Vyas Umesh's Blog

COPC vs Six Sigma

Posted on: October 30, 2008

(Written in Sep, 2002)

Two approaches to performance management and process improvement have gained widespread acceptance in the Customer Service and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) space. COPC is used by Microsoft, AT&T, Bell South, AMEX, Dell, Compaq and Convergys, amongst others. General Electric is among the major users of Six Sigma. Some organizations, like Motorola, use both. The dilemmas faced by existing and new users are as follows.

The OR Dilemma: Which approach is more appropriate? If none are being used, which one to select? If one is being used, is there a need to switch? Can both be used together? Should both be used together?

The AND Dilemma: If none are being used, in which order to implement both? If one is being used, how to integrate the other?

The purpose of this article is to suggest ways out of the above dilemmas.

To resolve the dilemmas we need to understand what the two approaches are and what their similarities and differences are.

COPC is a Performance Management System for customer service providers and BPOs designed to increase service, quality, customer satisfaction and revenue along with reducing cost. The COPC standard was developed by buyers, providers and senior managers responsible for operational management. It is performance-centric and data-driven, using processes and people as enablers and leadership and planning as drivers. Based on the Malcolm Baldridge framework, COPC combines pragmatic business sense with stringent high performance benchmarks. With over 450 sites across the World using it, COPC is the de-facto performance management system in the Customer Service and BPO space.

Six Sigma provides a generic quantitative approach that applies to any process. For application, it needs to be tailored to the domain of the process through specific measures and analyses. Basically, it is a high performance data driven approach to analyzing root causes of business problems and solving them. It ties the outputs of a business directly to the customer requirements. The name, Six Sigma, derives from a statistical measure of a process’s capability to customer specifications. To most managers and practitioners, Six Sigma is synonymous with DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology and its associated tool kit. Six Sigma also provides an organizational framework by releasing and training process analysts (called Black Belts and Green Belts) who devote undivided attention to process improvement. User organizations have experienced significant savings by using Six Sigma.

Having described the two approaches, let us examine their similarities and differences.

Both COPC and Six Sigma are customer focused, performance centric and data driven. There is strong business goal focus in both approaches. Neither of them can be taken up as a ‘quality department initiative’ for ‘another plaque on the wall’. Both demand significant effort and managerial bandwidth. Neither of them are documentation centric. For either of them, customer satisfaction and data provide objective benchmarking criteria. Both use process control and process improvement to drive performance.

Understanding similarities between COPC and Six Sigma is necessary for solving the dilemmas. But it is not sufficient. Hence, let us now examine the differences.

Six Sigma is a generic framework. It provides an excellent toolkit for process improvement that is not domain specific. COPC is very domain specific. It has been designed exclusively for Customer Service and BPO operations. It derives specific performance and ‘best practice’ benchmarks from the experience of its founders and over 600 users in this space. Six Sigma starts with establishing a Business Process Management (BPM) framework. In the absence of a BPM, Six Sigma starts with current customers and their Critical to Quality (CTQ) parameters. It then initiates improvement projects and develops the measures and processes. This may take time and be limited by the inputs from current customers. COPC uses its insights from implementations in the Customer Service and BPO sector to help organizations leapfrog to a mature BPM very fast without reinventing the wheel. Six Sigma has evolved from manufacturing where processes have an inherent visibility. For service sectors, where service and quality measures are less tangible, Six Sigma needs definitive process mapping. COPC provides a definitive process mapping. Six Sigma needs numbers and statistics as its foundation. Without robust data capture and analysis, Six Sigma may not succeed. COPC specifies a set of standard metrics and guides through the journey of Collection, Usability, Integrity, Knowledge and Action through its CUIKA approach. Unlike COPC, Six Sigma does not provide an independent verification of performance and process maturity. COPC runs the slight risk of sustainability post certification. Although the need for re-certification drives performance, process improvement discipline may slacken. Six Sigma provides the organization-wide discipline and necessary slack for sustained and continuous improvement.

We are now ready to tackle the dilemmas.

Both COPC and Six Sigma are appropriate approaches. Both have yielded results. Both can be used together as they have many similarities. However a lot of benefits can be derived if both are used together.

When used together, COPC provides the specific Business Process Management framework that serves as a foundation for Six Sigma. COPC is a booster, a steroid that quickly takes an organization to high performance and process maturity. Six Sigma, in turn, provides the continuous organization-wide discipline and slack to sustain improvement. COPC and Six Sigma are not only synergistic, they are mutually reinforcing.

If an organization is starting without either COPC or Six Sigma, it is advisable to start with COPC. It brings sector specific processes and benchmarks to the table and drives the organization towards World Class performance. Using Six Sigma without a COPC foundation may be risky. It may be like taking up self-medication without the benefit of professional guidance. It may work, and if it does it may take very long.

To derive benefits of Six Sigma, it is advisable to introduce it as a toolkit, a problem solving approach after the COPC baseline diagnostic. This the best way to derive synergy from the two approaches. COPC provides the ready-made Business Process Management framework with the appropriate measures and processes. Six Sigma speeds up the journey towards certification through rigorous problem solving approaches for process control and process improvement.

After COPC certification, Six Sigma can be launched as an organization-wide improvement initiative. This helps sustain continuous improvement over the years and helps re-certification.

If an organization is already using COPC, the benefits of using Six Sigma listed above hold. The timing of introducing Six Sigma as an organization-wide initiative is after COPC certification.

For an organization that is only using Six Sigma, it is definitely advisable to assess itself against the COPC framework. The best way to do this is through a baseline diagnostic assessment. There is no doubt that Six Sigma is helping it to improve performance and processes. However, COPC can provide a quick check on measures, processes and priorities on the basis of its wide experiential and data base. This can boost the benefits of Six Sigma application tremendously. It can help identify the big business Ys or critical measures. It can also help gather data on the crucial Xs or influencers that can drive performance.

In conclusion, COPC v/s Six Sigma is not an ‘OR’ choice. They not only work well together, they are mutually reinforcing. To derive benefits from their synergy, COPC should precede Six Sigma implementation.


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7 Responses to "COPC vs Six Sigma"

Surely, this article can bring a lot of clarity for all those who have not used/practiced or seen either of the approaches in their career. While both can be expressed with a lot of pride, if one has practised them. Incidently, I got a chance to get trained & work on both the methodologies & really enjoyed working on both. While Six Sigma’s approach can be easily remembered & practiced once you are clear about the details of DMAIC, COPC is another eye opener & gives a different & a little more creative & detailed approach towards process improvement. It will not be advisable to compare two approaches & as mentioned in the article – both can be practised to achieve the best results….if the budgets allow :).


Hello Umesh, I’m glad I found this blog. I met you when you worked on a project for SPI Technologies back in the early 00’s.

I totally agree with you that it is not a question of either/or but which ideally comes first. I have always preached that an effective quality management system is like a computer’s operating system and six sigma (or kaizen or quality circle or lean) is an application. Without QMS, it is very difficult to implement six sigma. Basic requirements such as credible data will not be available and baseline processes will be non-standard. The possibilities of six sigma not taking off is very high if these basic necessities are not present.

Speaking about Six Sigma, small companies tend to avoid implementing it, assuming it’s only the large ones that need six sigma. However, companies of any size can benefit from six sigma. To know more visit http://tinyurl.com/mb8qtz

This is excellent!

I find that many companies/professionals do not understand the value and difference between COPC, SCP, ISO and Six Sigma in a BPO environment.

Thank you for this fantastic explanation.

Kim Ramirez


Thank you ! Your clear explaination makes me understand that both COPC and Six Sigma can be used under different circumstances. As Kim told, your explaination was fantastic.

Stish P

Thanks Umesh for such a good explanation on Six Sigma and COPC. I’m much more clear with difference between both of them now and can understand it better.


COPC is a Management System or “systems thinking” while DMAIC (Six Sigma) is an improvement approach to be utilized within the system to fix something that is broken and/or improve the system itself.

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