What is Six Sigma and how can it help your career?

What is Six Sigma and how can it help your career?

01 Mar 2023

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Six Sigma is one of the most well-known and widely adopted methodologies for making business processes more effective and efficient. The following CPD article looks to explain the Six Sigma methodology and how learning the principles and achieving Six Sigma certification can benefit individuals in their career.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement developed and introduced by the engineer Bill Smith in 1986 at the telecommunications company Motorola. Six Sigma involved a statistical based and data driven approach to eliminating defects in a product, process or service. The term Six Sigma was derived from the Bell Curve graph historically used in statistics and mathematics in which sigma represents the standard deviation from the centre.

The methodology was originally applied only to manufacturing but in subsequent years became adopted throughout business and across all industry sectors. In more recent years, the methodology is often known as Lean Six Sigma. This combined Lean Management Methodology, a concept established by Japanese automaker Toyota in the 1940s. The purpose of Lean Management was to remove non-value-adding activities and waste from the production process.

The combined term Lean Six Sigma emerged in the 1990s as large US manufacturers attempted to compete with Japan's better made products. The combination strategy was introduced by Michael George and Robert Lawrence Jr. in their 2002 book “Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma with Lean Speed”. Six Sigma and Lean remain distinct concepts but are now frequently used interchangeably as they complement each other in both seeking to improve process and eliminate waste.

How is Six Sigma used?

Within the overall term Six Sigma are two fundamental methodologies both of which are composed of five sections – The DMAIC method and The DMADV method. The DMAIC method is used primarily for improving existing business processes and the DMADV method is typically used to create new processes and new products or services. The terms break down as follows:


Define - Define the problem and the project goals

Measure - Measure in detail the various aspects of the current process

Analyse - Analyse data to find the root defects in a process

Improve - Improve the process by deciding on solutions to fix issues

Control – Control how the process is done in the future

The DMAIC method


Define – Define the project goals

Measure – Measure critical components of the process and product capabilities

Analyse – Analyse data and develop designs for the process, eventually deciding on the best

Design – Design and test details of the process

Verify – Verify the design by running simulations and a pilot program, and then handing over the process to the client.

Beyond the two methodologies, there are some underlying principles of Six Sigma:

Customer focus - The main objective is to maximise the benefits for customers. An organisation must understand the needs of their customer. It may require establishing quality standards according to the market or customer demands. 

Flexibility and responsiveness - Whenever an inefficient process is eliminated, the employee approach and organisation practices need to be changed. A flexible and responsive work environment open to changes will lead to the efficient implementation of projects.

Training and investment – In order to be effective Six Sigma requires upfront investment to implement and train employees in Six Sigma methodology and its execution. Employees of all levels must be trained in the various positions of the methodology.

What are the benefits of learning Six Sigma methodologies?

Six Sigma has proven to have huge advantages to organisations across industry sectors. In 2005 Motorola, the pioneers of Six Sigma, attributed over 17 billion dollars of savings to having implemented the Six Sigma system. As it has become common place across industry, there is huge value to individuals learning Six Sigma and gaining certification.

The following is not an exhaustive list but identifies some of the key benefits of Six Sigma to both organisations and individuals:

  1. Customer satisfaction and loyalty - Six Sigma tends to increase customer satisfaction by reducing potential problems and eliminating unwanted specifications from the process. Customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty and retained business.
  2. Reduces waste - One of the main objectives of Six Sigma is the production of more by using fewer inputs in terms of time, space, efforts, resources and energy. As a result the methodology helps organisations ensure resources are being allocated efficiently. It also ensures money is saved which increases revenue.
  3. Higher revenue and lower costs - Six Sigma requires organisations to take a deeper understanding of their processes and decisions. Decisions become fact-based and the more qualitative products and services are, the more revenue they are likely to generate. Equally, the lower costs of waste reduction and improved customer loyalty will also increase revenue.
  4. Employee Motivation - Adopting Six Sigma and the associated tools helps an organisation create tangible systems that will focus and motivate employees in conducting assigned duties. Six Sigma is also a continuous improvement process which helps promote a healthy work culture in an organisation. This leads to a happy and satisfied workforce, but is also attractive to potential employees, which aids organisation growth.
  5. Career advancement - An individual with Six Sigma knowledge and certification is likely to stand out and have an advantage in the market place. With the increased adoption of Six Sigma across industry sectors, Six Sigma certification is likely to increase job opportunities and appeal to potential employers. It is also estimated that an individual with Six Sigma certification is likely to see an average 19% salary increase in comparison to someone of otherwise similar experience and skill set.

Understanding Six Sigma certification

A unique feature of Six Sigma is the fundamental focus on a team with a designated hierarchy and required level of certification in Six Sigma methodology. The Six Sigma certification system borrows from Martial Arts using belts to signify the level of Six Sigma experience and expertise. The belts are earned through practical experience, course-based training, and exams.

The following lists the roles and relevant belt certification in a typical Six Sigma hierarchy:

Executive Leadership

CEO and other executive staff establish the vision for the Six Sigma implementation at the organisation level.


The executive leadership selects the Champions. This may be a sole upper-level executive who is responsible for the implementation of Six Sigma across all departments. 

Master Black Belts

Champions select the Master Black Belts, who manage the implementation of Six Sigma projects across functions. Master Black Belts demonstrate through an exam an expert understanding of the philosophies and principles of Six Sigma. They also train and mentor Black Belts.

Black Belts

Master Black Belts supervise Black Belts. Black Belts plan and execute projects using Six Sigma principles. They must pass an exam demonstrating a complete knowledge of the phases of the Six Sigma Method. Their sole focus is the statistical analysis and the correct execution of Six Sigma methodology.

The Six Sigma certification system

Green Belts

Guided by Black Belts, Green belts are employees who implement Six Sigma recommendations as part of their regular duties. They may also lead projects part of the time. Green Belts must pass an exam demonstrating thorough knowledge of the phases of the Six Sigma method.

Yellow Belts 

Yellow Belts have a basic knowledge of Six Sigma, but they may be either new to the methodology or need only a basic understanding. Yellow Belt is awarded for assisting a project at a practical level and passing an exam demonstrating an understanding of implementing, performing, and applying Six Sigma.

White Belts

New to Six Sigma concepts, White Belt certification takes only a few hours, and typically does not include testing. It is awarded for completing an entry-level overview of the tools used in Six Sigma, its history, and the system's structure.

There is no overriding authority or body that administers Six Sigma certification and it can be achieved through many providers. This offers some advantage to individuals as they can look to gain necessary knowledge and certification as part of their wider Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

What are the best Six Sigma CPD courses?

The CPD Certification Service lists a variety of courses and events across all levels of Six Sigma, ranging from beginner understanding to specific certification for the different belt levels. Please visit the CPD Courses Catalogue to search for the different and relevant Six Sigma courses.

There are also thousands of courses across industry sectors which will benefit wider learning and Continuing Professional Development. All of the certified providers, courses and training have been reviewed and recognised as meeting the required industry standards and benchmarks.

How to become a CPD accredited training provider

We hope this article was helpful. Established in 1996, The CPD Certification Service is the world’s leading and largest CPD accreditation organisation working across all industry sectors. If you would like to provide training courses, workshops and eLearning events that may be suitable for Six Sigma learning and certification, or for any Continuing Professional Development, please contact our team to discuss in more detail.

Alternatively, if you are looking for a free online CPD record tool to help manage, track and log your ongoing learning, as well as store your personal training records and attendance certificates in one simple place, go to the myCPD Portal page.

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