Find out what Six Sigma means to organizations and the kinds of employees who can benefit from Six Sigma certification.
Six Sigma is a quality management approach that seeks to minimize or eliminate defects or errors in products and business services. Originally developed to improve manufacturing processes, the tools, and techniques used in Six Sigma are now considered industry-agnostic, which means they have been successfully used in such sectors as aeronautics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, retail and more.
The “sigma” part of Six Sigma refers to the data analysis portion of the process. Following Six Sigma techniques, a team gathers and analyzes data about product manufacturer or service creation/delivery to determine the standard deviation (sigma) between the mean and the nearest customer specification limit. The goal is to limit defects or errors to a maximum of 3.4 per million opportunities. (In even more technical language, according to several Six Sigma sources, a “normally distributed process, with normal distribution variation about the mean, would need specification limits of +/- 6 sigma to produce less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.”)
Organizations that have adopted Six Sigma processes may also see improved customer service, shorter cycle times and better compliance with regulations and business development standardization. However, the rigors of Six Sigma make its processes somewhat difficult to implement, and it typically takes months or years before all relevant employees are on board, following the processes closely and consistently enough to realize such benefits and value.
Overview of Six Sigma Certifications
Unlike most IT-related certifications, Six Sigma certs are available from several different certification bodies, such as the American Society of Quality (ASQ) and the International Association for Six Sigma Certification (IASSC). That means either the individual seeking certification or the individual’s company must research and compare programs before committing to one in particular. Each certification body offers similar (but not identical) Six Sigma certification levels, although the following are mostly standard across programs:
- Yellow Belt:This person is a project team member who supports project improvements.
- Green Belt:This person also support project improvements, helps with statistical analysis, and may lead projects in a part-time capacity.
- Black Belt:This person leads projects (usually full-time) and often trains, coaches and/or supervises project members.
- Master Black Belt:This person develops project metrics and strategy, serves as an organization’s go-to Six Sigma person, and trains and coaches Black Belts and Green Belts.
Unlike some IT certifications, Six Sigma certs do not form a certification ladder. That means a Yellow Belt is not a prerequisite to a Green Belt, you don’t need a Green Belt to become a Black Belt, and so forth.
Job Opportunities for Six Sigma Certified Professionals
Just as there isn’t one industry to which Six Sigma processes apply, Six Sigma job roles also vary. The most common roles are project manager, project or process engineer, and quality assurance engineer. However, because employees from many different departments may participate on a Six Sigma team, you can also find business intelligence analysts, operational risk managers, software developers and consultants, to name a few.
There’s a healthy job market for Six Sigma certified professionals. Browsing job websites such as SimplyHired or Indeed.com shows more than 2,500 open positions for Six Sigma Green Belts and about 3,000 for Black Belts, but the numbers drop to less than 200 for Yellow Belt. Master Black Belts are mentioned in about 1,000 job postings each day.
On the salary front, data from GlassDoor and PayScale indicates that the U.S. average annual salary for a Yellow Belt is about $68,000 and a Green Belt is $72,000. A Black Belt can expect just under $90,000 (on average), whereas a Master Black Belt averages $119,000 but it’s common to see job descriptions with salaries of $135,000 to $150,000, and sometimes more.