What is the difference between Six Sigma and ISO 9001:2008?

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    I have been interviewing people from the construction industry for my thesis to see whether six sigma can be implemented in construction industry. All the companies I interviewed are using ISO 9001:2008. When I explain six sigma and how it works, they always say that it is similar to ISO 9001:2008, the question here what the difference is and if they are similar, why it is not used in the construction industry.

    Your answers are highly appreciated



    Hi Anwar,

    I am not an expert on either but know enough to tell you they are very different. Six Sigma is a process improvement tool. Companies use it to eliminate waste, decrease time to market, and improve customer satisfaction. A properly trained Black Belt will use various “tools” to define a problem, measure the process, analyze the results (find cause and effect), improve the process and then control the process. This is called the DMAIC methodology.

    ISO 9001 is simply a control regime that documents your process – “Say what you do and do what you say”. However, if you put together a process that ineffective and wasteful ISO 9001 will not help you improve that process. It’s garbage in and garbage out situation.

    So when your interviewees tell you that Six Sigma is the same as ISO 9001 you can gently correct them. There is a book called Lean Thinking in which the author mentions a construction company in Texas using Lean techniques (based on the Toyota Production System) to improve their company. It might be worth a read. And I am sure that other members of this site can point you in the right direction for references.



    Dear Sir,

    Thank you soooo much for this useful information. I had an interview today with one company and the QC manger had a knowledge in Six sigma. He said that Six Sigma can be applicable to the construction industry, but it costs a lot of money to train people, it can be chosen to be a process improvement tool only at the time the company is established. also he added that Six Sigma is not as famous as ISO 9001, therefore people prefer to choose something that is well-known and the government support rather than implementing a system where not many people is aware of.

    Would you agree on the above? Do you think that Six Sigma can be a successful tool to implement in the construction industry?

    you help is highly appreciated



    Hey Anwar,

    Like I said earlier I am no expert. I am engineer that has no formal training in Six Sigma but I am very interested in the topic. Do I think Six Sigma can work in construction…..absolutely!! There is waste in every organization and every organization can improve. To your point about training expense, I also agree, formal training can be expensive. However, there are great resources out there. This website offers some more economical solutions as well.

    The key is upper management of the organization. If they believe and support a Six Sigma Blackbelt, the pay back can be huge. Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric, wrote a book about the effects of Six Sigma on that organization.

    However, if upper management undercuts the Six Sigma Blackbelt nothing will happen AT ALL. Recently my organization has been talking about “change programs”. That is what Six Sigma is, a change. One of Six Sigma’s biggest enemies is the culture of “we have always done it that way, and it works”. That may be true but does it work effectively? Is it the best process possible in the construction industry or more aggressively in the world? It is up to upper management to cut down the naysayers and institute a culture of continuous improvement. It is a tough corporate political game but it must be done.

    Hopefully, more of the experts on the blog can help you out. But don’t ever underestimate your desire to learn combined with the right resources to make a difference. Remember that Albert Einstein was a patent clerk in Austria when he started to think about physics. Keep reading and asking questions.




    Dear Bill,

    Thank you so much for your support. I totally agree with you. I’m not an expert in Six Sigma as well but I really interested in it. Hopefully once I finish my thesis I’m thinking to start applying Six Sigma in our company to decrease waste materials. I believe that Six Sigma can have very bright future since the world is going towards green environment.

    Talking about the prices to train for Six Sigma, I have found a training center in Dubai that charge $3500 to be trained and certified for the Green Belt, and charge for black belt $ 6500.

    If I wanted to train 10 of my engineers to get the green and black belt, it would cost me $100,000. So If I come to my boss and ask him to pay this amount of money to implement Six Sigma, do you think he would agree for spending this much to create a change which he will feel it only after 3 or 4 years (sometimes)? My opinion no he won’t, he will tell me I think we will just follow whatever we implementing at the moment, maybe in the future :lol: .

    I think the more organization implement Six Sigma, the more people will start to recognize it and see the improvement and the profit that can be gained from it.




    Dear Anwar,

    As for the differences/similarities between ISO 9001 and Six Sigma, the first deals with process standardization and description, with just a requirement to monitor and improve standardized processes (whole 8th paragraph of the ISO 9001 standard). ISO does not suggest any tools, methods or solutions on how to improve.
    In my opinion, Six Sigma comes in where ISO ends. It emphasizes improvement and efficiency (with Lean techniques), not just following the standardized procedures. I always saw it as a weakness of ISO 9001. There are very few strong requirements in there, many “as you see fit for your company” suggestions and no methods included, for the same reason – one cannot list all tools useful for improvement in a given environment.

    Another story is implementation of Six Sigma. As Bill writes, the top management attitude is crucial and, yes, people prefer known and popular methods.




    There is a clear distinction between frameworks and methodologies. Frameworks such as ISO 9001 specify “what” should be done but not “how”. Methodologies such as Six Sigma provide the “how” but not a comprehensive framework. They can be complimentary. For instance an organization might adopt ISO 9001 and incorporate Six Sigma as their methodology to satisfy many of the clauses in the framework. Merely adopting Six Sigma as the organization’s process improvement methodology does not fully implement the framework nor accomplish its goals.

    Another distinction is certification. Organizations can be certified ISO 9001:2008, meaning that an authorized certifying body has determined that their processes, standards, and practices are consistent and compliant with the framework. There is no organizational level certification for Six Sigma. Individual Six Sigma practitioners can earn certification as GB, BB, MBB, but their organization cannot currently earn SS certification of any sort.

    Note that I used the term “framework”, not “standard” ISO 9001:2008 is a standard specified by the International Organization for Standardization. A methodology can also be a standard. There is no accepted standard Six Sigma, but there could be. The fact that ISO 9001:2008 is a standard while Six Sigma is not, is not a relevant distinction between the two.



    Six Sigma
    Talks about HOW to be done
    Process Centric
    Customized by the Organization
    Resources are certified
    Customer focused
    Business Driven


    Quality Model
    Talks About WHAT to be done
    Organization Centric
    Prescribed by Global Body
    Organization is Certified

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