By Harry Rever, MBA, PMP, CSSMBB, CQM, CQC | Director of Six Sigma, IIL
Is becoming a certified Six Sigma Black Belt something you should consider?
Well, that depends, of course, on what kind of person you are and what you want to do with your career. The SSBB certainly isn’t for everyone. For most people, Project Management Professional (PMP®) and/or Six Sigma Green Belt certification are all they will ever want or need. As a matter of fact, I’d say having both PMP and SSGB certifications is an almost perfect situation for the vast majority of people.
However, for those of you who are interested in taking process improvement to the next level, as well as influencing how decisions are made within a company, there isn’t anything better than becoming a Black Belt.
Why is that? Well, it’s pretty simple really. Black Belts are highly trained in the art of improving results using lean concepts and advanced statistical analysis techniques. They have the added responsibility of influencing day-to-day business decisions. Black Belts are project managers, mentors, coaches, trainers, team leaders and, if utilized effectively, should be put in influential leadership positions reporting directly to the highest levels in an organization.
As a Six Sigma believer, my opinion is that Six Sigma Black Belts should be the “best of the best”; they are the go-to people for the most challenging process improvement efforts a company faces. Competent and experienced Six Sigma Black Belts are pretty hard to find, but a good one is worth his or her weight in gold!
So what is the difference between project managers, Six Sigma Green Belts, and Six Sigma Black Belts?
Well, they all manage projects. Project managers are trained in the art of managing projects. Six Sigma practitioners generally focus on process improvement oriented projects using quantitative tools to help with decision making.
Green Belts are trained on how to use the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) improvement steps to manage projects and improve processes. Green Belts learn project management techniques as well as what and how to measure. They are also trained on analysis tools and techniques up to and including graphical analysis.
Black Belts, on the other hand, take it a step further. They not only learn about how to improve processes, they are also trained on many advanced statistical analysis techniques which take root cause analysis and improvement efforts to the next level.
Typical topics covered in Black Belt training, in addition to training in the DMAIC steps, are listed in the diagram on the left. A Six Sigma Black Belt doesn’t need to be a statistician; however, he or she does need to have a comfort level with data collection and analysis and the practical application of statistical tools to a variety of situations.
Ultimately, a Six Sigma Black Belt realizes that to improve results, one must improve the process. They know that opinions matter little in the long run and that quantifiable improvements are what business leaders are looking for from projects.
Black Belts understand the concept of variation; a concept many leaders do not appreciate or simply ignore. They also realize that variation is truly the enemy of quality and is the primary source for knee-jerk reactions and emotional decision making. Reducing variation is the foundation for improvement, thus Black Belts lead the charge in reducing variance in processes so results can more easily be improved.
Black Belts take the lead in teaching and counseling operations personnel and business leaders on how to reduce variation, make better decisions, and ultimately improve results. They are the “voice of reason”, in an otherwise emotional or bureaucratic organization, when it comes to what to measure and how to go about improving results. After all, for any business, it’s all about improving results.
What does “improved results” mean? Simply stated, it means less variation in output and quantifiable, sustained improvement in key metrics of the business. The benefit of being a competent, experienced Six Sigma Black Belt is having the ability to move key measures and to achieve breakthrough performance. It’s not easy to improve results. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Six Sigma Black Belts are trained in the art of process improvement.
What makes a successful Six Sigma Black Belt?
Six Sigma Black Belts must be competent and skilled in many areas including statistical analysis, project management, leadership, stakeholder relations, communication, and problem-solving. They must be able to balance statistical significance with practical application. They need to be able to lead change, stand up to ever-present resistance, and effectively influence decision making. Becoming a certified Six Sigma Black Belt is definitely not for everyone; it requires a high degree of interest and commitment. But for those of us who enjoy the challenge of improving processes and improving results, the benefits are well worth the time and effort.
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Harry Rever is Director of Six Sigma for International Institute for Learning. He is a dynamic presenter and practitioner of Six Sigma and Project Management with an innate ability to teach the concepts of quality improvement in an understandable and, more importantly, applicable manner. With over twenty years as a project manager, process improvement consultant and trainer, Harry has numerous examples of what works (and what doesn’t) when managing projects and applying statistical process improvement concepts. Harry has trained thousands of employees on Six Sigma, process improvement, and project management, and he frequently presents at conferences and seminars. He is a senior member of ASQ and a member of PMI.
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