has mastered Six Sigma methodologies and leads project teams
- Master Black Belt: This level is attained by earning a Black Belt and leading many project teams, gaining the experience to develop strong leadership and quantitative skills
Six Sigma Salary Potential
Getting Six Sigma training and certifications can lead to increased salary potential in a variety of industries and positions. According to the ASQ 2018 annual salary survey*, on average, $17,332 more was earned annually after completing Six Sigma training. The average salary for a Green Belt was $79,270 and a Black Belt was $102,593.
*ASQ, Quality Progress, Salary Survey 2018, on the internet at http://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ASQM/ASQM1218/index.php#/0 (accessed May 22, 2019).
National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth. Degree and/or certificate program options do not guarantee career or salary outcomes. Students should conduct independent research for specific employment information.