Is Six Sigma in your future?

* Six Sigma training for IT execs

In October, my colleague Carolyn Duffy Marsan reported on Cummins, an engine manufacturer in Columbus, Ind., that hit $12 billion in revenue this year. Much of its success was attributed to the company's commitment to the Six Sigma quality management technique. Cummins is in the process of training all of its IT staffers in Six Sigma, a technique that applies statistical tools to measure, analyze and fix problems. If it's important for Cummins to have its IT people qualified in Six Sigma, is it worthwhile you adding it to your certifications portfolio?

The phrase Six Sigma has been around for about 20 years and was invented by Motorola originally to solve manufacturing problems. It has since evolved to address business problems. According to Motorola University, which is among the many vendors that offer Six Sigma training and certification, the methodology enables organizations to understand and manage customer requirements and align key business processes to achieve those requirements; use data analysis to minimize variation on those processes; and drive rapid and sustainable improvement to business processes (more about the methodology here).

Mike Potosky, corporate director of Six Sigma at Motorola said the methodology is a recipe to solve any problem. "Thousands of people could point to problems, but very few know how to fix them," he says. Six Sigma is used "when you don't know what the answer is," he adds.

There are two basic certification levels for Six Sigma: the Green Belt and the Black Belt. Course length vary but at Motorola university, budding Green Belts take a five day course and are required to pass a test and demonstrate results on a typically-four month-long improvement project before they can be formally certified. Candidates could be managers who work on projects on a part-time basis.

Black Belts work as full-time problem solvers and are required to demonstrate success on two or more projects. At Motorola University, the Black Belt course is four-weeks long and is delivered over a four-month timeframe.

There is also a Master Black Belt program that focuses on advanced Six Sigma statistical methods for individiuals who want to mentor and guide Black Belts.

In addition, there are programs that delve into specific business functions, including Design for Six Sigma for Product Development, and Design for Six Sigma for Software & IT.

Although Motorola invented the term and offers Six Sigma training it does not oversee Six Sigma and companies are free to add their own spin to the methodology. There are numerous Six Sigma training providers including American Society for Quality, Breakthrough Management Group, and Six Sigma US, among many others.

There are numerous articles written about Six Sigma for you to read before you make up your mind whether Six Sigma training is worth your while. Motorola University is a good place to start and depending on how you view the content on Wikipedia, you could also browse through the Wikipedia entry on Six Sigma.

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