I've encountered 6-Sigma before at larger companies I've worked at/with. They always seem to go the route of bringing in an expensive consultant and a fair amount of time spent on establishing a baseline of vocabulary, etc. I'm working with a small team (8 people total) and was wondering if anyone has ever seen/heard of bringing 6 Sigma into suck a small team.


  • At least one person would like to be "belt certified" (Green, as we can't dedicate anyone 100% to 6 Sigma stuff)
  • Let's not get into "why" and "are you crazy" I realize 6 Sigma is, well, large and supports an ecosystem of consultants. Also realize that in some cases RFQ's may request some level of certification (which based on my experience is easy to achieve "de rigeur" but not "de jure")


  • Are you talking about implementing a six sigma process, or bringing in someone to train you on SS? Jun 7, 2011 at 22:51
  • More on bringing in the process... was also wondering if it is possible to "earn a belt" without a consultant.
    – Al Biglan
    Jun 8, 2011 at 4:09
  • Lots of otherwise ok ideas get twisted in large companies. The individual tools from the toolkit are good things to be familiar with; one of the most important skills is actually picking the most appropriate tool for the task at hand. That skill comes with experience -- there's no substitute for trying the tools, discussing the tool in that particular application with a knowledgable, experienced colleague. StackExchange offers a good way to develop your personal network of knowledgeable, experienced professionals. At some point, you might even want to hire someone from that personal network.
    – markbruns
    Jun 9, 2011 at 4:00

3 Answers 3

  1. Work with the budget you have ... everybody want's a bigger budget for training/consultants; few remember that the corollaries of Parkinson's Law apply to budgets, especially training budgets ... most of us understand how it works, i.e. it's necessary to demonstrate significant proven hard dollar results from next to nothing in order to get a budget for a few nickels on the next project.

  2. Use your head to take advantage of available free resources; ask questions like the one you just asked. As you examine the tools and ask questions about how to use them, realize that six sigma is ONLY a toolkit -- you don't need a consultant, but if you want to pass the certification exam you will need to be the one who selects the appropriate tool from the kit and APPLIES it appropriately to drive the verifiable results from an actual project. Training [from a consultant] is not as important as USING the tools to make the lessons meaningful.

  3. Get going. Do a DMAIC project. Pick something doable, but pick something noticeable that needs to be fixed and will generate support for the next project. The first project MUST have a Champion (i.e. a manager who owns the "mess," is ready to commit to small expenditure and may not assist in the project, but will provide the discipline [outside the project team] to move the project forward). The project will be lead by the person who is willing to pursue GB certification, i.e. the project will be part of the basis of GB certification. If you can't find someone to be a Project Champion, wait until you can recruit a manager who is willing to be one.

  4. Ideally ... if your project Champion will agree to fund this ... you should engage a coach for weekly one-hour dedicated one-on-one teleconference webinars as you work through the D-M-A-I-C steps. Outside professional perspective can be critically important, especially if you are not especially confident about using some of the tools -- confidence will come with results. Yes, you are going to have to pay that coach for his/her time, but it's a lot less than bringing in a consultant, paying travel, lodging, per diem, etc. {NOTE: If you are looking for potential coaches, start with users on the Project Management StackExchange forum ... study your prospective candidate's responses to different questions, contact your candidate for an interview or email exchange and, if suitable, propose an hourly fee, e.g. $100 for a 45 minute weekly coaching session. You can expect that a modest project will take 15 to 20 weeks; i.e. pick your project so that the demonstrated savings exceed this, but keep your expectations in check.}

  • 1
    Mark, great suggestion on the coach idea. Wish I'd added that one. ;) Jun 9, 2011 at 1:59
  • It might be necessary to interview several coaches; try the best two for three trial conf calls, then pick one. It's really a matter of fit/chemistry. You need someone who gels with your team, offers appropriate advice for your company. There are no guarantees, but the StackExchange forums and reputation system offer a good start; the price of SE is right. Yes, using SE for this is maybe not perfect; it does not have the history of good professional organizations like ASQ or PMP, for example. You might contact those organizations; challenge them to offer something for your needs/budget.
    – markbruns
    Jun 9, 2011 at 3:46
  • 1
    Great all around answer! Thanks! I like the idea of a DMAIC project first (it's how I've always seen it approached in big companies, so it is familiar turf) I also liked the "coaching in the small" suggestion. Great advice! I accept your answer :-)
    – Al Biglan
    Jun 9, 2011 at 12:53
  • The DMAIC approach really does work ... proceed as if the "Define" step is the only one that is required; don't attack every problem like a nail just because you are anxious to use the full DMAIC hammer. It's amazing how many problems will disappear [or the solutions will become apparent] AFTER you done a good job of listening and really understanding the problem during the "Define" phase. When you have fully Defined three or four projects, pick the ripest, lowest hanging fruit to Measure. After you go forward, remember that Analyze, Improve and especially Control are no longer optional.
    – markbruns
    Jun 10, 2011 at 18:25

Six sigma is just a process, so team size is irrelevant. You can do it with an entire organization or with 2 people. It's about improving the "process".

As for belts, there is no one central authority or certifying body for SS, so really, anyone can 'certify' you as a belt. You can go through Motorola's training for US$12k, or you can find one online for less that than US$200. The difference will be the depth of training and understanding that you get out of it.

American Society for Quality (www.asq.org) is generally considered the leading certifying organization, and they outline a self-study program on their website, so "training" or a consultant aren't necessary.

If your organization is looking to bring in the processes (without a consultant) and still certify belts, then one possibility would be to study the processes, implement them on a designated SS project, and if the project leader feels they understand it, take the ASQ exam and get a belt. Another would be to have your team go through an online SS training. The better ones run US$500-$1500/person depending on the belt.

You can also find a lot of great support online as you implement. LinkedIn has a great group for Lean SS with a lot of consultants & trainers that are more than willing to answer questions.

  • Thanks for the pointer to the ASQ site for certification. The requirements to -take- the certification exam for a Green Belt seem a bit confusing, but I believe one 3 years of experience are required, not 3 years of 6 Sigma participation. But I haven't completed the registration yet :-)
    – Al Biglan
    Jun 9, 2011 at 13:01
  • No, you're correct. The requirement is 3 years of 'work' experience in one of the areas covered in the SS Body of Knowledge, which is pretty much anything having to do with projects of processes. The experience does not have to be on a SS project. Jun 9, 2011 at 16:09

Start by figuring out if 6 Sigma is the right process for you. If you have highly measurable steps in your process and an ability to change out key steps then re-measure, it's good. If you are more about people doing processes, 6 sigma is less useful. I found 6 sigma to be a discipline rather than an approach, hence the need to bring in consultants and get certification. I've used LEAN process improvement with some success and if you work with that you still need training but can tailor the approach to your needs. So, question 1 is why are you considering bringing in 6 sigma?

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