Get Lean Six Sigma Certified

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Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process – from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.


  • Six Sigma Definition and Importance.
  • Identify and focus on customers’ Critical-to-Quality (CTQ)
  • Characteristics.
  • Solve problems using the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) process and its associated tools.
  • Focus on defect reduction to increase bottom-line performance
  • Use Six Sigma metric.
  • Recognize and understand the terms associated with Six Sigma.
  • Use proper Six Sigma tools to eliminate defects within the process.
  • Analyze baseline data to determine the sigma measure of the Process.
  • Develop different level of controls for processes to reduce
  • Defects.
  • Relate Lean Manufacturing to Six Sigma.
  • Determine the Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) in organizations.
  • Perform Design of Experiments to correlate changes in input.

4000 Saudi Riyal


six sigma training, history, definitions - six sigma and quality management glossary

Six Sigma is now according to many business development and quality improvement experts, the most popular management methodology in history. Six Sigma is certainly a very big industry in its own right, and Six Sigma is now an enormous 'brand' in the world of corporate development. Six Sigma began in 1986 as a statistically-based method to reduce variation in electronic manufacturing processes in Motorola Inc in the USA. Today, twenty-something years on, Six Sigma is used as an all-encompassing business performance methodology, all over the world, in organizations as diverse as local government departments, prisons, hospitals, the armed forces, banks, and multi-nationals corporations. While Six Sigma implementation continues apace in many of the world's largest corporations, many organizations and suppliers in the consulting and training communities have also seized on the Six Sigma concept, to package and provide all sorts of Six Sigma 'branded' training products and consultancy and services. Six Sigma has also spawned manay and various business books on the subject. Six Sigma, it might seem, is taking over the world.

Interestingly while Six Sigma has become a very widely used 'generic' term, the name Six Sigma is actually a registered trademark of Motorola Inc., in the USA, who first pioneered Six Sigma methods in the 1980's. The original and technically correct spelling seems to be Six Sigma, rather than 6 Sigma, although in recent years Motorola and GE have each since developed their own sexy Six Sigma logos using the number six and the Greek sigma character s.

Six Sigma is now a global brand and something of a revolution. But what is Six Sigma?...


six sigma definitions

The answer is that Six Sigma is lots of things.

First, Six Sigma is arguably a very clever way of branding and packaging many aspects of Total Quality Management that exist in their own right, regardless of the development of Six Sigma. Read the section about Total Quality Management and 'Excellence' and you will understand this.

Six Sigma is lots of different things because it had different meanings over time, and also because it is now interpreted in increasingly different ways. And Six Sigma is still evolving.

The UK Department for Trade and Industry says Six Sigma is:

"A data-driven method for achieving near perfect quality. Six Sigma analysis can focus on any element of production or service, and has a strong emphasis on statistical analysis in design, manufacturing and customer-oriented activities." June 2005.

Here's the DTI fact-sheet on Six Sigma - please note this is Crown copyright.


Motorola Inc., who first developed the methodology in the mid-late1980's and who provide extensive Six Sigma training and consultancy services, provide the following definitions:

six sigma according to motorola

"...Six Sigma has evolved over the last two decades and so has its definition. Six Sigma has literal, conceptual, and practical definitions. At Motorola University (Motorola's Six Sigma training and consultancy division), we think about Six Sigma at three different levels:

  • As a metric
  • As a methodology
  • As a management system

Essentially, Six Sigma is all three at the same time."

"...Six Sigma as a Metric: The term "Sigma" is often used as a scale for levels of 'goodness' or quality. Using this scale, 'Six Sigma' equates to 3.4 defects per one million opportunities (DPMO). Therefore, Six Sigma started as a defect reduction effort in manufacturing and was then applied to other business processes for the same purpose.."

"...Six Sigma as a Methodology: As Six Sigma has evolved, there has been less emphasis on the literal definition of 3.4 DPMO, or counting defects in products and processes. Six Sigma is a business improvement methodology that focuses an organization on:

  • Understanding and managing customer requirements
  • Aligning key business processes to achieve those requirements
  • Utilizing rigorous data analysis to minimize variation in those processes
  • Driving rapid and sustainable improvement to business processes.."

"..At the heart of the methodology is the DMAIC model for process improvement. DMAIC is commonly used by Six Sigma project teams and is an acronym for:

  • Define opportunity
  • Measure performance
  • Analyze opportunity
  • Improve performance
  • Control performance.."

"...Six Sigma Management System: Through experience, Motorola has learned that disciplined use of metrics and application of the methodology is still not enough to drive desired breakthrough improvements and results that are sustainable over time. For greatest impact, Motorola ensures that process metrics and structured methodology are applied to improvement opportunities that are directly linked to the organizational strategy. When practiced as a management system, Six Sigma is a high performance system for executing business strategy. Six Sigma is a top-down solution to help organizations:

  • Align their business strategy to critical improvement efforts
  • Mobilize teams to attack high impact projects
  • Accelerate improved business results
  • Govern efforts to ensure improvements are sustained.."

"..The Six Sigma Management System drives clarity around the business strategy and the metrics that most reflect success with that strategy. It provides the framework to prioritize resources for projects that will improve the metrics, and it leverages leaders who will manage the efforts for rapid, sustainable, and improved business results.."

© Copyright 1994-2005 Motorola, Inc.


General Electric (GE), the first large-scale adopters and advocates of Six Sigma after Motorola, and considered by most experts to have been responsible for Six Sigma's rapidly achieved high profile, provide the following definitions of Six Sigma:

six sigma according to general electric

"...Six Sigma is a highly disciplined process that helps us focus on developing and delivering near-perfect products and services. Why 'Sigma'? The word is a statistical term that measures how far a given process deviates from perfection. The central idea behind Six Sigma is that if you can measure how many 'defects' you have in a process, you can systematically figure out how to eliminate them and get as close to 'zero defects' as possible. To achieve Six Sigma Quality, a process must produce no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. An 'opportunity' is defined as a chance for nonconformance, or not meeting the required specifications. This means we need to be nearly flawless in executing our key processes."

"...At its core, Six Sigma revolves around a few key concepts.

  • Critical to Quality: Attributes most important to the customer
  • Defect: Failing to deliver what the customer wants
  • Process Capability: What your process can deliver
  • Variation: What the customer sees and feels
  • Stable Operations: Ensuring consistent, predictable processes to improve what the customer sees and feels
  • Design for Six Sigma: Designing to meet customer needs and process capability..."

© Copyright General Electric Company 1997-2005


six sigma according to isixsigma

The Isixsigma organisation, which seems to be the biggest online 'community' of Six Sigma practitioners, was founded in 2000, and is owned and run by a number of 'quality professionals'. Isixsigma provides the following main definition of Six Sigma (which actually serves as an introduction to several other very detailed Six Sigma definitions contained in the Isixsigma resources):

"...Six Sigma is a rigorous and disciplined methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company's operational performance by identifying and eliminating 'defects' in manufacturing and service-related processes. Commonly defined as 3.4 defects per million opportunities, Six Sigma can be defined and understood at three distinct levels: metric, methodology and philosophy..." July 2005.


six sigma history

Here's a brief history of Six Sigma, and the Six Sigma name. Additionally, comments I've received about Six Sigma contain aspects of Six Sigma history.

Since the 1920's the word 'sigma' has been used by mathematicians and engineers as a symbol for a unit of measurement in product quality variation. (Note it's sigma with a small 's' because in this context sigma is a generic unit of measurement.)

In the mid-1980's engineers in Motorola Inc in the USA used 'Six Sigma' an an informal name for an in-house initiative for reducing defects in production processes, because it represented a suitably high level of quality. (Note here it's Sigma with a big 'S' because in this context Six Sigma is a 'branded' name for Motorola's initiative.)

(Certain engineers - there are varying opinions as to whether the very first was Bill Smith or Mikal Harry - felt that measuring defects in terms of thousands was an insufficiently rigorous standard. Hence they increased the measurement scale to parts per million, described as 'defects per million', which prompted the use the the 'six sigma' terminology and adoption of the capitalised 'Six Sigma' branded name, given that six sigma was deemed to equate to 3.4 parts - or defects - per million.)

In the late-1980's following the success of the above initiative, Motorola extended the Six Sigma methods to its critical business processes, and significantly Six Sigma became a formalised in-house 'branded' name for a performance improvement methodology, ie., beyond purely 'defect reduction', in Motorola Inc.

In 1991 Motorola certified its first 'Black Belt' Six Sigma experts, which indicates the beginnings of the formalisation of the accredited training of Six Sigma methods.

In 1991 also, Allied Signal, (a large avionics company which merged with Honeywell in 1999), adopted the Six Sigma methods, and claimed significant improvements and cost savings within six months. It seems that Allied Signal's new CEO Lawrence Bossidy learned of Motorola's work with Six Sigma and so approached Motorola's CEO Bob Galvin to learn how it could be used in Allied Signal.

In 1995, General Electric's CEO Jack Welch (Welch knew Bossidy since Bossidy once worked for Welch at GE, and Welch was impressed by Bossidy's achievements using Six Sigma) decided to implement Six Sigma in GE, and by 1998 GE claimed that Six Sigma had generated over three-quarters of a billion dollars of cost savings. (Source: George Eckes' book, The Six Sigma Revolution.)

By the mid-1990's Six Sigma had developed into a transferable 'branded' corporate management initiative and methodology, notably in General Electric and other large manufacturing corporations, but also in organizations outside the manufacturing sector.

By the year 2000, Six Sigma was effectively established as an industry in its own right, involving the training, consultancy and implementation of Six Sigma methodology in all sorts of organisations around the world.

That is to say, in a little over ten years, Six Sigma quickly became not only a hugely popular methodology used by many corporations for quality and process improvement, Six Sigma also became the subject of many and various training and consultancy products and services around which developed very many Six Sigma support organizations.


six sigma central concepts

You will gather from the definitions and history of Six Sigma that many people consider the model to be capable of leveraging huge performance improvements and cost savings.

None of this of course happens on its own. Teams and team leaders are an essential part of the Six Sigma methodology.

Six Sigma is therefore a methodology which requires and encourages team leaders and teams to take responsibility for implementing the Six Sigma processes. Significantly these people need to be trained in Six Sigma's methods - especially theuse of the measurement and improvement tools, and in communications and relationship skills, necessary to involve and serve the needs of the internal and external customers and suppliers that form the critical processes of the organization's delivery chains.

Training is therefore also an essential element of the Six Sigma methodology, and lots of it.

Consistent with the sexy pseudo-Japanese 'Six Sigma' name (Sigma is in fact Greek, for the letter 's', and a long-standing symbol for a unit of statistical variation measurement), Six Sigma terminology employs sexy names for other elements within the model, for example 'Black Belts' and 'Green Belts', which denote people with different levels of expertise (and to an extent qualifications), and different responsibilities, for implementing Six Sigma methods.

Six Sigma teams and notably Six Sigma team leaders ('Black Belts') use a vast array of tools at each stage of Six Sigma implementation to define, measure, analyse and control variation in process quality, and to manage people, teams and communications.

When an organization decides to implement Six Sigma, first the executive team has to decide the strategy - which might typically be termed an improvement initiative, and this base strategy should focus on the essential processes necessary tomeet customer expectations.

This could amount to twenty or thirty business process. At the top level these are the main processes that enable the organization to add value to goods and services and supply them to customers. Implicit within this is an understanding of what the customers - internal and external - actually want and need.

A team of managers ('Black Belts' normally) who 'own' these processes is responsible for:

  • identifying and understanding these processes in detail, and also
  • understanding the levels of quality (especially tolerance of variation) that customers (internal and external) expect, and then
  • measuring the effectiveness and efficiency of each process performance - notably the 'sigma' performance - ie., is the number of defects per million operations (pro-rate if appropriate of course).

The theory is entirely logical: understanding and then improving the most important 'delivery-chain' processes will naturally increase efficiency, customer satisfaction, competitive advantage, and profitability.

Easily said - tricky to achieve - which is what the Six Sigma methodology is for.

Most practitioners and users of Six Sigma refer to Motorola's early DMAIC acronym (extended since to DMAICT) as a way of reinforcing and reminding participants what needs to be done:

six sigma DMAIC and DMAICT process elements

  • D - Define opportunity
  • M - Measure performance
  • A - Analyse opportunity
  • I - Improve performance
  • C - Control performance, and optionally:
  • T - Transfer best practice (to spread the learning to other areas of the organization)

Motorola emphasises that in order for Six Sigma to achieve 'breakthrough improvements' that are sustainable over time, Six Sigma's 'process metrics' and 'structured methodology' must be extended and applied to 'improvement opportunities' that are directly linked to 'organizational strategy'. It is difficult to argue with the logic. There is little point in measuring and improving things that have no significant impact on the strategically important organizational processes.

Six Sigma team leaders (Black Belts) work with their teams (team members will normally be people trained up to 'Green Belt' accreditation) to analyse and measure the performance of the identified critical processes. Measurement is typically focused on highly technical interpretations of percentage defects (by a which a 'sigma' measurement is arrived at - see the one-to-six sigma conversion scale below), and a deep detailed analysis of processes, involving organizational structures and flow-charts. Many other tools for performance measurement and analysis are used, for example the 'balanced scorecard' method, and 'process mapping', etc., depending on the processes and systems favoured by the team leaders and project statisticians, and what needs to be measured and analysed. Six Sigma does not stipulate specifically what analytical methods must be used - the organization and particularly the team leaders decide these things, which is why implementation and usage of Six Sigma varies so widely, and why Six Sigma will continue to evolve. Any analytical tool can be included within Six Sigma implementation.

Six Sigma experts and commentators commonly refer to typical failure rates of organizations that have not put particular pressure on their quality performance levels. Aside from anything else this at least helps to put the 'Sigma' terminology into a simpler mathematical context:

It is said that many ordinary businesses actually operate at between three and two and sigma performance. This equates to between approximately 66,800 and 308,500 defects per million operations, (which incidentally is also generally considered to be an unsustainable level of customer satisfaction - ie., the business is likely to be in decline, or about to head that way). Bear in mind that an 'operation' is not limited to the manufacturing processes - an 'operation' can be any process critical to customer satisfaction, for example, the operation of correctly understanding a customer request, or the operation of handling a customer complaint. Six Sigma is not restricted to engineering and production - Six Sigma potentially covers all sorts of service-related activities. What matters is that the operation is identified as being strategically critical and relevant to strategy and customer satisfaction.

A measurement of four sigma equates to approximately 6,200 DPMO, or around 99.4% perfection. This would arguably be an acceptable level of quality in certain types of business, for instance a roadside cafe, but a 99.4% success rate is obviously an unacceptable level of quality in other types of business, for example, passenger aircraft maintenance.

A measurement of five sigma equates to just 233 defects per million opportunities, equivalent to a 99.98% perfection rate, and arguably acceptable to many businesses, although absolutely still not good enough for the aircraft industry.

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