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Author: Frank Lucer

While Six Sigma is becoming more popular, a lot of companies still rely upon the conventional Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK). This discipline is used throughout all sectors and has been one of the most pivotal managerial tools for many years. In truth, there are many similarities between the two methodologies. For example, both include identifying problem areas, managing resources, and conducting cost analysis as high priorities. However, while there are parallel goals, there are also distinct differences.

In this article, I'll provide an overview of the differences between a Six Sigma initiative and one that is guided by the Project Management Body of Knowledge. We'll explore how data contributes to both, the role of management and the problems they face, and one of the key areas in which the two standards deviate from each other.

The Value Of Data

Both Six Sigma and project management initiatives are deployed in order to improve existing processes. However, PMBoK assignments often have an inherent weakness: in many cases, they lack a reliable method to measure the results of the process-related changes that are made. In short, there's often no way to quantify the results. Because of this, a PMBoK team may consider their efforts successful, but they lack the data to validate their claim.

By contrast, Six Sigma is a methodology that is primarily driven by data. Processes are analyzed and data is collected. Problems are identified, creative solutions are designed and deployed, and more data is collected. It is only through analyzing the collected data that success or failure of the initiative can be determined.Problems Facing Management

PMBoK project managers cope with a number of problems for which Six Sigma is designed to resolve. For example, when managers approach a work process problem, they first need to gain an understanding of the issues. Then, they need to design and implement tracking mechanisms through which they can quantify selected variables. Next, they need to collect data and analyze it in order to identify inefficiencies within the process that can be addressed with available resources.

While a professional project management initiative can help managers accomplish those tasks, it is limited in its scope. This is partly due to the methodology's focus upon broad-scale processes using a centralized project office. By contrast, a Six Sigma initiative is more flexible; it provides managers the tools they need in order to do their job within a smaller, decentralized unit.Ongoing Prevention Vs. Piecemeal Selection

This is one of the main areas in which the two methodologies have very different approaches. Professional project management examines processes on a piecemeal basis. The central project office considers each initiative individually; as one assignment is completed, another is initiated. Neither assignment has any bearing on the other.

Six Sigma takes the opposite approach. Assignments are designed to uncover the root cause of a process-related problem. Once a solution has been implemented and determined to be successful, the goal is to prevent the original failure from recurring over time.

Each Methodology Has A Place

What I've described above is not to suggest that the PMBoK is outdated or irrelevant. In fact, it continues to be a valuable methodology. However, its value is most evident in strategic applications where broad-scale processes are analyzed. On the other hand, Six Sigma is perfectly-designed for assignments that support ongoing review and improvement. The data from each initiative is used to establish benchmarks by which future performance is measured. In short, both methodologies have their place in different circumstances. One does not replace the other. When deployed simultaneously, they can work together for an organization's continual improvement.

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About the Author

BMGI, a leading education and consulting firm in the innovation education field regularly posts information on six sigma at


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