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Many people have written to TCOP asking various questions about Six Sigma certification. How can I get Six Sigma certified? Where can I get Six Sigma certified? Is Six Sigma certification transferable if I leave a company for another? The list goes on and on. This article will help answer these questions regarding the ubiquitous and confusing “Six Sigma certification” topic.

For instance, millions of people have applied for, tested and been granted a driver’s license in the United States. It certifies that a person has passed the minimum guidelines and requirements for driving. The individual must pass both a written and hands-on driving test in order to “certify.” Not all individuals in the United States, however, have the same proficiency in driving – even though they may have passed the tests and been granted a driver’s license. The same is true for Six Sigma certification. Certification alone does not summarize the worth of a true quality professional.

What Is Six Sigma Certification?

Six Sigma certification is a confirmation of an individual’s capabilities with respect to specific competencies. Just like any other quality certification, however, it does not indicate that an individual is capable of unlimited process improvement – just that they have completed the necessary requirements from the company granting the certification.

What Is Involved In Six Sigma Certification?

As with attaining a driver’s license in the United States, Six Sigma certification entails learning the appropriate subject matter, passing a written proficiency test and displaying competency in a hands-on environment. The materials can be purchased from almost any Six Sigma training and consulting company, but almost always comes bundled with classroom training. Usually you or your company will purchase a training session, which has different bodies of knowledge and durations for each Six Sigma level (Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt, etc.).

The written proficiency test may be given by the training company or the business hiring the training company. Typically, companies new to Six Sigma will defer to the training company’s proficiency test. Companies that have been performing in-house training for years (such as Motorola or GE) have created and administer their own written proficiency tests.

After a quality professional has completed training, they must complete one or two quality projects and display competency in applying the concepts learned in the classroom training. This is where certification companies diverge – this part of the certification is the most fuzzy and undefined. Some organizations require a certification candidate to complete one project if a Green Belt, and two projects if a Black Belt or Master Black Belt; others require less or more. In addition, there is no standard for what passes and what fails to display an individual’s competency.

So, what’s the takeaway from certification? Any worthwhile certification involves training, a written proficiency exam and a hands-on competency display of the methodology to real world problems. The specifics around each of these three requirements vary from company to company. Will it ever become standardized? Probably, but not in the near future.

How Can I Get Six Sigma Certified?

There is no single body designated to provide Six Sigma certification to the quality profession. Almost every one of the tens of companies providing Six Sigma training and consulting also provide certification. Why is this? Because individuals and companies are spending a great deal of money, sometimes in excess of $30,000 per individual, to become trained, and they feel like they should have something to show for it. Hence, certification became a popular add-on service for consulting companies because it allowed them to differentiate between skills levels, as well as charge additional fees.

Why Isn’t ASQ The Sole Six Sigma Certification Body As It Is For CQM?

Quality certification titles such as Certified Quality Manager (CQM), Certified Quality Engineer (CQE) and Certified Quality Auditor (CQA) may only be attained from the American Society for Quality (ASQ) – as they are the sole certification body for these titles. No other company or body offer these certifications as it would be difficult to convince individuals and companies that the certification has the same value as that of ASQ’s certification.

There are many reasons why ASQ did not automatically become the de facto certification source for Six Sigma Green Belts, Black Belts and Master Black Belts as it has for CQMs, CQEs and CQAs. First, ASQ only started offering certification around 2000, although Six Sigma quality has been popular since the mid-1990s. Second, the methodology was originally proprietary to Motorola (although most, if not all, of the individual tools that make up Six Sigma are public domain), and it was not apparent how great an impact Six Sigma would have in the quality community and business world until the late 1990s. Finally, there have been complaints within the quality profession that ASQ is a slow-moving organization, and at times has tried to control the evolution of Six Sigma, which created a barrier to adoption by the industry and by businesses.

Should I Get Six Sigma Certified?

The reasons for certification are the same for any other certification:

  • to display proficiency in the subject matter
  • to increase desirability by employers
  • to potentially increase your salary

Ultimately, certification is a professional decision that can only be made by you. In some cases, it will be required for you to advance within an organization. For instance, at some companies it is a requirement of every salaried employee to be Green Belt trained and certified if they want to be promoted within the organization. In other cases, Six Sigma certification will display your energy and intent to be a leader within the quality profession.

Can I Transfer Six Sigma Certification Between Organizations?

The answer is both yes and no. As with attaining a driver’s license in a particular state in the United States, the main driving body of knowledge is the same and transferrable. Certain laws vary from state to state, however, requiring an individual to learn the specific state laws and test within the state of residence. Six Sigma certification is similar in that certain requirements or variations exist between businesses implementing the Six Sigma methodology. Some companies may also require you to re-certify to display competency.

Most likely a company will value an individual’s certification if attained from a leading Six Sigma business, such as Motorola, GE and Allied Signal. The businesses that have only over the past few years embraced Six Sigma will also have value, but not to such an extent. Attaining certification from a second-tier consulting company will have less value and, finally, being trained without certification will have the least amount of value.