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What is Six Sigma?

common Six Sigma symbol

Developed by Motorola in the 1980s, this improvement methodology was created to reduce errors, waste and variations, and increase quality and efficiency in manufacturing. It has since been adapted for use in other types of business processes, and is today in practice in some of the top companies around the globe, including General Electric, Honeywell and Allied Steel. Six Sigma-driven companies use data to examine, manage, and enhance operational performance by eliminating and preventing flaws in goods and related processes, such as design, management, production, consumer satisfaction and service delivery.

Six Sigma Infographic

Precise Quality Measurement

levels of six sigma defects per million chart

One of the guiding principles behind Six Sigma is that variation in a process creates waste and errors. Eliminating variation, then, will make that process more efficient, cost-effective and error-free. This may sound like a relatively straightforward concept, but its application in a complex and highly integrated business environment can be far from simple.The term Sigma refers to a scale of measurement of quality in processes such as manufacturing. When using this particular scale, Six Sigma equates to just under 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).

Six Sigma Methodology

Whether you are trying to implement Six Sigma throughout an entire organization or using it to improve the performance of your own department, you need to understand the two main Six Sigma methodologies. The first of these is DMAIC, which stands for: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. The second is DMADV, which represents: define, measure, analyze, design and verify.

DMAIC

DMAIC is used to apply the principles of Six Sigma to existing business processes. For instance, if you are trying to find out how to make a particular process more effective, you would use DMAIC to break down the process into its component parts. Using this Six Sigma model, you would start by defining the problems and project goals, measuring data relating to the current process and analyzing your findings to identify cause-and-effect relationships. The next step involves improving existing processes based on your data analysis. Finally, you need to implement controls to avoid variation in the process going forward.

DMADV

While DMADV shares some steps in common with DMAIC, it is used for Six Sigma projects that create new product or process designs. Using the DMADV Six Sigma model, you would start by defining your design goals. The next step is to measure the required quality characteristics, product or production process capabilities, and associated risks. You would then conduct an analysis of your findings to develop an appropriate solution. After that, you're ready for the design phase of the new product or process. Once the design is complete, you must test it and verify that it works. Following these steps will result in a successful Six Sigma implementation.

Levels of Six Sigma Mastery

What is Six Sigma from a hierarchical perspective? Taking a cue from martial arts, Six Sigma uses a colored-belt system – with some modifications – to denote an individual’s level of Six Sigma expertise or role in an organization’s Six Sigma strategy:

  • Green Belt is the foundational level of Six Sigma expertise. Team members with this training integrate Six Sigma implementation into their primary job duties. Green Belts are guided by those at the next Six Sigma level, Black Belts.
  • Working under Master Black Belts to apply Six Sigma methodology to designated projects, Black Belts dedicate all of their professional efforts to Six Sigma.
  • Master Black Belts mentor Black Belts and Green Belts. Like Black Belts, they concentrate on Six Sigma implementation. In addition to spending time on statistical duties, Master Black Belts help ensure that Six Sigma processes are applied consistently throughout an organization’s numerous departments and functions.
  • Six Sigma Champions are individuals chosen from upper management by Executive Leadership. Champions are also concerned with enterprise-wide Six Sigma implementation as well as mentoring lower-level Six Sigma practitioners.
  • At the top of the Six Sigma “food chain” is Executive Leadership. This includes a company’s CEO and other members of top management. Executive Leadership determines the overall strategy for the organization’s Six Sigma implementation. They also set the parameters for duties of more junior practitioners.

Thanks to Villanova University’s online Six Sigma training programs, you’ll never again have to ask, “What is Six Sigma?” You’ll gain expertise directly from the top experts in the field, and earn career-boosting Six Sigma certification through the world’s only 100% online certification programs!