Six Sigma vs PMP® Certification: Which One is Right for Me?

I’m sure you’ve heard this question before: “Which is better?” It’s a difficult one to answer, but it seems like the people asking are looking for an easy way out. They want someone else to make their decision and save them from making tough choices on what they should go for: PMP® Certification vs Six Sigma.

The Project Manager Benefits of Earning a PMP® Certification

Discover the many benefits of earning your Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification.

Six Sigma vs PMP® Certification

Earning professional certifications is a wise career move for project managers. But, there are multiple certifications you can earn, each with their own set of benefits. Two of the most common certifications are the Project Management Professional (PMP)® Certification and the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) certification.

If you’re asking yourself whether it’s better to get the PMP Certification or Lean Six Sigma, you’ll find that there’s no straightforward answer to that question. The two are based upon separate bodies of knowledge and require a demonstration of competency in different areas.

The best way to understand how they compare is to look why both were originally developed. The PMP Certification is based upon a demonstration of competency with A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth edition. The PMBOK® Guide was a collaborative effort between professionals worldwide to collect and consolidate best practices that would, when implemented appropriately, increase project success rates. Six Sigma is a means of improving organizational or project efficiency through the reduction of variability in processes and elimination or reduction of wasteful activities.  

Six Sigma vs PMP® Certification: The Differences Between the Certifications

Lean Six Sigma vs PMP Certification

Project managers who have earned the PMP Certification have been trained on how to lead a team to project success. This certification focuses on how to complete deliverables in a project within the constraints of scope, schedule, and cost. There are five process groups which organize the 49 processes of the PMBOK® Guide : Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.

Lean Six Sigma certification is not specifically for project work as it can be equally beneficial for the operational aspects of an organization. Lean Six Sigma certification holders rely on statistical analysis to support decisions on how to eliminate waste and decrease defects. A commonly known cycle within Six Sigma is called DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Also commonly used is Design for Six Sigma, which includes the five phases of DMADV: Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, and Verify. While DMAIC is primarily concerned with improving existing processes in an organization, DFSS and DMADV are meant to design new processes where one currently does not exist or needs to be replaced.

Now that we’ve explored how these two certifications differ, let’s look at where they overlap.

The Similarities Between PMP® and Six Sigma Certification

While both certifications are based on underlying bodies of knowledge, you may have noticed in the previous section that the PMP and the Six Sigma certifications have separate focuses. The PMBOK® Guide is primarily meant to improve effectiveness (project success) while Lean Six Sigma is primarily meant to improve efficiency (completing work for the least amount of time, money, and resources). While one objective may incidentally improve the other, the best way to ensure maximized effectiveness and efficiency is to ensure that your organization adopts both bodies of knowledge.

Both the PMP and Six Sigma Certification hold value, not only in the project management community, but in the business world, too. These two certifications give project managers a competitive advantage over other applicants, making them enticing hires for any organization. PMP credential holders, for example, earn 23% more than their non-certified project management peers.

Both certifications are recognized globally, meaning certification holders have a variety of international and domestic opportunities. The two certifications can be applied to numerous industries, and the certification holders aren’t the only ones who benefit. The organizations that hire them can count on successful projects managed by productive employees.

It’s estimated that 70% of projects fail, and failed projects can be costly for organizations, making it imperative that they have experienced professionals on their team to ensure project funds aren’t wasted. While there are a variety of reasons a project can fail, the presence of a project manager with either the PMP Certification or Lean Six Sigma can mitigate the risk of failure.

Either certification can have a significant positive impact on your salary. PMI salary data shows that adding a PMP certification can increase your salary by 22%. On the other hand, adding a Lean Six Sigma belt can increase your earning potential by 19%. So if your goal is increase your salary, either certification will help you achieve your goal.

How to Earn the PMP® and Six Sigma Certification

Now that you know more about PMP and Lean Six Sigma certifications, let’s look at how you can earn these certifications and which one is best for you to pursue.

Because the PMP certification can be applied to such a wide variety of industries, this is the best place for many project managers to start. In fact, you may already meet some of the PMP certification requirements. If so, you should definitely pursue this first.

The PMP certification exam is administered by the Project Management Institute, the organization that outlines the requirements for taking the exam. Depending on your educational history, there are two paths you can take to be eligible to the take the PMP certification exam.

If you have a bachelor’s degree or global equivalent, you need:

  • A minimum of three years or 36 months of unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience
  • 35 contact hours of formal project management education

If you have a high school diploma, associate’s degree, or global equivalent, you need:

  • A minimum of five years or 60 months of unique, non-overlapping professional project management experience
  • 35 contact hours of formal project management education

Are you able to meet these requirements now, or are you close to meeting them? If so, earning your PMP credential is the best way to improve your project management abilities and increase your earning potential.

Maybe you already have your PMP credential or you plan to pursue your Lean Six Sigma certification after you earn your PMP credential. Six Sigma is mathematically driven and as such does not find itself subject to the same protections of intellectual property. As such, there is no single certifying body. Generally accepted levels of certification follow a multi-tiered structure, with prerequisites and education requirements varying by organization:

  • White Belt – The White Belt is the introductory certification for Six Sigma. People with this certification have an understanding of the most basic level of the Six Sigma Methodology. It is a good starting off point for seeking further certification.
  • Yellow Belt – During this training level, participants focus on the theory of Six Sigma, including essential tools and strategies to improve processes.
  • Green Belt – Once you reach the Green Belt, you’re considered an expert in Six Sigma. You will learn more about data collection and are required to participate in a Six Sigma initiative.
  • Black Belt – As a Black Belt, you are responsible for managing White, Green, and Yellow Belts. You have a mastery of Six Sigma, and you’re equipped to train others in Six Sigma.

With each belt you obtain, your earning potential increases. You can also take courses to earn your Yellow and Green Belts. These courses will provide all the knowledge you need to qualify for these belts, and put you on the right track to eventually being a Black Belt.

PMP® or Six Sigma Certification: Which Is Right For Your Organization?

Have you been debating between Lean Six Sigma vs PMP® Certification? While there are many different approaches to project management, they both have their own pro’s and con’s.

If you’re in the project management industry, it never hurts to earn a certification. This adds legitimacy to your resume, and makes you an enticing candidate for any organization. As you consider which certifications to earn, it’s wise to choose a course provider to walk you through the process. With the right course provider, you’ll be able to easily navigate the certification process and earn either your PMP Certification or Lean Six Sigma.

Do you want to find out how you can earn the PMP certification? Download this comprehensive guide on the process now. If you prefer the Lean Six Sigma certification, visit our Green Belt and Yellow Belt pages. 

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO