Six Sigma is still one of the most popular methodologies in use today. As proof all one has to do is read the periodicals and textbooks or attend an ASQ section meeting or conference.

Quality professionals know the most common Six Sigma methodology is the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve & control) process. DMAIC is used to identify and reduce process variation in order to identify opportunities to improve and expand capabilities of current processes.

Quality professionals may be so busy using the DMAIC approach to improve business processes they may fail to see that their career is also a process. Many may even be counseled by mentors, peers, or managers that they should only be concerned with the challenges set before them and not worry about their careers because that will take care of itself. While that way of thinking may have been correct at some point, it most likely is not so today.

Quality professionals can use the DMAIC process to recognize the key areas that influence career success. 

First define your career’s purpose and scope. What do you expect to get out of your career? It might be helpful to think about why or how you got into the quality profession in the first place. One of my early mentors was helpful when he asked “Where do you want to be in 10 years, 20 years, and at retirement?” This thought process, as challenging as it is, helps bring into focus what’s most important. 

Next determine how you’re going to reach those milestones. It’s valuable to write down activities that are valuable investments of your time and the ones you believe are inefficient. Finally, write down the actions needed to make adjustments. 

In the measure phase assess your current situation. Without measures there can be no real change. Consider professional training and certifications as compared to your model of excellence; your financial results year over year; your strength and weakness gaps; and your motivation factors.

It can be helpful to write down some questions to gauge these measurements and determine specific goals. One method I’ve recommended to many people involves reviewing open positions from both internal and external sources. Frankly assess your abilities against the position description and requirements. This can be helpful in identifying gaps and needed actions. 

Now analyze your career process using these two important questions: do you now know better where you stand; and how to get where you need to be in order to fulfill your career goals? The challenge in this phase is to identify the specific cause and effect relationships that result from measuring the purpose and scope of your career. Do you have measurements in place to assess your ability to reach your career aspirations? As an example, if you want to move into a quality manager role, are there action plans to ensure you’re moving in that direction?

In this stage, it is helpful to involve a friend or mentor. An outsider can often help determine whether you have taken the appropriate steps or how realistic your process has been up to this point.

All the DMAIC phases are difficult, but the improve phase is often the most challenging. In this phase, develop ways to move forward to reach your goals and test your options. If the measurement results haven’t met your aspirations, then you need to rethink what’s been done up to this point.

Use your mentor to determine if you need to start over; but it’s more likely you’ll just need to make some adjustments. Maybe your career goals are realistic but your measurements were just too ambitious and require tweaking. 

Did the measure and analyze phases point to more needed skills? Has it become apparent that becoming an ASQ CQE would give you an advantage over other quality engineers? Maybe you’re already a black belt, but possibly becoming an ASQ CSSBB could significantly improve your success when working on improvement projects. 

In the control phase the challenge is to maintain your progress by learning from the past. Is there evidence that you’ve identified and corrected past errors in judgment? Have you grown personally and professionally along the way? Certainly achieving your goals are important, but maintaining success is even more essential.

There are many things you can’t control, but you certainly do have a lot of control over your professional life and career. No matter what stage of your career, the DMAIC process can help you move on to the next level. If you’re not proceeding as you hoped and don’t see a way forward, maybe a career change will give you more opportunities for success. 

As a quality professional you have all this Six Sigma knowledge, so use it to provide laser focus to a more rewarding career.