Starting a Six Sigma Project: Avoiding the Most Common Mistake

Many Six Sigma deployments are doomed to fail from the beginning.  When it comes to starting up a Six Sigma certification initiative, it is important to remember that everything to do with the process focuses on the big picture. For that reason, it is not possible to have a Six Sigma initiative that applies only to one project.  Instead, you need to be sure that everyone involved in the project understands the efforts in the context of the broader scope.

Before you decide which project calls for Six Sigma certification attention, decide which project is most important.

The most obvious problem is not always the one that needs to be addressed first; instead, weigh your priorities in terms of importance and feasibility. Here is a guideline to follow when making a Six Sigma project selection:

  • Don’t just look at money factors, as some problems may not weigh in on the bottom line at all. Instead, take all factors into consideration including simplification of dense procedures, the potential results of the project, and the satisfaction of employees.
  • Make decisions about how many belts you will need prior to deciding on a project. You have to look at long term benefits versus current budget when it comes to hiring belts. You may also want to consider training belts in house, although here too the cost of training must be factored in.
  • Break the project down into two or three phases (strategic, operational, etc). This will allow you to systemize the process and place an onus on a broader range of people within the project.

After analyzing the various projects and deciding on one to work with, it is time to have leadership contrast the projected outcome against the goals of management.

The goals of management should be in line with Six Sigma certification at this point, and that means goals will reflect customer concerns.

A good tool to use here is a bullet list or other brief checklist so you can critically analyze each step of every phase.

The only way to determine if the deployment of the strategy will be successful is through the analysis of your strategy draft. Brainstorming among belts and management can help solidify the goals as well as the steps in the process.

It’s important that in any project constant monitoring is scheduled in order to catch any deviations within the project.  Without regular monitoring, the process may go astray at a point that cannot otherwise be identified, which is counter to the whole Six Sigma certification process.

Here are a few further suggestions when initializing a Six Sigma certification strategy:

  • Make sure your belts are communicating clearly.
  • Have a chosen core group who can help implement the findings of your deployment team.
  • Always train belts and key employees.
  • Incorporate the results of surveys filled out by internal customers.

Keeping these fundamental concepts in mind will help ensure that your team experiences the smoothest implementation possible and will create the best environment possible to maximize your project’s effectiveness.


Originally developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986, the Six Sigma Training program was created using some of the most innovative quality improvement methods from the preceding six decades. The term "Six Sigma" is derived from a field of statistics known as process capability. The term 6 Sigma refers to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that operate with "six sigma quality" over the short term are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma's goal is to improve overall processes to that level of quality or better.