At first blush, the comparison between C3 and Six Sigma (6s) seems logical. Both include a set of methodologies, concepts, and tools focused on delivering customer satisfaction. Both require active management support to be successful. Both rely on the training and deployment of teams to drive visible improvement. With a deeper examination of the methodologies, the comparison loses its binary nature.  It’s more than “either/or” or “this one or that one.”  The comparison becomes a relationship of components in the Business Success System (see graphic).

Taking a look at a comparison of topic areas helps to understand the relationship and interface of the methodologies.

Michael Mosby

Michael Mosby

Six Sigma Expert, San Francisco Bay Area


C3: The purpose of C3 is to change the culture of an organization so its strategic direction, product/service design, and daily operations are aligned with customer priorities.

Six Sigma: The purpose of Six Sigma is to drive organizations to design and produce products or services that meet customer requirements. This drive is characterized as a strive for perfection in the form of a process that must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities (6 sigma, sigma level = 6).

A comparison of the purposes begins to clarify the breadth and depth of the results each attempts to achieve. C3 reaches for a strategic level result of cultural change. C3’s purpose is based on principles, divergent thinking, transformation, paradigm shifts, and innovation. 6s focuses on a tactical-level result of marching toward process performance perfection. 6s’s purpose is based on convergent thinking,
incremental improvement, and root-cause analysis.


C3: The strategy of C3 is to ask and answer Five Key Questions: What do you do? Who do you do it for?  What do they want? How can we dramatically improve their satisfaction and our performance? What is the strategy and process for transforming the culture?

Six Sigma: The strategy of Six Sigma is to solve for the equation Y=f(x) through the implementation of a measurement-based strategy that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects.

A comparison of the strategies leads one to depict the application of art versus science in each of the strategies. The C3 strategy feels like it applies more art than science. While the underlying foundation of C3 concepts is very definitely rooted in science, multiple disciplines, and widely accepted research, the execution of asking and answering the Five Key Questions utilizes an extensive understanding of communication, behavior, and motivation.

Another way to consider the science contrast between the two approaches is more a matter of comparing hard science to social science. Whereas 6s, Lean, and other approaches use statistics and math, C3 uses linguistics as math. C3 uses word rules that enable language to be predictive, like math. The rigorous scientific method used by C3 relies on linguistics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, even religion, and other social sciences. It is unconventional. More traditional, manufacturing-oriented approaches use the engineering-friendly statistics. Magic can happen both ways. C3 speaks more emphatically for customers, applying the scientific method to the squishy area of customer perceptions, translating the subjective into the objective. Of course, the entire focus on products and customers applies the same level of linguistic discipline.

Another issue, for what it’s worth, is that statistics typically used by Lean/6s tend to be inferential statistics. Reliability and confidence of the sample findings is of paramount importance. With C3, population statistics and validity get more emphasis. When Rob talks about how inadequate surveys tend to be, he is really lamenting the neglect of validity in composing survey questions. It is true that repeated
use of a survey may yield very comparable results. But if we don’t ask the right questions, we only find out answers to the often producer-centered and irrelevant things we do ask. This latter issue in not a 6s problem. Both the 6s and C3 approaches to the use of statistical data produce compelling, unimpeachable results leaders can act upon.

One last comment is that statistically based 6s improvement tends to focus on what goes wrong. C3 is aspirational, driving toward what could be. These are merely biases that do not diminish their effectiveness to achieve improvement. The glass half-full versus half-empty are perhaps the divergent ways of thinking of the two.

So the strategy of 6s seems to apply more science than art. Because 6s is, by its very nature, based on statistical analysis and the scientific method, the solution for the Y=f(x) equation is usually characterized by a regression expression defining the relationship of causal factors (x) to process output (Y).

Road Map

A comparison of the road maps further exemplifies the divergent and convergent approaches of the methodologies. C3 begins with an outward gaze to customers in determining their desired outcomes. C3 then works backward and aligns organizational systems and processes with customer-desired outcomes. 6s begins with the definition of a problem to solve and the process within which the problem exists. 6s then utilizes data and root-cause analysis to pinpoint critical causal factors impacting the output of the identified process.

C3 Road Map

  1. Outcome Definition
  2. Product Identification
  3. Customer Role Definition
  4. Expectation Identification
  5. Process Design
  6. Measurement

Six Sigma Road Map

Existing processes

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. Improve
  5. Control (DMAIC)

Six Sigma Road Map

New processes or products

  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analyze
  4. Design
  5. Verify (DMADV)

Primary Focus

C3: The primary focus of C3 is VOC. Because of this focus, C3 cuts through the confusion and multiple definitions of customers by defining a customer based on the role he or she plays in relation to theproduct. C3 customer roles are end user, broker, and fixer. The VOC is paired with VOL. The emphasis is to assure the VOC and VOL are both articulated, visibly aligned, and consciously deployed. The Six Levers are the means by which the VOL is deployed and the culture is changed. C3 specifically addresses how customer focus is to permeate all internal relationships within the organization, not just those with external customers.

Six Sigma: The primary focus of Six Sigma is voice of the process (VOP). Because of this focus, 6s identifies critical causal factors causing process variation and defects. However, the ability of 6s to identify customers is weak and can easily mislead a project team to solve problems for the wrong people.

Based on C3 and 6s purposes, strategies, and road maps, it is evident that C3’s primary focus is VOC and 6s’s primary focus is VOP. Inherent in these foci is each methodology’s understanding of delivering customer satisfaction. Both share the goal to deliver customer satisfaction, albeit from different viewpoints.

C3 focuses on determining customer-desired outcomes and how those outcomes are achieved through using process outputs (products). C3 operates under the assumption that utilizing reverse engineering to create effective and efficient processes based on customer-desired outcomes will achieve customer satisfaction. One of the main tools C3 uses is linguistics, whose purpose is to reduce or eliminate ambiguity inherent in understanding customers and communicating VOL. 6s focuses on improving process performance to entitlement through reduction of variation and elimination of defects.  6s operates under the assumption that determining the optimal levels to set critical causal factors will result in optimal process outputs production that will result in customer satisfaction.

Natural Approach

C3: The natural approach of C3 is proactive. It begins with the end in mind. C3 is about defining desired outcomes.

Six Sigma: The natural approach of Six Sigma is reactive. Poor process performance triggers process improvement projects. Six Sigma is about fixing problems.


C3 and 6s: Both methodologies rely on trained teams for deployment. C3 uses teams for big wins but relies on the VOL for pervasive cultural transformation that is not strictly dependent on team projects.

Fundamentally Different and Exist in Harmony

At this point, one may have formed an opinion of value for C3 versus 6s. In reality, that value judgment would be an unfair and likely inaccurate lens. Upon zooming out and looking at the Business Success System (graphic), C3 lives in the Strategy circle. Six Sigma lives in the Process circle. In this context, the comparison between C3 and 6s has less meaning than the interface of C3 and 6s. The strengths of C3 address the gaps in 6s, and the rigor of 6s augments the ability of C3 to prove the achievement of customer-desired outcomes.

A Practical Example … Go Fix HR

One of my first projects as a Master Black Belt came from the director of operations of a large institution.  The director of operations called me into his office and said, “Go fix HR (human resources department).”  Logically, I asked, “What would you like me to fix?”
He simply repeated the directive, “Go fix HR!”

The following is a synopsis of how I answered my boss’s call.
Using C3, I formed a team to identify a list of desired outcomes for HR end user (hiring managers), broker (senior leadership, compensation, and security), and fixer (recruiting and employment) customers.  The team identified the primary product of HR to be a qualified new hire. The most important (and most underserved) end user expectation was a quick hire decision from a streamlined hiring process.  Once the process was defined, the team used 6s to determine the critical causal factors to the long hiring cycle time. Once identified, the team created process-improvement initiatives to reduce hiring cycle time while hiring high-quality new hires. As a result, I was able to report to the director of operations that hiring cycle time was reduced by 70 percent and hiring-manager satisfaction increased to 98 percent.


So the question for me isn’t “How does C3 compare with Six Sigma?”


The question is “How do I leverage these two powerful methodologies to satisfy customers?”