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122 Six Sigma Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

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Six Sigma is a highly effective methodology that aims to improve processes within an organization by identifying and eliminating defects. It focuses on reducing variation and improving quality, ultimately leading to increased customer satisfaction and cost savings. If you are studying Six Sigma or looking to learn more about this methodology, you may be tasked with writing an essay on a specific topic related to Six Sigma. To help you get started, here are 122 Six Sigma essay topic ideas and examples:

  • An overview of the Six Sigma methodology
  • The history and evolution of Six Sigma
  • The benefits of implementing Six Sigma in an organization
  • The key principles of Six Sigma
  • The DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process in Six Sigma
  • The roles and responsibilities of Six Sigma project team members
  • The importance of data-driven decision making in Six Sigma
  • The difference between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma
  • The relationship between Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (TQM)
  • The impact of Six Sigma on organizational performance
  • The challenges of implementing Six Sigma in a service industry
  • The role of leadership in driving Six Sigma initiatives
  • The use of statistical tools in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Black Belts and Green Belts in Six Sigma projects
  • The benefits of Six Sigma certification for professionals
  • The role of project charters in Six Sigma projects
  • The importance of customer feedback in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on employee engagement and morale
  • The role of benchmarking in Six Sigma projects
  • The relationship between Six Sigma and process improvement
  • The use of control charts in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Pareto analysis in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on customer loyalty and retention
  • The use of Root Cause Analysis in Six Sigma projects
  • The importance of project management skills in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of change management in Six Sigma initiatives
  • The impact of Six Sigma on supply chain management
  • The use of Design of Experiments (DOE) in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of cost-benefit analysis in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing waste and improving efficiency
  • The use of Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of process mapping in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing defects and errors
  • The use of Value Stream Mapping in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Kaizen events in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing cycle times
  • The use of Fishbone diagrams in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Voice of the Customer (VOC) in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on improving product quality
  • The use of 5S methodology in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Failure Reporting, Analysis, and Corrective Action System (FRACAS) in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing variation in processes
  • The use of Process Capability Analysis in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of risk management in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing costs and increasing profitability
  • The use of Statistical Process Control (SPC) in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Quality Function Deployment (QFD) in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on improving customer satisfaction
  • The use of Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Balanced Scorecard in Six Sigma initiatives
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing lead times
  • The use of Gemba walks in Six Sigma projects
  • The role of Standard Work in Six Sigma projects
  • The impact of Six Sigma on reducing rework and scrap
  • The role of process control plans in Six Sigma projects

These essay topic ideas and examples can serve as a starting point for your research and writing on Six Sigma. Whether you are a student or a professional looking to deepen your understanding of this methodology, exploring these topics can help you gain valuable insights and knowledge about Six Sigma and its applications in various industries. Happy writing!

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Home — Essay Samples — Business — Quality Management — Six Sigma Methodology


Six Sigma Methodology

  • Categories: Quality Management

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Words: 869 |

Published: Oct 22, 2018

Words: 869 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

  • Define the system, the voice of the customer and their requirements, and the project goals, specifically.
  • Measure key aspects of the current process and collect relevant data.
  • Analyze the data to investigate and verify the cause-and-effect relationships. Determine what relationships are, and attempt to ensure that all factors have been considered.
  • Improve or optimize the current process depends on data analysis using techniques such as the design of experiments, poka yoke or mistake proofing, and standard work to create a new, future state process.
  • Control the future state process to ensure that any deviations from the target are corrected before they result in defects. Implement control systems such as statistical process control, production boards, visual workplaces, and continuously monitor the process. This process is repeated until the desired quality level is obtained.
  • Define design goals that are consistent with customer demands and the enterprise strategy.
  • Measure and identify CTQs (characteristics that are Critical to Quality), measure product capabilities, production process capability, and measure risks.
  • Analyze to develop and design alternatives.
  • Design an improved alternative, best suited per analysis in the previous step.
  • Verify the design, set up pilot runs, implement the production process and hand it over to the process owner(s).

Works Cited

  • Antony, J., & Banuelas, R. (2002). Key ingredients for the effective implementation of Six Sigma program. Measuring Business Excellence, 6(4), 20-27.
  • Breyfogle, F. W., Cupello, J. M., & Meadows, B. (2000). Implementing Six Sigma: Smarter Solutions Using Statistical Methods. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Harry, M., & Schroeder, R. (2000). Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World's Top Corporations. Doubleday.
  • Harry, M. J. (1998). The Nature of Six Sigma Quality. Quality Progress, 31(5), 59-63.
  • Pande, P. S., Neuman, R. P., & Cavanagh, R. R. (2000). The Six Sigma Way: How GE, Motorola, and Other Top Companies are Honing Their Performance. McGraw-Hill.
  • Pande, P. S., Raman, N. V., & Snee, R. D. (2011). Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Handbook. McGraw-Hill.
  • Pyzdek, T., & Keller, P. A. (2014). The Six Sigma Handbook (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Schlickman, J. J. (2003). Deploying Six Sigma: A Roadmap for Success. ASQ Quality Press.
  • Stamatis, D. H. (2003). Six Sigma and Beyond: Statistical Process Control, Volume IV. CRC Press.
  • Thomas, A. J., & Barton, R. R. (2010). The Deming Dimension. SPC Press.

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What Is Six Sigma?

Understanding six sigma, the 5 steps of six sigma.

  • Lean Six Sigma
  • Certification and Belt Rankings

The Bottom Line

  • Corporate Finance

What Is Six Sigma? Concept, Steps, Examples, and Certification

Adam Hayes, Ph.D., CFA, is a financial writer with 15+ years Wall Street experience as a derivatives trader. Besides his extensive derivative trading expertise, Adam is an expert in economics and behavioral finance. Adam received his master's in economics from The New School for Social Research and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in sociology. He is a CFA charterholder as well as holding FINRA Series 7, 55 & 63 licenses. He currently researches and teaches economic sociology and the social studies of finance at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

write an essay on six sigma

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Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools used to improve business processes. It was introduced in 1986 by engineer Bill Smith while working at Motorola. Six Sigma practitioners use statistics, financial analysis, and project management to identify and reduce defects and errors, minimize variation, and increase quality and efficiency.

The five phases of the Six Sigma method, known as DMAIC, are defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling.

Key Takeaways

  • Six Sigma is a quality-control methodology that businesses use to significantly reduce defects and improve processes.
  • The model was developed by a scientist at Motorola in the 1980s.
  • Companies often use the Six Sigma model to increase efficiency and boost profits.
  • Six Sigma practitioners can earn certifications modeled on the color belts used in martial arts.

Six Sigma is based on the idea that all business processes can be measured and optimized.

The term Six Sigma originated in manufacturing as a means of quality control. Six Sigma quality is achieved when long-term defect levels are below 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). 

Six Sigma has since evolved into a more general business concept, focusing on meeting customer requirements, improving customer retention, and improving and sustaining business products and services. Among its best-known proponents was the longtime General Electric CEO Jack Welch .

Six Sigma certification programs confer belt rankings similar to those in the martial arts, ranging from white belt to black belt.

The Six Sigma method uses a step-by-step approach called DMAIC, an acronym that stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. According to Six Sigma adherents, a business may solve any seemingly unsolvable problem by following these five steps.

A team of people, led by a Six Sigma expert, chooses a process to focus on and defines the problem it wishes to solve.

The team measures the initial performance of the process, creating a benchmark, and pinpoints a list of inputs that may be hindering performance.

Next the team analyzes the process by isolating each input, or potential reason for any failures, and testing it as the possible root of the problem.

The team works from there to implement changes that will improve system performance.

The group adds controls to the process to ensure it does not regress and become ineffective once again.

What Is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a team-focused managerial approach that seeks to improve performance by eliminating waste and defects while boosting the standardization of work. It combines Six Sigma methods and tools and the lean manufacturing/ lean enterprise  philosophy, striving to reduce the waste of physical resources, time, effort, and talent while assuring quality in production and organizational processes. Any use of resources that does not create  value  for the end customer is considered a waste and should be eliminated.

Six Sigma Certification and Belt Rankings

Individuals can obtain Six Sigma certification to attest to their understanding of the process and their skills in implementing it. These certifications are awarded through a belt system similar to karate training. The belt levels are:

  • White belt : Individuals with a white belt have received some instruction in the basics of Six Sigma, but have not yet gone through any formal training or certification program. This gives them enough knowledge to become team members.
  • Yellow belt : This level can be attained after several training sessions, and equips participants with the knowledge to lead small projects and assist managers who hold more advanced belts.
  • Green belt : To achieve this level, individuals take a more comprehensive course that prepares them to become project leaders.
  • Black belt : After reaching the green belt level, participants can move on to black belt certification, preparing them for leadership roles in larger and more complex projects.

People with black belts can become masters and champions. Someone with a master black belt is considered an expert and strong leader with excellent problem-solving skills. A champion is a lean Six Sigma leader trained in maximizing profits through the elimination of waste and defects.

These certifications, and the courses required to obtain them, are offered by a variety of companies and educational institutions and can differ from one to another.

Real-World Examples of Six Sigma

Six Sigma is used by many companies, local governments, and other institutions. Here are two examples of how Six Sigma improved operational efficiency, saved money, and increased customer satisfaction.

Microsoft (MSFT) is one of the largest software producers in the world. It used Six Sigma to help eradicate defects in its systems and data centers and systematically reduce IT infrastructure failures.

The company first established standards for all of its hardware and software to create a baseline measurement for detecting defects. It then used root-cause analysis, including collecting data from past high-priority incidents, server failures, and recommendations from product group members and customers, to pinpoint potential problem areas.

Large amounts of data were collected on a daily and weekly basis from various servers. The incidents were prioritized based on how severely the defects affected the business and the company's underlying services. Data analysis and reporting identified the specific defects, after which remediation steps for each defect were established.

As a result of Six Sigma, Microsoft says it improved the availability of its servers, boosted productivity, and increased customer satisfaction.

Ventura County, California, Government

Ventura County, California, credited the use of Lean Six Sigma for a savings of $33 million. The county government began to use the program in 2008 and has trained more than 5,000 employees in the methodology. The county says the savings are due in part to the introduction of more efficient new systems and the elimination of unnecessary, but time-consuming, steps from its prior processes.

For example, the VC Star newspaper reported in 2019 that the county saved "$51,000 with an appointments system that reduced labor costs and rates for maintenance of county vehicles [and] almost $400,000 annually by implementing a new system to track employee leaves of absence."

How Can You Get Six Sigma Certification?

You can receive Six Sigma certification through private companies, associations, and some colleges. Keep in mind, though, that there is no single governing body that standardizes the curriculum. This means that courses can vary based on where you take them.

Can You Get Six Sigma Certification Online?

Yes, many of the universities and organizations that offer Six Sigma certification have both classroom and online offerings.

What Is the Basic Difference Between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma uses the Six Sigma methodology (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) with the specific goal of eliminating waste in a company's, or other organization's, processes or use or materials—that is, making it "leaner." It derives in part from the principles of lean manufacturing.

Six Sigma has become a widely used quality-improvement methodology in both the private and public sectors. Anyone who wishes to learn it can take courses that lead to various levels of certification.

ASQ. " What Is Six Sigma? "

Purdue University. ' Six Sigma Belt Level Rankings ."

Microsoft. " Microsoft Announces Accelerator for Six Sigma ."

VC Star . " Efficiency Program Rooted in Car Business Drives $33 Million in Government Savings ."

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Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement Research Paper

Introduction, methodology description, methodology application to process improvement and optimization, empirical evidence of methodology efficacy, works cited.

The philosophy of continual improvement is a popular paradigm in managerial practice. Hence, this concept is comprised of a wide range of positive reinforcements, such as the elimination of critical flaws and weaknesses, the improvement of service and product quality, and the advanced understanding of the needs and requirements of consumers. In order to integrate the strategy of continual improvement into practice, managers need to rely on a consistent methodology that would provide them with a relevant framework. From this perspective, the Six Sigma model is one of the most widely used methodologies aimed at improving performance outcomes. The key benefit of this model resides in the fact that it provides managers with a detailed guideline for implementing change. Thus, the paper at hand aims to examine the value of the Six Sigma methodology, its background, the mechanisms of its implementation, and the empirical evidence for its efficacy.

The Six Sigma concept is a model aimed at ensuring a steady improvement in quality and productivity. According to Gershon, the model was first designed by the Motorola Company in the 1980s (63). Initially, its appearance was determined by the urgent need to optimize operation flow and lower production costs. It was assessed that performance-related flaws were the result of poor managerial practices exercised by the Motorola Company. Therefore, Japanese experts were involved in working out an innovative approach that would ensure a smooth shift to a quality-focused leadership and eliminate the existing weaknesses. Throughout the subsequent decades, the Six Sigma model has been widely adopted by global corporations striving to improve their operation processes (Gershon 64).

The key aim of the Six Sigma methodology is to ensure an error-free performance. This philosophy is aligned with the emerging trends in the modern market, i.e., the growing expectations of consumers who require flawless quality and immediate services. In the meantime, it is essential to note that it would be inaccurate to characterize this concept as a management approach, since the Six Sigma model features a much more complex paradigm. Hence, some experts suggest analyzing Six Sigma within three dimensions: metrical, methodological, and managerial (“Six Sigma” par. 11). As a metric tool, Six Sigma has established the rule of “3.4 defects per one million opportunities” (Gershon 65). In other words, it offers an effective measuring scale that assists in eliminating manufacturing defects. From the methodological perspective, Six Sigma emphasizes four critical aspects: understanding the needs of the consumer, aligning performance to expected outcomes, minimizing process variation through consistent data analysis, and continually improving business processes (“Six Sigma” par. 15). As a managerial strategy, Six Sigma emphasizes the efficacy of a top-down approach that allows companies to ensure sustainable progress, as well as accelerate this progress (“Six Sigma” par. 21).

The Six Sigma model comprises the so-called “DMAIC” and “DMAICT” elements. These abbreviations stand for the names of the key Sigma processes: defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, controlling, and transferring. The latter process refers to transferring the positive experience to other organizational levels (“Six Sigma” par. 21).

One of the most widely used formats of the Six Sigma model is the so-called “Lean Six Sigma” (Gupta 11). This model is comprised of elements of two methodologies: the Lean model that focuses on eliminating process waste, and the Six Sigma model that emphasizes the importance of defect elimination. Unlike the standard Six Sigma model, this approach aims to eliminate seven categories of waste: “transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defect” (Gupta 10).

The concept of applying the Six Sigma model to process improvement is relatively simple, as it relies on its core elements. Hence, there are five major phases that need to be accomplished: definition, measurement, analysis, improvement, and control. The first phase implies defining the problem that needs to be resolved. At this stage, it is essential to state the problem, target the desired outcomes, map the solution process, and identify whether the targeted goal is likely to meet the clients’ expectations. Such tools as a project charter, a translation matrix, and a tree diagram might be used to complete the phase (Furterer 25).

The next phase is measurement. At this stage, it is, first and foremost, necessary to select effective measuring tools and define the subject of the measurement precisely. As soon as the preparatory activities are completed, it is essential to work out a detailed plan for data collection and point out the criteria that will determine its reliability. The collected data should be further incorporated into the project charter. Such supplementary tools as check sheets and stream maps might be helpful while completing this phase (Furterer 108).

The analysis phase is one of the most challenging, since the quality of its accomplishment will determine the success of the entire project. At this stage, it is essential to carry out a critical analysis of the data collected and define the key flaws in the process flow. The identified flaws should be further verified and evidenced by the relevant facts and figures. At this stage, managers might find it helpful to use such analytical instruments as cause and effect diagrams, stream maps, and visual summaries of the process analysis (Furterer 226).

Improvement is one of the most important phases in the Six Sigma model, since it is essentially aligned to its core goal—enhancing the quality of the performance. At this stage, managers are supposed to target potential solutions and choose the most effective approach to fixing the problem. The best solution should be put into practice, and its outcomes can be further evaluated through the selected measurement tools. Such tools as brainstorming, a weighted criteria matrix, and To-Be process maps can be helpful at the improvement stage (Furterer 136).

The final phase of the Six Sigma model is control. At this stage, managers are expected to continue searching for alternative solutions for process improvement and to ensure a consistent monitoring of the operation flow. It is likewise recommended to apply the positive experience to optimizing the processes in other departments and at other organizational levels. Various forms of control charts and plans can be useful to perform effective control (Furterer 55).

There is a wide scope of scientific research and studies that provide evidence for the efficacy of the Six Sigma model in terms of process improvement and optimization. Hence, for instance, a group of English researchers has carried out a large-scale study aiming to evaluate the impact of implementing a Six Sigma model in order to optimize the processes in automotive product manufacturing. Their findings show that the implementation of this method allows for a significant reduction of the tolerance-related barriers to the first pass yield processing. The method has helped to improve the quality of service and has raised the consumers’ satisfaction in such a manner that the total savings came to more than $70,000 (Gijo et al. 133). Otherwise stated, the research illustrated the high problem-solving capacity of the Six Sigma model.

Other valuable insights into the impact of the Six Sigma model on the optimization of work processes have been revealed by a group of Romanian researchers who aimed to evaluate the method’s efficacy in terms of raising performance quality. The study was likewise carried out in the framework of the automotive industry. In comparison to the English researchers’ study, its focus was slightly different. While the previous research analyzed the Six Sigma model in its metrical dimension, this study considered its managerial efficacy. The study findings show that the application of this model helps to improve the main performance indicators considerably. Hence, among the key positive outcomes, the researchers point out the improvement of management outcomes, the establishment of a favorable workplace environment, and an advanced understanding of customers’ needs and the triggers of their dissatisfaction (Pugna, Negrea and Miclea 314).

The analysis of the Six Sigma model has helped in acquiring a better understanding of the method’s value. Hence, it can be suggested that the key benefit of this methodology resides in the fact that it offers a complex approach to continual improvement. Additionally, the method has different dimensions—metrical, methodological, and managerial—so that it can be potentially applied to the resolution of varied problems. Lastly, the model offers an explicit guideline to change implementation that allows reshaping the entire managerial system.

Furterer, Sandra. Lean Six Sigma in Service: Applications and Case Studies , New York, New York: CRC Press, 2016. Print.

Gershon, Mark. “Choosing Which Process Improvement Methodology to Implement.” Journal of Applied Business & Economics 10.5 (2010): 61-69. Print.

Gijo, Ev, Antony Jiju, Kumar Maneesh, McAdam Rodney and Hernandez Jose. ” An application of Six Sigma methodology for improving the first pass yield of a grinding process.” Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management 25.1 (2004): 125-135. Print.

Gupta, Dinesh. Success Using Lean Six Sigma in Terms of Operations and Business Processes , Hamburg, Germany: Anchor Academic Publishing, 2015. Print.

Pugna, Adrian, Romeo Negrea, and Serban Miclea. “Using Six Sigma Methodology to Improve the Assembly Process in an Automotive Company.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Science 221.1 (2016): 308-316. Print.

Six Sigma 2016. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, June 21). Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement. https://ivypanda.com/essays/six-sigma-methodology-in-process-improvement/

"Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement." IvyPanda , 21 June 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/six-sigma-methodology-in-process-improvement/.

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement'. 21 June.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement." June 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/six-sigma-methodology-in-process-improvement/.

1. IvyPanda . "Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement." June 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/six-sigma-methodology-in-process-improvement/.


IvyPanda . "Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement." June 21, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/six-sigma-methodology-in-process-improvement/.

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Agile and six sigma, how do they mix together, about this publication.

This experience report is about how agile software development and Six Sigma can be adopted together. It explores how both can benefit from each other and the gaps that are filled by mixing both of them together. We tried to cover these aspects through telling our story in adopting both together as well as pointing out what we have learned, how did we overcome the challenges we faced and eventually what we concluded after adopting both successfully.


Agile methods  have been dominating the software development domain in the last decade, and they have proven to be successful for managing and executing software development projects, which are considered as innovative knowledge work as opposed to task work projects founds at other domains such as manufacturing. Agile teams usually focus on quick and short-­‐term improvements identified either through daily collaborations or through periodic vehicles like retrospectives. Sometimes agile teams lack the bird-­‐ eye/strategic approach to process improvement or problem solving. This is where Six Sigma comes along. Six Sigma is a philosophy, a measure and a methodology for problem solving and process improvement. It provides a set of tools, phases and roadmaps, which can be used by an organization to reduce variation and improve the capability and quality of its processes, products and services. In this experience report, we will share our experience in combining Six Sigma and its ‘DMAIC’ roadmap as a statistical and analytical problem solving approach with agile software development (particularly Scrum). We will discuss how we benefitted from applying the DMAIC roadmap with an agile team who was adopting Scrum. We will also discuss how we used agile methods in managing the Six Sigma project itself by adopting an agile-­‐based iterative and incremental method called “Process Increments”. In addition, we will try to bridge the gap between the 2 approaches and methodologies, and focus on the areas where both can meet and benefit from each other.


2.1 what is six sigma.

Six Sigma is a structured methodology for process improvement and problem solving. It offers a rich set of tools, techniques and roadmaps, which aim to reducing variation, improving the quality of production processes by decreasing the number of defects and improving the capability of the processes, products and services.

Motorola developed Six Sigma in 1986. And since its adoption at General Electric in the 1990’s, it has been widely adopted by many organizations in different domains and industries. Six Sigma gained popularity mainly in the manufacturing domain, mainly because of its origin and the fact that Six Sigma often related to an objective of reducing variation in production processes, and since reducing variation in a repetitive production process in manufacturing has been always a desirable goal to achieve, it has led Six Sigma to be a successful approach and methodology for improving processes, products quality and accordingly the business.

In parallel to this movement, the Lean movement was rising as well. Basically, the Lean philosophy in production considered the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination [1]. Both Lean and Six Sigma were coupled eventually to produce what was called Lean Six Sigma, which is a systematic approach for process improvement and problem solving aiming to reduce variation, remove waste and increase capability.

2.2 Six Sigma in Software

A software development project is a typical knowledge work project, which involves a lot of innovation and creativity and relies heavily on the skills of individuals and teams. It also relies heavily on frequent and high bandwidth communication to continually manage uncertainty on the way to develop the final outcome, which almost in all cases, is intangible and not clear.

Adopting Six Sigma to produce software products or improve existing software development processes hasn’t been that popular mainly because Six Sigma has always been understood as a structured methodology for reducing variation in a repetitive production process as opposed to a human-­‐centric and innovation focused process such as software development. Also considering the value from the Agile Manifesto “Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools”, one would argue that you’ll always find variation in a software development process because it heavily relies on the skills of individuals and teams which makes them the primary source of variation. Also variation from this perspective is not perceived as problem in the software development because different engagements are not perceived as repetitive.

However in order to assess the benefit of adopting Six Sigma to a software development team, Six Sigma should be looked at from a different perspective. A typical objective of using Six Sigma for software development teams would not be to reduce variation, but to remove waste and eliminate or reduce defects. Lean Six Sigma is actually a philosophy and a structured methodology for problem solving and process improvement, which provides a very rich and useful set of tools, roadmaps and techniques for this purpose. It depends on using the data along with the right set of tools and through asking the right set of questions to the right stakeholders to focus on the right problems. Also Six Sigma is considered as a pragmatic approach to empirical and experimental process improvement. It’s simply about solving problems, by focusing on the right problems, which impacts the business and introduce costs to the organization. Six Sigma also, is about investigating problems to the level of their root causes and finding appropriate solutions rather than introducing a catalogue of pre-­‐defined solutions.

2.3 Six Sigma and Agile software development

The 12th principle of the Agile Manifesto states the following: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”. This principle relates to the fact that most agile teams focus on continuous improvement and adaptation to change in the form of Inspect and Adapt cycles which happens either through daily collaboration (e.g. in daily standup meetings) or through periodic vehicles such as retrospective meetings happening at the end of an iteration. During these checkpoints, most agile teams would focus on soft observations and short-­‐term improvement actions rather than adopt a bird-­‐ eye view or approach to problem solving and improvement. Also informed decision making at this stage sometimes is based only on soft observations not solid data and measures. And this is where Lean Six Sigma comes along.

For an agile team, Six Sigma would provide them with a structured approach for empirical problem solving. It would also provide them with a set of tools and techniques, which can be used to address the root causes of the problems impacting their performance, quality and customer satisfaction.

2.4 DMAIC roadmap for problem solving and process improvement

DMAIC is a data-­‐driven roadmap for improving existing processes in a way, which removes waste, eliminate defects and increase performance and capability. Six Sigma projects adopt the DMAIC as their roadmap for improving an existing process or solving a problem.

The different phases of the DMAIC roadmap are [Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control], as shown in figure 1.

Define : Define the problem, guided by the voice of the customer, business, or current process. Define the goal to achieve and formulate a business case for the Sigma Six project Measure : Measure the key parts of the existing process, and collect data about factors contributing to the problem in order to establish a current baseline for performance from a quantitative and qualitative perspective Analyze : Analyze the factors contributing to the problem in order to identify the root causes for the critical factors impacting performance and prioritize those root causes Improve : Identify, implement and evaluate improvement solutions to eliminate root causes of the problem in part or in whole Control : Sustain the improvements achieved and monitor them to ensure continued and sustainable success

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3.1 project background:.

Our experience mainly involved an agile team developing a medical imaging tool designed for the viewing, quantification and analysis of cardiac magnetic resonance images (MRI). The first version of that product was launched in 2006, and since then there has been continuous development to the product to provide new features and enhancements as well as fixing issues and bugs. Due to the long period of development in addition to the complexity of the domain and technologies used, the code base was growing in size year after year eventually exceeding 400 thousand lines of code and ending up with legacy code in many modules. In addition to the large legacy code base, the product had more than 1300 manual test cases, which constituted the full regression test suite.

The team had been adopting Scrum for about a year when we started our Six Sigma project together. The team size most of the time varied between 7-­‐10 technical members.

3.2 Problem Context:

During the recent product releases, the team became more overwhelmed with new feature requests and changes/enhancements to existing features in addition to the technical issues they were facing in development and testing. This has led the team to overlook the need to work on the core problems affecting their quality, productivity and throughput and instead focus only on delivering new features to the business and providing business value as quickly as possible.

Ironically, those problems eventually impacted the business value offered to their customers by delaying their release dates, and impacting the business as well by affecting the time to market. The trigger which made us think of adopting the DMAIC improvement roadmap to the team came after I had a meeting with the Product and Development Manager. I got from him that they were facing some problems in their recent product releases, which were costing them more money and impacting their customers and the time to market the new product releases.

Basically, the problem was; ‘Accumulated leaked bugs as well as delayed regression and integration tests results in consuming a large stabilization phase at the end of each production release. This leads to delays in the release delivery as a result of the large stabilization phase, which impacts the product sales and clients. It also leads sometimes to adding additional sprints in the next release as a result of bugs being transferred from one release to another.’

We realized that this problem was an excellent candidate problem for a Six Sigma improvement project following the DMAIC improvement roadmap.

3.3 Define phase:

The Define phase in a typical DMAIC project is mainly about defining the problem. Several factors and inputs contribute to the problem definition. These inputs are collected as:

(1) Voice of the Customer (VOC): Represents the input from the perspective of the Customer. It refers to criteria impacting the customer satisfaction like defects, cost, expectation, value delivery…etc.

(2) Voice of the Process (VOP): Represents the input coming from the process targeted to improvement. It refers to understanding the process activities, inputs, outputs, roles and responsibilities involved and the boundaries.

In our project the voice of the customer (VOC) was obtained from the perspective of the clients awaiting new versions and product releases. The value to these clients was impacted mainly by the delay in releasing the new versions (as a result of large stabilization phases). The problem was also impacting the product sales and delaying the revenues.

As for the voice of the process (VOP), it basically represented the approach the team was adopting at this point for product development, which was basically Scrum. It also referred to the problems and issues they were facing related to the nature of their product and technologies used.

The next step was to quantify our problem statement. We needed to know the magnitude of the problem we were facing at this point. We started to ask the following questions regarding the problem statement identified above:

⦁ What’s the % of the time allocated to the stabilization sprints/activities vs. the total duration of the product release? ⦁ What are the figures about the numbers of leaked bugs accumulated at the end of each product release? (Before entering the stabilization phase) The quantified problem definition became:

“Accumulated leaked bugs (reached an average of 100-­‐140 bugs before entering the stabilization phase) as well as delayed regression and integration tests, results in consuming a large stabilization phase at the end of each production release. This leads to delays in the release delivery as a result of the large stabilization phase, which impacts the product sales and clients. The % of time allocated for the stabilization activities reached more than 35% of the total time of the product release”

Usually the problem in a DMAIC Six Sigma project is referred to statistically as the response (Y) which is a function of X’s which are the factors contributing to this (Y). Usually we start discussing the X’s during the Define phase, but only during the Analyze phase we are able to find the critical X’s and the root causes behind them.

The next step was to gather input from the product development team as well as the product owner who represented the value team. We had a brainstorming meeting, which resulted in a fishbone diagram shown as figure 2. It included the main factors that the team thought was impacting the main problem (Y).

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Considering the factors identified in the fishbone diagram, which captured the current issues the team had at that time, we decided to come up with the following goals for our Six Sigma initiative.

⦁ Decrease the time allocated for Stabilization activities from 35% to somewhere between 15% and 20% (only 1 stabilization sprint every 6 development sprints) in order to release faster ⦁ Decrease the number of leaked bugs which consumes a lot of time at the end of each product release ⦁ Produce a potentially shippable product increment at the end of each sprint After defining the problem and establishing the goal for the Six Sigma project, we formulated our business case. The business case was basically a cost-­‐benefit analysis comparing the cost to implement the project (at this stage the cost mainly was represented by the effort of the team involved in the Six Sigma project) against the benefits achieved (Saving the effort wasted in stabilization activities + better product quality and faster time to market).

3.4 Measure phase:

During the Measure phase, it was the time to start taking a closer look at the factors (X’s) impacting our main problem. Our main input was the fishbone diagram (Figure 2) created during the Define phase. The first thing to do was to classify the factors as quantitative or qualitative.

For the quantitative factors, we also listed the required additional measures, which needed to be collected to give a better understanding of those factors. Eventually we were able to come up with the following list of quantitative factors and measures as shown in Table 1

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⦁ Very weak Done definition (on story level) which resulted in high counts of leaked bugs ⦁ Ineffective mechanisms to gather feedback and contribution from team members during retrospectives which resulted in ineffective feedback channels between the team and the lack of value perception from conducting retrospectives ⦁ Lack of understanding of the product design and architecture by the testing team (which led to consuming a lot of time in useless regression cycles) ⦁ Mini-­‐waterfalls iterations as the team tended to work on all user stories in parallel during the development sprints ⦁ Manual regression tests (a large part of the regression test suite was still done manually which consumed a lot of time) ⦁ Synchronization issues with another Middleware development team which resulted in late integration and build issues ⦁ Lack of skills for the new team members in unit testing ⦁ Legacy code challenges which prevented the team from creating isolated unit testing for old features

Those factors (quantitative and qualitative) constituted our current performance baseline at that time. It represented a snapshot of the current issues and problems, which needed to be addressed. This was the basis for improvement as well, and whatever improvement actions were to be taken later on were expected to eventually contribute to improving those factors.

Luckily most of the contributing factors (X’s) identified during the Define phase, were controllable factors as they were related to our team and inside our boundaries of control. The exception to this was the factors related to the infrequent builds from the other middleware product team, which resulted some times in late integration issue with our team.

3.5 Analyze phase:

During the analyze phase, we studied the factors identified at the previous section, through:

⦁ Interviewing different team members to obtain their input regarding the weight of each of the identified factors. For example, we met with the testing team and discussed with them the challenges they faced in regression testing, and the effort consumed in this activity. We also discussed with them the reasons for delaying testing activities inside a development sprint (mini-­‐waterfall iterations) and the challenges they faced in creating efficient regression tests while having poor understanding of the product design ⦁ Investigated some artifacts such as the team Done definition, regression test scenarios and scripts samples, and unit test coverage for new features vs. old features from previous releases ⦁ We investigated the measurement baselines for bugs which included data about bugs detected during the development sprints, % of leaked bugs from each sprint and the % of regression bugs at the end of each release ⦁ We studied some correlation relations between the size of user stories, and the amount of bugs detected during development and the amount of bugs leaked afterwards

Throughout the Analyze phase, we were able after investigating and examining the root causes to come up with a prioritized list of root causes for which improvement actions were to be identified. Usually at this point, a Six Sigma team should think about what we call the low hanging fruits or the quick wins. When we started our analysis, we began to consider the X’s, which were considered as quick wins. Working on those X’s and improving them was expected to result in quick improvements to our main problem (Y), which was concerned with decreasing the time spent in stabilization activities through decreasing the number of accumulated leaked bugs.

At this point we categorized our X’s and root causes in 4 main areas. Each area had a set of both quantitative and qualitative X’s as well.

⦁ Late discovery of problems and ineffective retrospectives:

⦁ Ineffective mechanisms to gather feedback and contribution from team members during retrospectives which resulted in ineffective feedback channels between the team and the lack of value perception from conducting retrospectives

⦁ Accumulation of bugs resulting from late detection and resolution:

⦁ For each development sprint:

– The % of leaked bugs vs. total detected bugs during the sprint – The % of bugs detected and resolved in the same sprint

⦁ The number and % of leaked bugs vs. the total number of detected bugs in a release ⦁ Average size of user stories per release ⦁ Average time to complete the development of a single user stories in a development sprint ⦁ Very weak Done definition (on story level) which resulted in high counts of leaked bugs ⦁ Mini-­‐waterfalls iterations as the team tended to work on all user stories in parallel during the development sprints ⦁ The % of regression testing execution effort vs. the total execution effort of the testing team during a development release (was huge due to the late involvement of testing execution activities in a development sprint)

⦁ Regression test effectiveness issue:

⦁ Lack of understanding of the product design and architecture by the testing team (which led to consuming a lot of time in useless regression cycles)

⦁ Late Integration issues:

⦁ Synchronization issues with another Middleware development team which resulted in late integration and build issues

Other factors related to unit test coverage, and legacy code refactoring opportunities and regression test automation were candidates for bigger six sigma projects as they involved different challenges and working on them needed a huge investment at that time so they needed to be dealt with differently.

3.6 Improve phase:

At this stage, we had our list of root causes, and through our interviews and brainstorming meetings we were able to come up with a list of improvement actions to start implementing and piloting across future sprints.

The improvement actions categorized by the areas identified in the Analyze phase were:

⦁ Regression test effectiveness issues:

⦁ Established the habit of close communication between testing and development members regarding the product design and architectural details which were useful for the testing team to know in order to make their regression suites more effective and efficient

⦁ Worked on establishing solid contact with other teams and synchronize with them early checkpoints for integration rather than late ones at the end of the release ⦁ Worked with the Product Owner and the team to identify stories which had strong emphasis on integration with other products and prioritizing those stories early during the release

⦁ Coaching the team during the retrospective, and introducing new techniques for them by facilitation in order to encourage contribution of all team members and enhance the problem/impediment detection and removal cycle which the team clearly had an issue with during the previous releases

⦁ Revisiting and strengthening the Done definition on the story level to avoid having bugs leaked from one sprint to another ⦁ Coaching the team to come up with more slicing guidelines for the large user stories which caused utilization issues during the sprint and led to late testing and bug leakage ⦁ Worked with the team to establish a better-­‐streamlined model for managing the workflow inside a sprint rather a waterfall-­‐based model. The team was encouraged to work on less number of stories at a time by limiting the work in progress (WIP) to decrease testing bottlenecks ⦁ Worked on improving some unit testing practices (to increase the coverage of unit tests and decrease regression bugs)

These improvement actions were introduced gradually through multiple iterations and with the introduction of these actions, improvement were eventually measured.

During the next production release we started to sense improvements one sprint after another and by the end of the release we were able to show some improvements statistically.

Eventually we are able to measure improvements in different factors (X’s), which contributed to an improvement in our main problem (Y), as shown in Table 2, which includes the new baselines obtained after improvement.

Table 2: New performance baselines obtained after improvement

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3.7 Control phase:

Basically, out Control phase was about making sure that the improvements achieved were sustainable. This was achieved through deploying the improvement actions made throughout all future releases and incorporating new practices in the team ongoing process.

For example, at this point (1) the new Done Definition replaced the old one and was communicated to the management and the product management team as well. (2) New team members were trained on unit testing, and the team formulated a process for new comers where they can learn unit testing through pairing with older team members. (3) Strict Integration checkpoints were established between Virtue team and the Middleware development team, which guaranteed that integration, would not be delayed till the stabilization phase.


4.1 introduction to process increments:.

‘Process Increments’ is an agile-­‐based method for managing process improvement projects. This method basically builds on agile values and principles and leverages of the power agile methods such as Scrum and techniques such as User Stories.

Basically, this method partitions the scope of a process improvement project to user story-­‐like increments and populate a backlog of this increments which is implemented through improvement sprints and are managed using agile project management techniques.

Typically, a process increment is a process improvement chunk, which can be implemented in a relatively small time (1-­‐2 weeks) and should provide value to the organization.

A process increment has the following attributes:

⦁ Name: The name of the process increment which describe the title and objective of the increment ⦁ Conditions of Satisfaction: These are the acceptance criteria or conditions which when achieved imply that the increment is fulfilled ⦁ Size Estimate: This is the relative size estimate of the increment compared to other process increments in the project. Process increments are estimated relatively in points such as user stories, and usually the relative size estimate indicate the time needed to implement such increment relative to other increments considering other factors such as complexity or the difficulty of implementation. ⦁ Process Area: This is the theme or category of the process increment.

For example, if we use process increments to manage a Six Sigma DMAIC-­‐based project, we would partition the scope of the project into increments where each increment will resemble a user story with the attributes mentioned above.

An example of a process increment from the Define phase is shown in figure 3.

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Fig. 3. A typical process increment from a DMAIC-­‐based Six Sigma project. The increment belongs to the “Define” area or theme, and basically the scope of the increment is to define the Voice of the Process (VOP), which is a key part of the Define phase.

4.2 How Process increments were used to manage our DMAIC project:

In principle, Six Sigma is about process improvement and problem solving. A DMAIC-­‐based project specifically is about improving an existing process and solving problems, which results in introducing changes, which can be big and usually accompanied by many challenges and risks. Also there’s a large degree of uncertainty and scope vagueness in a DMAIC project, and progress sometimes is not visible across all stakeholders.

If we consider a DMAIC-­‐based project; applied to a software development team; as a typical project then there’s no better alternative to managing its uncertainty and big changes than with agile methods, and this where process increments as a method comes in handy.

The typical DMAIC roadmap implies a staged model for managing Six Sigma projects, and this can challenging depending on the scope of the project and how big is the change to be introduced. Also, depending on the magnitude of the problem, and the factors contributing to this problem, a Six Sigma team may need to divide their Measure, Analyze, and Improve phases into smaller cycles where in each cycle some of the contributing factors are measured, analyzed and then improvement actions can be piloted incrementally and iteratively with their effectiveness evaluated through successive pilots rather than a big bang implementation approach.

A software development project following traditional methods (e.g. waterfall) would probably suffer in implementing Six Sigma techniques because it’s an environment which impedes changes and provide less number of feedback cycles which results in poor performance. On the other hand, agile projects offer the perfect environment for experimentation needed to deploy process changes incrementally and iteratively while managing the transition risks and challenges in an effective manner as well.

In our project, we realized that the DMAIC cycle was better to be managed in an iterative and incremental fashion. We adopted the “Process Increments” with the following simple steps:

⦁ First, we began to establish our DMAIC project backlog. This backlog included the process increments which were the building blocks which represented all the units of valuable work which needed to be covered in our Six Sigma project ⦁ The structure of the improvement backlog is shown in Table 3. ⦁ Increments were implemented across improvement sprints. The length of an improvement sprint was typically 2 weeks, and the team ran those improvement sprints parallel to their normal development sprints Eventually the DMAIC roadmap went from being a typical staged roadmap to an iterative and increment one. Our new roadmap became something like: [D] -­‐-­‐>[M -­‐-­‐> A -­‐-­‐> I -­‐-­‐> C] -­‐-­‐> [M -­‐-­‐> A -­‐-­‐> I -­‐-­‐> C] -­‐-­‐>[…] where we first identify the problem (Y) and the main contributing factors (X’s) in an initial Define phase, and then we undergo small cycles of measuring those factors, analyzing their root causes, piloting specific improvement actions across improvement sprints and then eventually defining criteria for maintaining the improvements achieved.

Table 3: A snapshot of the improvement backlog populated with process increments

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Our Done definition for the process increments was as follows: ⦁ All conditions of satisfaction are satisfied and validated ⦁ All required stakeholders have been involved in implementing the increment ⦁ Necessary knowledge about the process increment activities has been acquired by the team

During the Improve phase, the process increments identified at this point were related to implementing and adopting new improvement actions, so they shared some additional criteria to their Done definition such as: ⦁ Process increment should be implemented at least on 3 sprints before evaluation ⦁ Current processes, tools and guidelines should be updated after implementing the process increment


5.1 problems faced by agile teams:.

Many agile teams depend on daily collaborations and periodic vehicles such as retrospectives to identify and work on the problems and issues they face. During those vehicles, they would typically focus on soft observations and short-­‐term issues. Any decision making at this stage is mainly based on perceived symptoms of short term and visible problems.

Sometimes, many agile teams would be so neck-­‐deep in their daily development and challenges that they overlook the hidden problems or impediments, which impacts their performance and quality on the long run.

In addition to the issues described above, many teams would find it hard to express those types of issues and propose improvement actions to their management, because there would be a communication gap. In order for the management to take informed decisions, they need more than simple observations or high level improvement initiatives. They need deeper insight into the problems, cost-­‐benefit analysis figures, ROI data or any other form of empirical information based on solid data. They need to eventually understand the magnitude of the problems and issues they are facing and relate those problems to an impact on the business that they can perceive well.

5.2 Solution offered by Six Sigma:

Six Sigma offers agile teams the roadmap (DMAIC), approach and techniques, which can help them effectively define and work on the problems and issues affecting their quality and performance.

We have found that agile teams could benefit from Six Sigma in many ways such as: ⦁ An analytical problem solving approach ⦁ Having a very rich set of tools and techniques and approaches for long-­‐term and strategic process improvement and problem solving ⦁ Shifting their focus from just acknowledging or observing problems to effectively defining those problems along with their quantitative magnitude and impact on the business ⦁ Shifting their focus from discussing symptoms of issues, to measuring and analyzing root causes of problems and eventually eliminating them ⦁ Focusing on using quantitative data along with the right set of tools and asking the right set of questions to the right stakeholders in order to focus on the right problems

⦁ Shifting their focus to be problem driven rather than solution driven. The team should strive to solve the right problem by eliminating its root causes rather than providing a catalogue of pre-­‐defined solutions ⦁ Unifying the team towards a specific goal for problem solving and improvement, and relating this to a business case, which relates better to customers and managers. ⦁ Obtaining the buy-­‐in and support from management, because it related better to them through effective problem definitions, and business cases for the solutions

5.3 Benefits of adopting agile practices and methods to manage DMAIC-­‐based Six Sigma Project:

Adopting the ‘Process Increments’ method to manage the Six Sigma has resulted in many benefits such as:

⦁ Gave us a powerful and structured yet lean approach to manage our project ⦁ Managing the DMAIC project in an iterative and incremental fashion mitigates the risks associated with introducing, measuring and evaluating bulky changes ⦁ Forming an improvement backlog of relevant process increments which can be reused in other projects and contexts ⦁ Scope and Progress visibility for the DMAIC project which leads to more involvement and buy-­‐in from different stakeholders specially management ⦁ The involvement of the whole team in the journey to improve their performance and quality, with the support and buy-­‐in of the management

During our experience, we were able to create an effective mix of the 2 philosophies and approaches. We have realized benefits in adopting Six Sigma DMAIC roadmap as an analytical problem solving method to our agile team, and we benefitted as well from adopting agile practices and techniques to manage our Six Sigma project itself using the agile-­‐based method “Process Increments”.


We would like to sincerely thank Radouane Oudrhiri for his recognizable work and key insights about Six Sigma and its application in information technology and software development specifically. Mohamed had an amazing opportunity to learn about advanced Six Sigma Black Belt topics and techniques from Radouane, in addition to being mentored and coached by him during 2010. We would also want to thank Tim O’connor for his review and insights about the paper, and we couldn’t have done it without his support.

1) Oudrhiri, Radouane. “Six Sigma and DFSS for IT and Software Engineering Position Paper”, http://fmisociety.org/ITLeadersAcademy//lectures/13_1_presentation1.pdf 2) Amr Noaman and Mohamed Amr. “Process Increments – An Agile Approach to Software Process Improvement”, IEEE Xplore Digital Library-­‐Agile Conference (AGILE), 2011, E-­‐ISBN: 978-­‐0-­‐7695-­‐4370-­‐3

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    Introduction. Six Sigma can be described as a process which increases efficiency and decreases defects in production or operational processes with the end goal being an overall reduction in costs for the company in terms of resources saved. Taking this into consideration any company that suffers from consumer complaints regarding product ...

  7. What Is Six Sigma? Concept, Steps, Examples, and Certification

    Six Sigma is a quality-control program developed in 1986 by Motorola that emphasizes cycle-time improvement and the reduction of manufacturing defects to a level of no more than 3.4 per million ...

  8. History and Benefits of Six Sigma - UK Essays

    If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help! Essay Writing Service Six Sigma describes a business improvement approach that seeks to find an eliminate causes of defects and errors in manufacturing and service processes by focusing on outputs that are critical to customers and a clear ...

  9. Six-Sigma Methodology in Process Improvement Research Paper

    The Six Sigma model comprises the so-called “DMAIC” and “DMAICT” elements. These abbreviations stand for the names of the key Sigma processes: defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, controlling, and transferring. The latter process refers to transferring the positive experience to other organizational levels (“Six Sigma” par. 21).

  10. How Agile and Six Sigma Can Work Together | Agile Alliance

    5.2 Solution offered by Six Sigma: Six Sigma offers agile teams the roadmap (DMAIC), approach and techniques, which can help them effectively define and work on the problems and issues affecting their quality and performance. ⦁ Shifting their focus to be problem driven rather than solution driven.