Every noteworthy company, corporation and association has a carefully crafted mission statement that declares what the goals of the organization are. These mission statements are commonly based around key characteristics like quality, performance and service. Organizations looking to fulfill their mission statements need to adopt the right methodology -- a system of processes that regulates every relevant activity in an organization in order to produce optimal results on a consistent, repeatable basis.
Six Sigma is a methodology designed to constantly review and improve organizational processes in order to eliminate defects. Created in the mid-1980s, Six Sigma places a heavy emphasis on the use of quantifiable data and statistical analysis to drive decision making, thereby removing preconceptions and intuition-dependent guesses from the equation. The goal of any Six Sigma deployment is to deliver near-perfect products and/or services with great regularity.
An offshoot of the original program, Lean Six Sigma, was created in 2002. Lean Six Sigma combines the best practices from Six Sigma and lean manufacturing, a methodology that was founded in Japanese auto manufacturing which focuses on eliminating waste from production systems.
Six Sigma Training
The Six Sigma training framework is made up of different colors of belts, a reference to the ones used in martial arts schools. And, similar to those schools, Six Sigma belts must be earned in order. Here are the different Six Sigma training levels from introductory to expert:
- White Belt
- Yellow Belt
- Green Belt
- Black Belt
- Master Black Belt
Training is offered by numerous schools and training centers in the US and around the world. Training is delivered via classroom workshops and courses, online self-paced courses, and live online webinars.
The amount of time required to train for each level of belt increases as a candidate advances. White Belt fundamentals can often be learned in an afternoon, while the more advanced belts take multiple weeks of training.
At the root of all Six Sigma training is the DMAIC methodology, which stands for Define - Measure - Analyze - Improve - Control. There are specific skills and activities related to each of the DMAIC steps which candidates will need to master in order to advance through the Six Sigma certification levels.
The skills and activities linked to the Define step are:
- Identify and validate the improvement opportunity
- Identify all relevant stakeholders and team members
- Identify and map the required processes
- Define critical customer requirements
- Develop a set of team guidelines and ground rules
The skills and activities linked to the Measure step are:
- Identify the critical input, process, and output indicators
- Develop an operational definition and measurement plan
- Plot and analyze collected data
- Create a cause-and-effect matrix
- Collect additional baseline performance data
- Perform failure modes and effects analysis
The skills and activities linked to the Analyze step are:
- Identify and validate the root causes of problems
- Determine the sources of variation that lead to customer dissatisfaction
- Design root cause verification analysis
- Design experiments that produce relevant data
The skills and activities linked to the Improve step are:
- Generate improvement solutions to be tested
- Design experiments to test improvement solutions
- Evaluate and select solutions to be implemented
- Develop the change management approach to be used
- Communicate solutions to stakeholders
- Develop a pilot plan and pilot solution
The skills and activities linked to the Control step are:
- Execute the improvement solution
- Verify the efficacy of the implemented solution
- Identify if additional solutions are required to achieve desired outcome
- Develop replication and standardization components
- Manage implemented solutions in daily work processes
- Identify next steps and plans for future opportunities
Six Sigma Certification Exams
Unlike some professional certification programs, there is no single authoritative body for Six Sigma training and certification. Companies who have been employing Six Sigma for years (GE and Motorola are two examples) have their own training programs and exams which are administered internally. Schools and training centers often have their own curriculum and certification exams, or will contract a third-party education company to create the appropriate education materials and exams for each belt level.
With one exception, getting certified in Six Sigma is a non-standardized process that involves a training component, an exam component, and one or more project components. Candidates must take the training required for a particular belt level, pass an exam for it and then complete one or more projects in which they show they are competent in Six Sigma methods and processes. Again, there is no "official" track for any of these components; each organization offering Six Sigma training and certification has its own program specifics.
The one exception to the above is the International Association for Six Sigma Certification. IASSC has positioned itself as the only independent third-party certification body for Lean Six Sigma. The organization doesn't offer training or consulting services, which reinforces its claimed independent status.
There are three levels of Lean Six Sigma certification available from IASSC:
- Yellow Belt
- Green Belt
- Black Belt
All of the above exams are based on the IASSC-compiled document, the Universally Accepted Lean Six Sigma Body of Knowledge (ILSSBOK). This document was created in collaboration with the Open Source Six Sigma group to define the industry standard skill and knowledge requirements candidates need to earn one of the three Six Sigma belts offered.
All of the IASSC cert exams are offered worldwide through PearsonVue exam centers. The exams can also be booked through IASSC's On-Demand Web-Based Certification Testing system, which gives candidates the ability to take the exam from home as long as they meet the system and environment requirements.
The IASSC Certified Yellow Belt exam fee is $195 USD. The exam is made up of 60 questions and has a 90-minute time limit. The IASSC Certified Green Belt exam fee is $295 USD. The exam consists of 100 questions and has a three-hour time limit. The IASSC Certified Black Belt exam fee is $395 USD. The exam has 150 questions and candidates have four hours to complete it.
All of the IASSC exams contain multiple-choice and true/false questions. There are no prerequisites to take any of the exams. If a candidate doesn't pass an exam on the first attempt, there is no limitation or time restriction on exam retakes, and the retake exam fee is reduced by 25 percent.
Six Sigma Certification in the Workplace
The Six Sigma methodology has been adopted by organizations all over the world, and can be found in any environment where there is the need and/or desire to deliver nearly perfect products and services.
Organizations often advertise positions based on the belt levels or job roles which are defined in the Six Sigma methodology. Here are some of the job roles associated with Six Sigma certification:
- Process Owner
- Team Member
- Yellow/Green/Black Belt Owner
- Master Black Belt
- Six Sigma Champion
- Six Sigma Leader
Outside of the Six Sigma vernacular, those certified in its skill set can often be found in the following job roles:
- Quality Analyst
- Process Designer
- Project Engineer
- Director of Improvement
- Manufacturing Specialist
- Reliability Tester
"Lean Sigma Six Certification Training," Six Sigma, http://6sigma.us/six-sigma-training.php
"About the Company," Six Sigma Canada, Inc., http://sixsigmacanada.net/about/