Despite its somewhat cryptic name, the Six Sigma methodology is a relatively simple concept to understand - it is a system of analytical tools and techniques that help minimise wastage in business processes, leading to more efficient business practices and greater profits.
However, many businesses and practitioners still trip over the associated terminology and jargon, which can actually prove detrimental when trying to instil Six Sigma principles into colleagues and team-members.
Below, you'll find Approved Index's run down of the key questions and misconceptions associated with the subject of Six Sigma.
Six Sigma processes have been streamlining businesses since 1986
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Six Sigma - Frequently Asked Questions
What is Six Sigma and what can it teach me?
The Six Sigma methodology was conceived by Motorola in 1986 as a business management strategy, the goal of which was to standardise manufacturing processes and the eliminate defects. A ‘Six Sigma process’ is one that produces just three defects per million parts.
The term 'Six Sigma' comes from the branch of statistics used to measure manufacturing output (standard deviation from the mean in statistics is usually denoted by the Greek letter sigma). The philosophy behind the strategy came from the realisation that, contrary to expectations, improving the quality of business processes actually leads to the lowering of costs. When combined with previous work on quality improvement, Six Sigma emerged as a transferable methodology for reducing costs through process improvement.
But outside of manufacturing, how can Six Sigma help my business?
Six Sigma turns the concept of defect minimisation on its head and looks at it instead as a method of value maximisation. Quality from a product or service is defined as anything that a customer will pay for. Any product or outcome that fails to meet customer expectation is a defect.
By reducing the gap between the potential quality generated by any business process and the actual quality that process creates (in other words, by reducing defects) you eliminate waste, cut costs and increase profit. Rather than just cutting costs at will, Six Sigma teaches you how to use data to identify ways to cut costs whilst simultaneously improving quality.
Where do the belts come in?
A key aspect of the Six Sigma methodology is the emphasis on strong leadership, which is broken down across hierarchical tiers. Top level management in a Six Sigma organisation will be Six Sigma Champions. Below these in descending authority and experience are:
Each belt signifies a level of mastery over Six Sigma concepts and techniques (with the names based on the martial arts systems of grading). These individuals are responsible for identifying areas that would benefit from Six Sigma projects then designing and implementing such projects.
How do I get trained in Six Sigma?
There are many companies and independent consultants that offer training in Six Sigma to organisations and individuals. Distance learning options are available but certification, usually accredited by the British Quality Foundation (BQF), requires sitting an exam. Due to the nature of the courses, which teach in depth statistical analysis, a classroom based course gives a much better chance of success.
You can find out more about Six Sigma training in our Approved Buyer's Guide.
Where do I start?
If you’re completely new to Six Sigma you’ll probably want to start with an introductory course, otherwise known as a White Belt course. This can usually be completed in a morning or afternoon, in-house or online, and gives trainees a firm grounding in the philosophy, practice and history of Six Sigma principles. The next stage is the Yellow Belt, followed by Green Belt, which teaches the use of statistical analysis tools and associated computer programmes (like Minitab).
Higher level courses also run through simulations and case studies on the implementation of Six Sigma methods, with most requiring participants to complete a two-hour open book exam prior to certification.
What if I want to go further?
Black Belt certification will get you to the stage where you can lead the design and implementation of Six Sigma projects within an organisation at a high level. The courses cover advanced tools and feature practical exercises, scenarios and work-based projects. Black Belt courses last for 16 to 20 days and end with a four hour open book examination.
Master Black Belt is the next level up and delves further into the theory behind Six Sigma techniques and implementation, which will allow you to correctly transfer methods to new scenarios, whilst effectively managing any Black and Green Belts working under you. To upgrade from Black Belt to Master Black Belt you’ll need to undertake a further course of 5 to 10 days.
If you’re confident with statistical methods and concepts applied to business, you may wish to enrol on a Black Belt or Master Black Belt straight away – you don’t have to have Green Belt certification in order to go for the Black Belt.
What’s Lean Six Sigma?
Lean manufacturing processes aim to eliminate any expenditure of time and resources that doesn't provide value for the end customer. Based on industrial manufacturing processes, Lean Six sigma trims the fat from business processes and encourages efficient teamwork and optimised working days .
How much does Six Sigma training cost?
Introductory White Belt courses can start from £100 for an individual, but bulk discounts can be applied if recruiting a firm to train a whole team. As levels progress so do costs, with Green Belt courses starting from £1,500 and Black Belt courses costing between £3,000-£5,000 for full certification. It will cost another £1,000 to upgrade to Master Black Belt.
Common Misconceptions about Six Sigma Training
I’ll do an online course – it’ll be cheaper
Online Six Sigma training courses do exist but any certification obtained in this way almost certainly won’t be accredited by the BQF or European Organisation for Quality. For full accreditation you’ll need to sit an exam organised by a certified body. You'll also find that online courses generally won’t provide the in-depth practical know-how that you would get from a classroom based course. You could, however, choose to self-study and then take the exam with an accredited practitioner.
I can only do a course at weekends/evenings
The vast majority of Six Sigma training courses are run as full-time ventures and are organised during weekdays. Most courses will require at least a few days to complete and take place at training centres in only a handful of UK locations. Bespoke training is available but be prepared to pay a hefty premium. One option for part-time study is to complete an online course in your own time, before booking time off to complete an accredited exam.
You don’t need any prior qualifications
As previously mentioned, Six Sigma courses at Green Belt level and above involve in-depth statistical analysis. You’ll need to be comfortable with mathematics of at least A-level standard to get the most out of these courses.
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