OK, so you’re at a neighborhood picnic, and your neighbor, Bob, asks about your job. “Oh, yeah, like that 6-sigma stuff, right?”

“Not exactly”, you reply. But you’re at a bit of a loss as to how to explain the difference. You’re involved in process improvement, saving money and energy, variability reduction, automation, and efficiency improvements. So are the 6-sigma people. So what’s the difference? Doesn’t 6-sigma involve “Statistical Process Control“?

In fact, there is a lot of overlap in the goals and the results…what’s different is that 6-sigma is an approach and a methodology, where Process Control is a technology or an engineering discipline. The two go hand-in-hand.

For some background on six-sigma, I recommend this short slide show, The History of Six-Sigma. You’ll see some definitions, and learn about the methodology.

More importantly, as you develop your skills to become a process control guru, how should you incorporate 6-sigma methodology and tools. Here are my recommendations:

1. Get to know the leaders. Six-Sigma Black Belts and Green belts have many of the same goals that you do. If you have a six-sigma program at your company, then it is pretty likely that these people have the ear of management. They know how to get funding and management support.
2. Learn the language. You don’t have to become a Black Belt yourself. But you should definitely learn some of the language of Six-Sigma. You can get a good start on the Wikipedia Six-Sigma page
3. Use Parts of the Six-Sigma Process. The Six-Sigma process can be a bit cumbersome. But there are some excellent tools in the tool kit. If you pick and choose the right tools, you will have a better chance of getting priority, and much better chance of proving your results to management.
3. Partnership: Play to Your Strengths. You are good at delivering control improvements. The Six-Sigma people are trained to document the value. A match made in heaven!
4. Express Results in Six-Sigma Terms. This is win-win. Remember, the Six-Sigma people know what management wants.
5. It’s a Continuous Process. The Six-Sigma approach is all about Continuous Improvement. There are cycles, such as DMAIC, that keep pushing you to higher levels. The discipline of this process can help you to keep moving forward. One common example: Reduce variability, then adjust setpoints to a more profitable region, then find automated ways to keep them there.

In many ways, the Six-Sigma methodologies are a perfect complement to your process control skills. Become a better process control guru by learning about Six-Sigma. You might even be able to explain your job to Bob!