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Six Sigma: Principles, Techniques & Belt Ranking Explained

The purpose of Six Sigma is to cause continuous and progressive improvement in the quality and efficiency of a business or organizational processes. Learn all you need to know about lean Six Sigma in this guide.

What Is Six Sigma?

Though the advancements of technological systems and equipment have caused significant enhancement in business processes and manufacturing systems, without the existence of proper management and implementation techniques, an organization cannot realize quality improvement. To stay in sync with the ever-evolving market processes, the American company Motorola developed a total quality management system in 1986 that, over the years, has been refined into a set of principles and methodologies aimed at causing significant improvement in businesses. This quality control system is known as “Six Sigma.”

Six Sigma is best referred to as a benchmark used to sustain the statistical improvement of processes in businesses. Organizations and businesses use a quality control management system to improve processes and eliminate product defects that limit a satisfactory customer experience. To increase customer demand and gain more profit, most organizations look to get certified in a Six Sigma process. This process involves evaluating manufacturing processes and eliminating waste to improve business quality. In manufacturing industries, where members of different teams operate, it’s referred to as Lean Six Sigma.

Six Sigma aims to increase business and manufacturing processes by analyzing statistical data to develop more efficient management systems. Six Sigma further aims to reduce defects to no more than 3.4 per million units or events. This means that for every million units of products manufactured, the rate of defects should not be more than 66,800. The six sigma process operates at different levels. The higher the six sigma level a business organization or manufacturing industry operates, the higher the process quality and efficiency.

Six Sigma is a process that can be implemented in any organization and system by quality managers, authorities, business managers, project managers, etc., to improve the quality of products and services. It also eliminates all the bottlenecks in your business process and supports effective and efficient troubleshooting problems or faults. The following tools can guide you on your Six Sigma journey and help you achieve better results:

  • Cause and effect analysis
  • Flowchart
  • Histogram
  • Check sheet
  • Scatter plot
  • Pareto chart
  • Control chart

In this article, we’ll be elaborating the following:

1. The principles of Six Sigma

2. The methodologies of Six Sigma

3. The Six Sigma techniques

4. The Belt System: Six Sigma levels and certifications

Two project managers leading six sigma

What Are The Principles Of Six Sigma?

There are five main principles Six Sigma relies on. These principles guide practitioners on what to consider while implementing its methodologies and techniques. They are:

  1. Focusing on customers:
    One of the main objectives of a business process, product, or service is to satisfy customers. Six Sigma uses data from the statistics of a process to improve and enhance its quality by eliminating areas with faults, bottlenecks, and other errors. By gathering data and through constant evaluation, lean Six Sigma hopes to serve customers better.
  2. Evaluating the existing process and screening out problems:
    Six Sigma also serves to properly assess an existing business process or procedure to identify errors and shortcomings. This can be done by gathering data, interpreting it, and juxtaposing it with your set goals. You’ll then identify those unnecessary parts that don’t support your business in achieving its objective. Sometimes you might need to seek further guidance, ask questions, and find the root cause of any issue you encounter.

  3. Get rid of all defects and outliers:
    After you have successfully screened out all issues and problems, including processes that do not add anything to customer value, eliminate them and make relevant changes that would improve the efficiency of the process. By doing all these, you’ll be able to eliminate the bottlenecks in your business processes. If you’re finding it difficult to identify where the problem lies, you can use tools to measure the outliers and problem areas.
  4. Carry your team along:
    A Six Sigma process can only be fully effective in an organization when every department team can work according to its methodologies and techniques proficiently. To achieve this, a structure where all team members contribute equally to complex processes and problem-solving is necessary. This is why exceptional employee and staff training is required to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
  5. Keeping a flexible ecosystem:
    In business, times change as the world evolves. In even just a single year, the economy of the world can fluctuate multiple times. However, maintaining a flexible business process keeps a business organization competitive despite the dynamic nature of the market process. To keep customers and profit in check, Six Sigma encourages a business process that can adapt to change when necessary to suit customer needs better.

The Methodologies Of Six Sigma

There are two main types of Six Sigma methodologies. These methodologies, when applied, help to transform businesses. However, both are used in different business environments. They are:


This methodology is used in an organization’s production and manufacturing aspects. It is a data-driven method that gathers tangible, relevant, and necessary data from a manufacturing or production process, analyze it, and finds out where it needs improvement. Of course, this is followed by implementing better procedures, steps, or designs. The DMAIC methodology happens in five phases, which involve:

  • Defining This first step entails identifying the problems and goals associated with a project or process. It is usually a team effort to determine what is wrong with a business process by considering the organizational needs, goals, and requirements to achieve a particular result.
  • Measuring This is the process of evaluating and screening all the areas of an existing process thoroughly. The purpose of this measurement is to have an insight into the current business process’s benchmark performance.
  • Analyzing At this stage, all data from your process is gathered and analyzed. Each error or fault discovered is tested as the root of all problems to understand the best way to correct errors. This follows by developing new plans and ideas to increase the process’s performance.
  • ImprovingThis entails enhancing the performance of all the processes by implementing the planned ideas that will lead to qualitative results.
  • Controlling Here, team members of an organization have to keep up the consistency of a business process by establishing a structure that works efficiently. The essence of controlling the modified approach is to ensure it doesn’t turn out ineffective again.


The second methodology of Six Sigma focuses on customer satisfaction, experience, and relationships. This method, also referred to as DMADV, provides steps to improve processes to suit or serve customers better strategically. This methodology also operates in five phases, which give the strategy its name:

  • Defining For an organization to constantly manufacture products and services to meet customer requirements, it has to establish a near perfect relationship with its client. This first stage entails keeping in touch with customers’ demands to deliver products that always meet customer requirements.
  • Measuring refers to the analysis of statistical data concerning customer demand, behavior, and satisfactory record. By doing so, an organization can realize the process or part of a process that has not been adding to customer value. Businesses can identify areas of defects, faults, and make room for improvements.
  • Analyzing involves studying the data obtained from measuring the record or performance of a business process and developing new plans to counter faults and errors and correct product defects.
  • Design entails the development of a new business or manufacturing process that will work to deliver customers quality products while also running efficiently and meeting organizational needs.
  • Verifying involves overseeing the new process or design of operation by assessing and taking data to verify if it meets the customer’s needs. If it doesn’t meet the customer’s requirements, re-define your problems using statistical data and run through the entire DMADV process again in order to achieve a cycle of continuous improvement. Even if it does meet customer’s needs, continue to improve the process.

A green belt six sigma leader oversees 3 teammates

What Techniques Are Associated With Six Sigma?

Six Sigma practitioners can use various techniques to implement the above mentioned methodologies better. These techniques are strategic and statistical tools that can help a business process achieve its desired result. They include:

  • Brainstorming: In a business organization, manufacturing plant, or production industry, the importance of adept, quick, and reasonable thinking cannot be overlooked. To be able to make better improvement decisions or even identify problems in the first place, the team members of an organization have to come together and discuss and brainstorm creative ideas that can transform the business. There is a need for consistent intellectual analysis to be able to discover some errors and the best possible way to combat them. This technique is often used in the Six Sigma ‘improve’ phase.
  • The 5 Whys/ Root Cause Analysis: This technique uses a questioning method to reveal the root cause behind any fault, error, or defect in a business. In this technique, the question ‘why’ is asked repeatedly concerning any business process to straighten it out, improve clarity, and find out anything wrong with it. The number ‘5’ is just a rule of thumb, though. If it takes more than five or ten questions, it doesn’t matter as long as clarity is the goal. This technique is commonly used in the ‘analyze’ phase.
  • The Customer’s Voice: As the name implies, this technique focuses on customers’ feedback on how a product has affected them. This technique focuses on customer-product relationships to derive tangible data from customer reviews, feedback and comments to determine the type of process or product that would attend to demands. Organizations can capture customers’ voices directly through open website forums, gatherings, etc., or indirectly through the rate of demand and sales.
  • The 5S System: The 5S system is a method that aims to improve efficiency and quality in business and manufacturing processes by eliminating waste, cutting down bottlenecks, and reducing downtime of equipment utilized in production processes. A similar system that is also used as a technique in the six sigma process is the Kaizen approach.
  • Poka-Yoke: This technique originates in Japan and ‘avoid errors’. It is a total quality management system that aims to cause continuous efficiency in business processes by eliminating human errors, equipment errors, and bottlenecks in business processes. The technique involves identifying from the littlest to the major errors in business and manufacturing processes.
  • Value Stream Mapping: This technique measures the flow of resources, material, human and managerial requirements to render a project or process successfully. It involves streamlining and optimizing the flow of resources to cause a progressive impact on the results of processes.

The Six Sigma Levels and Certificates

If you have personally sourced for more information on Six Sigma, you will come across credentials and certifications online in order to get certified as a professional Six Sigma practitioner. The certification system is similar to the belt system of karate, where each trainee is awarded a color of belt signifying their level of professional skill. Let us break it down for you:

  • White Belt: This is the first and easiest stage of the Six Sigma certification level. It’s the typical starting stage for beginners, which involves participating with other team members in problem-solving, quality control, and waste reduction projects. Before a trainee can be awarded the while belt level of certification, they must have understood the basic concept of Six Sigma.
  • Yellow Belt: Six Sigma practitioners who hold a yellow belt receive more training, which includes understanding Six Sigma methodologies. They can also become active members in quality control project management by contributing ideas and lending support to those at higher levels by reviewing improvements in processes.
  • Green Belt: Those who graduate in green belts can take a special course to gain adequate information and knowledge to develop and implement various process improvement techniques. They also have a better understanding of the tools and methods of Six Sigma. Green belt holders are primarily seen in industries, manufacturing companies, healthcare institutions, aviation companies, etc.
  • Black Belt: For a trainee to acquire a black belt, they must have comprehensive knowledge about Six Sigma and its implementation and be able to lead long-term projects aimed at the total business transformation. Before getting certified as a black belt holder, a trainee must have completed a minimum of two Six Sigma projects successfully. Being a black belt holder means you can single-handedly train and coach Six Sigma project teams.

A candidate can posses a master black belt certificate if they fulfil the following requirements:

  • possess a black belt,
  • completed a minimum of ten Six Sigma projects successfully,
  • trained and coached a team of green and black belt teams,
  • developed personal key metrics and strategies, and
  • led top Six Sigma projects in different sectors, which caused significant business improvement.

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