There are many schools of thought when it comes to efficient management and process improvement in industrial applications and engineering, including Agile and Lean. Although these methodologies are popular, Six Sigma remains possibly the most common process improvement methodology used today.


Six Sigma is a process improvement approach that focuses on minimizing variability in design and production. Its use gained popularity in the United States in the 1980s, but its fundamentals are based on core concepts developed over centuries. Some of these concepts include reducing waste, avoiding overproduction and improving talent utilization.

Motorola was the first company to introduce the concept of Six Sigma in 1986. Statistically, the use of Six Sigma equates to 99.99966% of opportunities to produce a part that is free from all defects. The Six Sigma method employs various acronyms, including DMAIC and DMADV to represent concepts like defining systems, measuring key aspects of processes and analyzing data.

Both Motorola and General Electric have created certification programs for employees who want to study Six Sigma, but many other companies offer similar programs. While there is no official registered standard for Six Sigma, the International Standards Organization (ISO) does include an entry for Six Sigma in ISO 13053-1:2011.

What Are Six Sigma Certification Levels?

Six Sigma introduces concepts over time, and it employs a belt system similar to what can be found in martial arts. Six Sigma belt levels use different colors to denote varying degrees of mastery of concepts.

Students of Six Sigma start at the white belt level where they are introduced to concepts and work on problem-solving teams. They next ascend to the yellow belt level where they participate as team leads and review the work of others on a team.

Upon reaching the green belt level, a Six Sigma student will be involved in leading projects while also preparing data through collection and analysis for students who have reached black belt Sigma levels. Black belt Six Sigma levels involve leading problem-solving projects and training and coaching project teams.

Finally, a student will attain the master black belt level at which they will train and coach black belt students alongside green belt students. Students who reach the master black belt level also devote all of their professional time to Six Sigma in developing training materials and educating and mentoring black belt students.

Are Six Sigma Belts And Lean Six Sigma Belts The Same?

Lean Six Sigma is a fork of the original Six Sigma process improvement strategy. It was introduced around 2001, and while it shares much in common with Six Sigma, it differs in its approach. Lean Six Sigma is heavily focused on reducing waste across the entirety of a business as opposed to placing a focus solely on manufacturing. Manufacturing businesses can still apply Lean Six Sigma, but it is often used at businesses other than manufacturing.

Lean Six Sigma utilizes a belt system of advancement and mastery like the original Six Sigma, but the levels and roles are slightly different. Students start at the white belt level at which they have a general understanding of the concepts of Lean Six Sigma. They then progress to the yellow belt which designates a student as an active contributor.

Next, students move on to the green belt at which they are considered project managers. From there, a student will move to a black belt and will be a mentor and strategist. After reaching full potential at the black belt level, a student advances to the master black belt level and is focused on big picture strategy.

Finally, the top level in Lean Six Sigma is the champion level at which a Lean Six Sigma master black belt student becomes a nurturer and supporter of others studying Lean Six Sigma.


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