Organizations that deploy Six Sigma strategies strive to make nearly all of their business opportunities and processes statistically free of defects and yearn for increased performance, decreased process variation and better quality of products or services. When applied to marketing, Six Sigma allows marketers to see problems through the eyes of the stakeholders and customers, measure and analyze the results and improve upon the process, according to Maple Holistics CMO Nate Masterson. Six Sigma, he added, “is all about compartmentalizing problems in order to better understand how they need to be approached and solved. Every system is in need of improvement; it’s just a matter of how dire the need is.” 

Today we’re exploring the key concepts, certifications and methodologies around Six Sigma in business and will also discuss how it can apply to marketing.

Six Sigma Origins

Six Sigma, trademarked by Motorola on Dec. 28, 1993, has roots in terminology associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes, according to Wikipedia. 

A sigma rating can be applied to the level of maturity of a manufacturing process. It can produce information on its yield or the percentage of defect-free products it creates: “Specifically, within how many standard deviations of a normal distribution the fraction of defect-free outcomes corresponds to. Motorola set a goal of 'six sigma' for all of its manufacturing.” Decisions within a Six Sigma strategy are made “on the basis of verifiable data and statistical methods, rather than assumptions and guesswork.”

Related Article: Six Sigma Letting You Down? Rediscover Concurrent Engineering

Six Sigma Methodology Outputs

According to the Six Sigma Institute, Six Sigma allows businesses to gain an advantage in several key areas. They include:

  • Business strategy supported by management.
  • Vision supported by management.
  • Benchmarks to measure success and strive for internal processes improvement.
  • Measured, accountable business goals.
  • Statistical measures to constantly use data and analysis for positive outcomes.
  • Robust, proven methodologies for constant improvement.

According to ASQ, Six Sigma methodology usually includes: 

  • Teams that have well-defined projects with a direct tie-in to the bottom line.
  • "Statistical thinking" training and extensive training in advanced statistics and project management for organization leaders. Six Sigma has a certification of Black Belts for these leaders (more on that later).
  • Inclusion of the DMAIC approach to problem solving: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. 

Related Article: How the Power of Simple Helps to Navigate the Buyer Journey

Six Sigma Methodologies

At the heart of Six Sigma is the deployment of two sub-methodologies: 

  • DMAIC: The Six Sigma DMAIC process includes Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control.
  • DMADV: The Six Sigma DMADV process includes Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify. 

Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts can execute these strategies and are under the watchful eye of Six Sigma Master Black Belts.

Six Sigma vs. Lean Six Sigma

Some practitioners have combined Six Sigma ideas with lean management to create a methodology named Lean Six Sigma. Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma strategies strive to eliminate waste and create the most efficient system possible. Lean practitioners say waste comes from "unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product while Six Sigma proponents assert that waste results from variation within the process."

Six Sigma Certifications

Six Sigma includes certifications of belts. The Six Sigma certification comes in various skill levels, modeled after the karate belt system: Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt. These certifications can be obtained through an accreditation body like the American Society for Quality (ASQ):

Yellow Belt

According to the IASSC Certified Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt™ (ICYB™), those who obtain Yellow Belts for Six Sigma lead limited improvement projects and/or serve as a team member as a part of more complex improvement projects lead by a Certified Green Belt or Certified Black Belt, typically in a part-time role. They understand elementary aspects of the Six Sigma Method like subject matters contained within the phases of Define, Measure and Control (DMC) as defined by the IASSC Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Body of Knowledge.

Green Belt

According to Simplelilearn Solutions, the skills acquired in a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification include: 

Learning Opportunities

  • Leadership and implementation skills for Six Sigma projects.
  • Identifying an improvement project in the “define” phase.
  • Measuring process and product in the “measure” phase.
  • Performing data analysis and hypothesis testing in the “analyze” phase.
  • Identify possible improvement actions for the performance of variations in the “improve” phase.
  • Define efficient operating levels for inputs and outputs in the “control” phase.
  • Use Quality Function Deployment (QFD), Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) and Risk Priority Number (RPN).

Black Belt

The IASSC Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt™ (ICBB™) is a professional who is well versed in the Lean Six Sigma Methodology, who leads complex improvement projects, typically in a full-time capacity. A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt possesses a thorough understanding of all aspects of the Lean Six Sigma Method including a high-level of competence in DMAIC. A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt understands how to implement, perform, interpret and apply Lean Six Sigma at an advanced level of proficiency.

Master Black Belt

The ASQ Master Black Belt (MBB) includes individuals with "exceptional expertise and knowledge of current industry practice." Master black belts have outstanding leadership ability, are innovative and demonstrate a strong commitment to the practice and advancement of quality and improvement. 

Related Article: Translating Lean Thinking Into Lean Performance

Six Sigma Tools

Those practicing Lean Six Sigma use multiple tools that include Six Sigma tools like control charts, SIPOC and others.

According to iSixSigma, they include:

  • 5 Whys
  • Affinity Diagram/KJ Analysis
  • Analysis of Variance (ANOVA)
  • Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP)
  • Brainstorming
  • Calculators
  • Capability Indices/Process Capability
  • Cause & Effect
  • Control Charts
  • Design of Experiments (DOE)
  • FMEA
  • Graphical Analysis Charts
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Kanban
  • Kano Analysis
  • Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA)/Gage R&R
  • Normality
  • Pareto
  • Poka Yoke
  • Process Mapping
  • Project Charter
  • Pugh Matrix
  • QFD/House of Quality
  • RACI Diagram
  • Regression
  • Risk Management
  • Sampling/Data
  • Simulation
  • Software
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Surveys
  • Templates
  • Value Stream Mapping
  • Variation
  • Wizards

Framework for Project Work that Relates to Process Improvement

How are marketers using Lean Six Sigma? Chris Plamann, a marketer for United Rentals, said for his team, Lean Six Sigma is about process: either creating an efficient process where one didn’t really exist or identifying gaps and improving upon current processes. “Further,” he added, “it’s about collecting, analyzing and then making choices based on real data. Obviously, the goal of the analysis component is to understand where value can be generated from creating a new process or reworking an existing one.”

As a marketer, he’s relied on the framework of DMAIC (they pronounce it as di-MAY-ik). “Without getting to deep into the description of any one stage, there are analytical tools that are used to investigate in each,” Plamann said. “So it really is a framework for project work that relates to process improvement.”

Lean Six Sigma for CRM

That framework has been applied to a recent CRM implementation, Plamann said. “We knew we needed to understand existing sales processes, understand what was working, what wasn’t, and how to improve,” he said. “Process pretty much always precedes system implementation, and so we know we needed to get it right in order to succeed with the CRM component.” A lengthy project using the DMAIC framework really set his team up for the CRM implementation. They did analysis and identified the need for internal communication, certain types of training, etc. It turned out to be crucial to the project’s success, he said.

How DMAIC Applies Specifically to Marketing

Erol Sevim, a B2B marketing specialist, outlined in a LinkedIn post how marketers can specifically apply marketing outcomes to the DMAIC system:

  • Define - Define the business/marketing problem. What are your goals? How will it benefit the organization? What is your expected ROI? Are the goals S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based).
  • Measure - Collect and measure the data from your campaign. Is the measurement system effective? Are there any factors affecting the integrity of the data?
  • Analyze - Have you noticed any trends or correlations? Are certain types of social media posts, for example, yielding higher engagement figures than others? Which Google Ads keywords are yielding the highest click-through-rate (CTR)? 
  • Improve - Determine where time and money spent on unnecessary marketing efforts can now be eliminated or minimized.
  • Control - At this point, your marketing team should have a deep understanding of what aspects of your marketing spend are yielding the highest ROI. Control the process by setting guidelines. 

Related Article: Why Agile Marketing Is the Antidote to Constant Change

Bottom Line: Data Rules the Day

Any big marketing project can potentially be assisted with a solid Lean Six Sigma strategy because it uses data to determine strategy and execution. “I think the key takeaway is that when you have a potentially complex project that is critical to business objectives (whether marketing, sales, operations, etc.), Lean Six Sigma is a great way to apply a project framework that improves processes through tools designed to help with data analysis,” Plamann said. “It also leads you through that analysis in a methodical way.”