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What is Six Sigma? Everything You Need to Know in 2024

What is Six Sigma certification

Efficiency is one of the main drivers of the business.

It’s not only a means of improving existing processes and streamlining operations—but it’s also the precursor to innovation, which is the primary catalyst for growth.

Although there are many methodologies to assess efficiency, innovation, and optimization in business, there is no standard internal assessment of business performance. 

Enter Six Sigma is a set of quality-control mechanisms designed to help businesses identify and eliminate defects in workflow, improve internal processes, and ultimately maximize their profits.

Six Sigma has revolutionized the way that many people conduct their businesses. It can provide an accurate and reliable frame of reference for a better understanding of their performance and impact. Team members are then able to implement data-driven process improvement strategies to 

Use this guide to understand everything you need to know about Six Sigma in 2023 to save time and money.

What Is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a methodology that allows businesses to improve their internal operations by using quantifiable metrics and statistics.

Throughout much of business history, CEOs, team members, and managers have had to rely on guesswork to assess the state of their operations. 

In the 1980s, a scientist at Motorola invented the Six Sigma methodology to help the organization prioritize continuous improvement and streamline business processes.

Six Sigma operates on the based on that business processes can be measured and quantified using statistical benchmarks and that Six Sigma quality is achieved when long-term defect levels (among products, services, or operations) reach below 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).

The Six Sigma approach consists of five phases that contribute to quality improvement, commonly referred to as DMAIC, which stands for:

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze 
  4. Improve
  5. Control

Each step is assessed using different metrics. Ultimately, Six Sigma practitioners typically obtain certifications and training to achieve one of several belt levels. As in martial arts, the belt levels range from white to black. 

How Does Six Sigma Work? 

Six Sigma works according to the five phases described above. The process is as follows.

  1. Define: Project team members must define an area of focus, typically a flawed process. They will then outline the problem, define their goals, and create a roadmap for the project.
  2. Measure: Project team members measure the initial performance of the process or program. They make a list of potential inputs that may contribute to the problem.
  3. Analyze: Project team members assess the process by isolating each variable and testing it for processing errors.
  4. Improve: Team members improve the system or process performance.
  5. Control: The team adds commands to the process to make sure that the defects don’t reproduce themselves and reoccur. 

Who Uses Six Sigma?

Many companies use Six Sigma. Most businesses that adopt this methodology focus on providing services or products to the general public. 

They are often technology and IT services, E-commerce, manufacturing, banking, and more. 

Some of Six Sigma’s most famous practitioners include: 

  • Amazon
  • Bank of America
  • Boeing 
  • 3M
  • Bechtel 
  • Microsoft 
  • Caterpilla Inc. 
  • Etc.

The 5 Phases of Six Sigma 

The Six Sigma methodology converges around a five-step process called DMAIC, defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling.

Each phase aptly summarizes a step of the Six Sigma process, ultimately minimizing defects in a circle or operation. 

The goal is to reduce long-term defect levels to below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. 

Each step of the Six Sigma process is defined at length below. 

Step One: Define 

The first step in the methodology is called “Define.” The driving question for this step is: “what is important?”

This step focuses on identifying the problem and its contributing factors. They set a bottom line. 

Team members begin by choosing options that reflect their organizational goals. They look for critical-to-quality characteristics, or CTQs, that may affect the quality of the product or process.

They then isolate the “vital few” from the “trivial many” to determine which inputs are likely to produce the defect.

Team members must then define the issue in terms of “Y” to obtain a quantifiable time that they can use to assess their performance.

Step Two: Measure 

In the second phase, team members must determine their capability and stability. The top Belt in the team will conclude their ability o measure the Y.

They then break the process down to identify Key Process Steps and Key Inputs for every step. 

The top Belt must then determine the possible influence each CTQ may have on the inputs and their impact on the defect.

Key inputs are assembled into a short list which the team uses to narrow down how the process has become flawed.

This meticulous process results in the production specification’s invaluable metrics, allowing the team to track their improvements.

Step Three: Analyze 

The third phase of Six Sigma is the Analyze phase, which consists of isolating potential reasons for the error or deft.

Participants will brainstorm how they can achieve the desired level of performance and minimize defects along the way. By this point, they may have already addressed quick fixes or easy improvements along the way.

Step Four: Improve 

The fourth step, called “Improve,” consists of implementing innovative ideas to resolve the identified problems.

This step allows teams to test and simulate the effects of their proposed solutions. It’s often quite popular since it offers a unique opportunity for couples to connect on a deeper level and assess one another’s ideas.

The group must determine the results of their improvements and project into the future. They must measure the losses they might incur if they don’t implement their solutions.

Step Five: Control 

The fifth step typically assesses the team’s success in implementing solutions. They will determine whether they have used the correct change management strategies and statistical tools to enhance quality management.

They can then establish and leverage tools that promote the use of a new key variable and determine its potential impact over the long run.

The group will then create a formula for concluding and handing off the process and set conditions for long-term success.

Although the Six Sigma process officially ends with step five, there are additional steps teams can take to hone the process further and reduce defects.

Six Sigma Belt Rankings 

The Six Sigma methodology has a corresponding certification process that allows practitioners to highlight their successes in using the method.

The belt rankings consist of the following:

  • Champions
  • Master Black Belts
  • Black Belts
  • Green Belts
  • Yellow Belt

Six Sigma Champions

Six Sigma champions consistently implement and back Six Sigma within their businesses and work environments.

They are often CEOs, company executives, or leaders responsible for selecting and assigning “belts” to different people within their organization.

Six Sigma Master Black Belts

Master Black Belts implement and monitor the Six Sigma method with successful results. In addition, they typically have an advanced understanding of the tools available and the different statistical models used with Six Sigma.

They work with Champions to provide project descriptions and advise Green and Black belts. They may consist of prospective leaders of the organization.

Six Sigma Black Belts

Black belts are people who obtain individual instruction on the roadmap of Six Sigma and have a firm understanding of the methodology.

They often work closely with Master Black Belts and Champions to direct Six Sigma phases within their teams. They must have dedicated at least 75% of their time to completing four to six-month projects within the methodology.

Six Sigma Green Belts 

Green belts have received two weeks of class time and instruction.

They know the Sigma methodology with relative fluency, and they typically spend up to 50% of their time on Six Sigma projects.

They also complete training pertinent to their positions.

Six Sigma Yellow Belts

Yellow Belts describe entry-level Six Sigma practitioners who only slightly understand the methodology.

They have typically had exposure to the foundational elements of Six Sigma but need more advanced capabilities to direct team members or make crucial decisions throughout the process.

Lean Six Sigma 

Lean Six Sigma is a whole-team managerial approach to the methodology that prioritizes eliminating waste and defects while boosting standardization and efficiency.

This methodology combines Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and enterprise methodologies. 

The lean business model essentially seeks to minimize the waste of resources, time, effort, talent, and finances to preserve quality and boost production. 

Resources that don’t produce value are eliminated throughout the Six Sigma process to render the overall result more efficient. 

Real-World Examples of Six Sigma in Action 

Many modern organizations and businesses leverage the Six Sigma model. These include Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Bechtel, and more. 

The examples below illustrate how Six Sigma can be used in action. They provide valuable models for implementing Six Sigma in your business or organization.


Microsoft is a leading software producer and a global conglomerate that provides services and products related to IT.

Microsoft has been using the Six Sigma process for a long time, and the organization is a living testament to the power of the methodology. 

Microsoft credits many of its successes to the implementation of this method.

The company introduced comprehensive standards for its products and services, effectively creating a baseline to measure and detect defects. 

Using root-cause analysis, Microsoft teams identified data from prior incidents and failures and made targeted recommendations.

Teams then established metrics to assess their improved efficiency over time.

They consistently measured and analyzed data weekly and daily, compiling reports to identify the defects within each production stage. In resolving defects and incidents, the company improved its server reliability, boosted productivity, and increased customer and employee satisfaction. 

Local Government 

The Six Sigma methodology was also famously used by the government of Ventura County in California. The Ventura County government implemented the methods in 2008 and claimed to have trained over 5,000 employees.

The government allegedly saved over $33 million by eliminating inefficiencies and waste within individual processes.

The Six Sigma Certification Process 

To become certified in the Six Sigma methodology, you must begin by identifying a course provider or educator. 

The Six Sigma organization offers virtual and in-person certification options, while third-party course providers may provide alternatives. 

Most Six Sigma certification providers will teach you:

  • The basics of the Six Sigma methodology
  • The DMAIC roadmap 
  • Statistical processes used throughout the methodology
  • Practical examples and actional exercises to hone your skills
  • Action-based training with other practitioners of the method at all levels

There are many advantages to obtaining your Six Sigma certification.

According to statistical research, Master Black Belts earn $26,123 more on average, while Black Belts earn $15,761 on average.

Green Belts earn $10,736 more on average, and Yellow Belts make $880 more on average.

Additionally, understanding and leveraging the Six Sigma method can be a significant boon for employees seeking to deliver more value to their organizations and take on more responsibility.

Value Stream Mapping

A staple of the Lean Six Sigma methodology is value stream mapping.

A value stream is an organization’s flow of materials and effort toward a specific goal. Value stream mapping provides a visual model of the organization’s value streams, allowing team members and upper management to assess the efficiency of existing processes.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Should you still need to decide whether or not to implement this methodology, consider the answers to our most frequently asked questions in the space below. 


Six Sigma is a business methodology that aims to improve the quality of products and the efficiency of processes within an organization by minimizing waste.
It is commonly used throughout the manufacturing process for waste reduction and quality control.


The five steps of Six Sigma describe the order of the process. They define the problem, measure the process, analyze the root causes of issues, improve the process, and control for errors. This six-step process is often referred to by its acronym, “DMAIC.”


Six Sigma is a holistic methodology that is used to improve processes within a business. There are Sigma tools that team members use to develop problem-solving skills and solutions to ensure continuous improvement within their organizations.


The Six Sigma methodology is now applied on a global scale in industries like manufacturing, banking, healthcare, information technology, and the military.


The Greek letter sigma refers to one standard deviation in a data set, also known as a bell curve.
Six Sigma has its name because six deviations should occur before a process results in a defect. When a process achieves Six Sigma, it has only 3.4 errors per one million processes, resulting in a deficiency.


Depending on the supplier and project specifications, you can complete the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification in one to three months. Through SSGI, Black Belt certification typically takes 45 days to complete.

Six Sigma Wrapped

Once you understand the basics of the Six Sigma method and its critical practices, you are ready to begin training.

Obtaining your Six Sigma certification can dramatically enhance your job prospects, boost your salary or revenue, increase employee and customer satisfaction, and minimize losses and inefficiencies.

Learning more about the Six Sigma method is necessary since it can improve your organization.

Consider taking a course or reading more about Six Sigma online.