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Six Sigma certification is a globally recognized qualification that indicates a mastery of data-driven process improvement and quality management. Individuals with a Six Sigma certification are equipped to apply statistical analysis to identify and eliminate defects, reduce variations and enhance overall efficiency in their organizations.

This certification is highly regarded in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and the service sector. In combination with other, more holistic improvement methodologies, Six Sigma can lead to higher product quality and customer satisfaction.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach to management aimed at identifying and reducing defects, errors and variations in business processes, thereby enhancing overall performance and customer satisfaction.

The name “Six Sigma” comes from the statistical concept of measuring process performance to a level of six standard deviations from the mean, represented by the Greek letter σ (sigma). Put another way, Six Sigma seeks to ensure that a company’s processes can produce work that is 99.99966% free of defects, indicating a highly accurate and consistent process.

Six Sigma utilizes a structured problem-solving approach to systematically analyze and improve existing processes, often referred to by the acronym DMAIC (representing the first letter in each step):

  • Define the problem
  • Measure the current process, gather data, establish a baseline and validate measurement capability
  • Analyze the data to identify waste and root causes of defects in the existing process
  • Improve the process
  • Control the process by determining how the improvements will be communicated to the relevant users

If a net-new process is required, a separate framework called DMADV provides a roadmap for building it:

  • Define the goals and deliverables of the process
  • Measure the factors that are critical to the end goal
  • Analyze and identify high-level concepts that will best meet the customer’s expectations, then select one to refine
  • Design a new process in detail that will meet the customer’s expectations
  • Verify that the customer’s needs are met through the newly designed process or product

Six Sigma originated in the manufacturing industry, specifically at Motorola in the 1980s, but its principles and methodologies have since been applied in various industries and sectors, including healthcare, finance, telecommunications and the service sector. It has gained popularity due to its ability to drive process improvements, reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction and enhance overall organizational effectiveness.

Today, Six Sigma is widely used by organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to multinational corporations, as a framework for continuous improvement and problem-solving. Many organizations encourage their employees to become certified in deploying Six Sigma methods, while others hire Six Sigma experts to consult on projects with specific targets, such as reducing carbon emissions or increasing efficiency.

Lean Six Sigma

Arguably two of the most widely-used process improvement methodologies, lean and Six Sigma are sometimes combined to drive enhanced process improvements.

Lean focuses on eliminating waste, or anything in a process that does not result in value for the customer. Lean Six Sigma, therefore, strives to eradicate waste while simultaneously reducing defects.

By integrating the two approaches, organizations can ultimately achieve significant cost savings, enhanced productivity and improved customer satisfaction using a more holistic approach, rather than a strictly data-driven one.

History of Six Sigma

Six Sigma’s origins lie with several influential figureheads in the quality control realm. Its roots can be traced back to the post-World War II teachings of Walter Shewhart, Ronald Fisher and W. Edwards Deming, whose work informed the manufacturing quality control methods used to rebuild Japan following WWII.

The Six Sigma concept itself can be attributed to statistician and quality expert Mikel Harry, but it was Motorola engineer Bill Smith who, in 1986, first applied it to reduce defects and improve product reliability in his plant.

Motorola’s success with Six Sigma quickly gained attention, and the methodology spread to other companies, including General Electric (GE) under the leadership of CEO Jack Welch. GE’s widespread adoption of Six Sigma helped popularize it in the business world, and it became a prominent management philosophy.

What is Six Sigma Certification?

Six Sigma certification is a recognized professional qualification that validates an individual’s expertise in the principles and practices of the Six Sigma methodology and can even enhance one’s career prospects.

The certification process typically involves the completion of a series of training courses and the successful application of the Six Sigma tools and techniques in real-world projects. Professionals can achieve multiple Six Sigma certifications, each designating varying levels of knowledge and proficiency and represented by “belts”:

  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Black Belt
  • Master Black Belt

Each improvement project requires two leadership-level roles:

  • Champion
  • Executive

By obtaining a Six Sigma certification, recipients demonstrate their ability to identify and analyze process inefficiencies, implement statistical analysis to measure performance and lead improvement initiatives. They acquire skills in problem-solving, data-driven decision making, project management and change management, which are highly valued in a wide range of industries and sectors.

There are no standardized certification criteria between the various organizations that offer Six Sigma training, though the American Society for Quality is considered the gold standard. Training programs also vary in duration, lasting anywhere from several hours to several months.

In addition to more people-focused improvement training, Six Sigma helps to establish a common language and framework between cross-functional teams, promoting a company-wide culture of collaboration and continuous improvement.

Six Sigma Certification Levels

Each Six Sigma belt level represents a progressive level of knowledge, skills and responsibilities. The higher the belt level, the greater the ability to lead and contribute to process improvement initiatives, from small-scale projects as a Yellow Belt to enterprise-wide transformations as a Master Black Belt.

  • White Belt: An entry-level designation, White Belts have a basic understanding of the methodology and its core principles. They typically receive introductory training on Six Sigma concepts and terminologies. White Belts are often individuals who are new to Six Sigma or those who have a general awareness of the methodology but do not actively participate in improvement projects. They serve as supporting team members and contribute to process improvement efforts at a basic level.
  • Yellow Belt: The Yellow Belt certification represents a basic understanding of the Six Sigma methodology. Yellow Belt holders are familiar with the fundamental concepts and tools used in process improvement projects. They typically contribute as team members, supporting Green and Black Belt professionals.
  • Green Belt: Green Belt certification indicates a more advanced level of proficiency in Six Sigma, with a deeper knowledge of statistical analysis, process mapping and project management. Green Belt holders can lead small-scale improvement projects within their respective departments and assist Black Belts in larger initiatives.
  • Black Belt: Black Belt certification represents mastery of Six Sigma principles and techniques. Black Belts are highly skilled professionals who lead and manage complex improvement projects. They have a comprehensive understanding of statistical analysis, advanced tools and methodologies required to achieve significant process improvements. They also coach and mentor Green Belts.
  • Master Black Belt: Master Black Belt certification signifies an exceptional level of expertise in Six Sigma. Master Black Belts are strategic leaders who drive the implementation of Six Sigma across an organization. They provide guidance, training and mentorship to Black Belts, Green Belts and other team members. They are responsible for aligning Six Sigma initiatives with business goals and ensuring sustained improvement.

The Champion and Executive roles are vital for the effective implementation and sustainability of Six Sigma practices within an organization.

  • Champion: Champions are senior-level individuals who actively support and sponsor Six Sigma projects within their respective areas or departments. They advocate for Six Sigma and facilitate its implementation by removing barriers, allocating resources and providing guidance to project teams. Champions work closely with project leaders (Green or Black Belts), providing the necessary support, influence and authority to drive change and make critical decisions that impact project success. Champions also promote communication and collaboration among stakeholders and facilitate the sharing of best practices across the organization.
  • Executive: The Executive role refers to high-level leaders who provide the strategic direction, vision and resources necessary to implement and sustain Six Sigma practices across an organization. Executives are responsible for aligning Six Sigma efforts with overall business goals and ensuring that the methodology integrates into the organization’s strategic plans.

The following organizations offer Six Sigma certification exams:

Certifications are awarded to those who achieve a score of 70% or higher. Exam fees range from $0 (White Belt) to $538 (Black Belt, non–member, ASQ), with the cost of training not included.

Of course, Six Sigma is not the only methodology-based certification available. The people-focused concepts that form the foundation of lean training and Training Within Industry (TWI), for example, predate Six Sigma and have brought success to organizations across industries for the better part of a century.

How Can Six Sigma Belts Enhance Your Career?

Obtaining a Six Sigma belt certification can improve your career prospects in several ways.

First, Six Sigma certification demonstrates your expertise in process improvement methodologies and problem-solving skills, which are highly valued in nearly every industry.

Secondly, Six Sigma belts indicate your ability to drive measurable results. Organizations across industries recognize the value of professionals who can lead process improvement initiatives and drive operational excellence.

Perhaps most importantly, Six Sigma certification equips you with a common language and framework that transcends industries and enables effective collaboration with cross-functional teams. This ability to communicate and work seamlessly with colleagues with different skill sets enhances your versatility and makes you a valuable asset in a diverse range of settings, including:

  • Healthcare
  • Insurance
  • Manufacturing
  • Logistics
  • Finance
  • Education
  • Hospitality
  • Government
  • Consulting

Six Sigma belts can also facilitate opportunities for career advancement within an organization. As an individual progresses from a Yellow Belt to Green Belt, Black Belt or even Master Black Belt, they gain the knowledge and skills to lead more complex improvement projects, mentor others and contribute to strategic decision-making. Having a Six Sigma belt certification opens doors to positions such as project manager, process improvement specialist, quality assurance manager and even executive leadership positions.

This growth trajectory can lead to promotions, higher-level responsibilities and increased earning potential. In their 2022 Salary Survey, the ASQ found that managers who held a Six Sigma Black Belt certification earned an average of $19,445 (16.9%) more than those without — a number that increases with successive belt levels and further improvement training. U.S. respondents who have earned any level of Six Sigma certification earn an average of $122,842, or $17,812 more than those without any Six Sigma credential.

How Organizations Benefit from Six Sigma Certified Professionals

Organizations with Six Sigma certified employees can experience both quantitative and qualitative benefits.

Certified Six Sigma professionals are equipped with a robust toolkit of data-driven problem-solving techniques with which they can:

  • Effectively analyze processes, identify root causes of issues and develop data-backed solutions.
  • Contribute to process improvements, reduce defects and enhance overall operational efficiency.
  • Help achieve cost savings, increase productivity and improve customer satisfaction, all of which directly benefit the organization’s bottom line.
  • Enhance an organization’s reputation and competitive advantage.
  • Reduce the risk of workplace safety incidents and ensure standards compliance.

Six Sigma certification also fosters a culture of continuous improvement throughout an organization. Employees certified in Six Sigma, lean, TWI and more understand the importance of constantly seeking ways to optimize processes and eliminate waste, often serving as change agents within their teams and departments. Their collaborative mindset promotes better teamwork, knowledge sharing and innovation, resulting in a more cohesive and efficient workplace that experiences higher employee engagement.

Training Within Industry in the United States

Read a comprehensive review of the wartime TWI programs from one of its founders, initially given in an April 1946 speech.

Six Sigma Certification FAQs

How do I get a Six Sigma Certification?
Six Sigma certification is available upon completion of an exam from an accredited organization: American Society for Quality [ASQ], the Council for Six Sigma Certification [CSSC] or the International Association for Six Sigma Certification [IASSC]. Six Sigma training is available through many colleges and universities, adult learning programs or internal employee training programs.

How much does a Six Sigma course cost?
Exam fees range from $0 (White Belt) to $538 (Black Belt, non–member, ASQ). The cost of training is not included in the exam price and is determined by the individual trainer or training organization.

Is Six Sigma worth it?
A Six Sigma certification indicates mastery of process improvement methodology and implementation and can significantly increase your hiring and earning potential. Research has shown that any level of Six Sigma certification or training can increase one’s salary by an average of $16,411. Organizations with certified employees experience higher efficiency, better business results, fewer workplace safety incidents and higher customer satisfaction.

Which Six Sigma certification is most recognized?
The Six Sigma trainings and certifications furnished by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) are recognized worldwide. In terms of belt levels, Black Belts may have the highest earning and hiring potential due to their mastery of the methodology.

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