What is Six Sigma?

Sharpening Your Business Process Improvement Skills: What is Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a powerful, deployment strategy for business process improvement in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness. The key principles used include:

  • Focus on the customer
  • Identify and understand how the work gets done
  • Manage, improve and smooth the process flow
  • Remove unnecessary and redundant steps and wastes
  • Manage by fact and data
  • Systematically improve process activity
  • Continuous quality improvement

A brief history of Six Sigma Continuous Quality Improvement

With roots dating back to the 19th century, Six Sigma is a customer-focused, disciplined problem-solving business process improvement that strives to develop and deliver near-perfect products and services.

Much of the preliminary work on the Six Sigma concept was done at the manufacturing arm of AT&T that produced telephone hardware. From 1918 until the 1950s, three important figures, Walter Shewhart, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, and Dr. Joseph Juran, made sizable contributions to the role of quality improvement in business.

In the 1980s, a Japanese company called Matsushita purchased one of Motorola’s failing television manufacturing facilities and dramatically changed the management and operations processes. The factory was soon producing television sets with far fewer defects than Motorola had experienced. In response, Motorola’s CEO, Bob Galvin, challenged his company to achieve a tenfold improvement in performance over a five-year period. This leap in quality improvement required a radically different approach, and by implementing Statistical Process Control Theory, Motorola began measuring quality in terms of an unheard of Defects Per Million Opportunities (DPMO). Motorola equated Six Sigma with only 3.4 DPMO, or achieving 99.9997% reliability! Since then, hundreds of companies of varying sizes and industries have adopted Six Sigma as part of their business.

The DMAIC Process

The DMAIC Process is the heart of Six Sigma. It is a rational decision-making approach to business process improvement. DMAIC (“deh-MAY-ick”) stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.

Six Sigma DMAIC Process

The Six Sigma DMAIC Process

The Six Sigma Organizational Structure

Any Six Sigma program has its own organizational structure aside from a company’s. Each level of the organizational hierarchy has roles and responsibilities. The foundation of JMU’s Six Sigma Program is the Green Belt.

Green Belts

Six Sigma Green Belts are participants in Six Sigma projects and the foundation of the process. They understand problem-solving, data collection, data interpretation, variation, process capability, and cost analysis. Green Belts often assist Black Belts on larger initiatives and lead smaller-scale projects.

> Learn more about JMU’s Green Belt Certification

Black Belts

Six Sigma Black Belts are thoroughly trained individuals with expertise in using statistical tools and interpreting analytical results. Black Belts are expected to identify opportunities, lead initiatives, and coach Green Belts.

> Learn more about JMU’s Black Belt Certification

Master Black Belt

Six Sigma Master Black Belts are quality improvement experts responsible for large-scale strategic implementations within an organization. Master Black Belt responsibilities include training and mentoring Black Belts and Green Belts, helping prioritize initiatives, and selecting or chartering high-impact projects. You will learn from Master Black Belt instructors in our JMU Six Sigma programs.


Six Sigma Champions provide support, resources and remove road-blocks during projects. Champions have an understanding of six sigma methods, measurements, and business processes.  Improvements can only happy with a champion. Typically your employer will serve as your project champion.

Steering Committee

The steering committee identifies projects / Black Belts; allocates resources; monitors progress; manages project portfolio; establishes implementation strategy and policies.
Ready to enroll in a Lean Six Sigma Green or Black Belt program?

Register online for our Green or Black Belt program using the links on this page or download an enrollment form to fax or mail, and start on your path toward an exciting new career!