Two Common Misconceptions About Six Sigma

Most students of Six Sigma first become exposed to the concepts and ideas that drive the approach when they enroll in a Yellow Belt or Green Belt certification course.   In both of these courses as offered by Key Performance, I included an early assignment with the title “What Is Six Sigma”?  In this assignment I ask the students to respond to the following question after they have finished reading an introduction to Six Sigma in their textbook and a lecture entitled “What Is Six Sigma”:
“Explain how the readings and the lecture either reinforced or changed your preconceived notion of what Six Sigma is, based on what you knew before you began the course.  Please do NOT just summarize what Six Sigma is”.
There are two common misconceptions that I have seen after reviewing submissions from hundreds of students.  The first misconception is that Six Sigma is either primarily or exclusively used in manufacturing.  In fact, Six Sigma is applicable in any field that has customers and has issues in meeting the requirements of those customers.  Six Sigma is being widely applied today in such diverse fields as health care, financial services, call centers, law firms, government, the military, information systems and information technology, retailing, sales and marketing and many others.
Here is a quote from a student enrolled in the current session of our online Green Belt course:
“For the longest time I believed that the Six Sigma process was strictly used in manufacturing.  I can now see how the methodology is being applied to my particular industry (Retail Banking).”
The second common misconception is that Six Sigma is focused exclusively on internal operations.  Many students express surprise that Six Sigma has a focus on satisfying customers!  To me this is a natural, common sense way to operate a business.  Focusing on the needs and wants of customers and satisfying those needs in the best possible way will increase the odds of success for any organization.
Here is a quote from one of my current Yellow Belt students:
“When I began Six Sigma I was already getting familiar with the terminology and ideas because two of my colleagues and my President had taken the course.  I had believed that they were strictly processes designed to reduce errors and improve processes.  Now my understanding is that it is more customer centric than I originally believed.”
Here is another from a current Yellow Belt student:
“Having suffered through Total Quality Management at a few area hospitals, I was hoping that Six Sigma was an improvement. I sense that it could be.
My experience with TQM so far was that it was focused on one, an upcoming inspection of some type or urgent crisis avoidance maneuver. Two, TQM was a mechanism by which those higher up in a management hierarchy could affix blame to those lower on the food chain. And third, and most importantly, TQM had a high burn out rate.
Six Sigma appears, at least, to put the horse before the cart, placing the patient (consumer) as the quality focus on the grid and our front-line employees as quality co-arbiters.”
Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at
About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 45 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to