One of the reasons for the success of Six Sigma is the methodology’s focus on people.
All the root cause analysis and quality function deployment in the world make little difference without people on hand who are trained in the particulars of Six Sigma. That’s where the Six Sigma belts come into play: White, Yellow, Green, Black and Master Black Belt.
While White and Yellow Belt cover the fundamentals of Six Sigma methodology, many people move on to earning certification as a Green Belt. Those at the Green Belt level take important roles in quality improvement projects, typically under the tutelage of a Six Sigma Black Belt.
The next logical step is to become a Black Belt themselves.
Why Black Belt?
Green Belts who wish to advance to the Black Belt level typically have a desire to have a bigger impact on an organization’s operations. Having seen the potential of a fact-based methodology that uses data and analytical tools to foster real change, many are ready to learn how to become a leader and a true change agent for their organization.
For some, the reasons for attaining Six Sigma belt status have personal connections.
Jonathan Azares, a search engine optimization expert for a higher education company, has earned a Six Sigma Black Belt and a Master of Business Administration. He said he became intrigued with the Six Sigma methodology after working with industry experts on staff at his office.
“As I learned more about the subject I came to the conclusion that since I was already a minimalist by nature, the idea of a methodology that reduces waste and inefficiencies seemed to be the ideal fit for someone like me to explore,” Azares said.
Black Belts take on the leadership role on improvement projects. The best Black Belts typically have a passion for Six Sigma, as well as an ability to communicate effectively both up and down the organizational chart.
Once they attain the knowledge they need to become a Black Belt, they have the opportunity to take the helm on business strategy. They learn to leverage the methodology and tools that make up Six Sigma to align a company’s operations and processes with overall organizational goals.
Azares said the knowledge he learned at the Green Belt level not only intrigued him, but learning the process itself proved enjoyable as well.
“I think that each person in life develops an affinity for a handful of certain subjects that really move and inspire them so when you are fortunate enough to come across something that not only peaks your interest, but also makes you passionate and compelled to learn more, you owe it to yourself to explore it to the fullest,” he said.
Black Belt Certification
Simply put, Six Sigma Black Belts are efficiency experts. Black Belts learn the methodology and its analytical tools that make for a more efficient organization and a better product or service for customers.
The knowledge learned in Black Belt certification courses gives those who earn the designation the ability to:
- Analyze a process
- Define areas that need improvement
- Implement changes
- Measure the success of those changes
- Control the process through continuous improvements
“I have an MBA, a master’s degree, and several other certifications, but the Black Belt course is one of the most rewarding journeys I have experienced,” Azares said. “It really taught me the value of being decisive and methodical with time and resources.”
Azares said one key aspect for those who take Black Belt certification courses is that “you really need to take pride and ownership, no matter what field you may work in, of having the basics memorized so that you can confidently tackle anything that comes your way knowing that you know how to conduct best practices and perform certain processes.”
Green Belt vs. Black Belt
The popularity of Six Sigma Black Belt courses has led to training and certification becoming easier to attain than ever. Schools offer Black Belt certification courses 100% online, making achieving a Black Belt more convenient than ever.
In addition to attaining expert-level knowledge in Six Sigma terminology, methodology and tools, Black Belt courses move students beyond the theoretical world of Green Belt into more practical applications of Six Sigma.
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“While I love theoretical learning and discussion, which is what you get in the Green Belt course, the Black Belt course takes it several gears up and makes you put what you learn throughout the course to the test with an intense project designed to simulate real life Six Sigma work with deliverables that correspond with each week’s exercises, readings and lectures,” said Azares.
Azares said the project, which lasted the duration of the certification course, came with deliverables due throughout the process. That required students to take their time management seriously and master the concepts of Six Sigma.
He said the project “was a challenging but great experience” and that completing the project “leaves you with a major sense of accomplishment and fulfilment.”
Practical Black Belt Applications
No methodology has much value if it cannot be applied to real-world situations. While students earning a Six Sigma Black Belt can do projects while in class, it’s another thing to apply its tools and training to challenges in their organization.
Azares said he “took ownership” of a situation at his office that involved applying the Six Sigma methodology of DMAIC, which stands for: Define, Measure, Analysis, Improve and Control.
The issue at his workplace involved people developing different ways of conducting performance metrics. He took the following steps, which illustrates a real-world application of Six Sigma.
- Defined the issue as needing a more streamlined reporting method with fewer errors
- Measured how much more effective reporting could be by focusing on accuracy
- Analyzed by reducing the amount of discrepancies from report to report
- Improved the process by creating a dashboard that had one consistent source of performance metrics data
- Controlled by implementing continuous changes, such as locking certain information segments that didn’t require updates
The latter acronym stands for Analysis of Variance. The t-test is used to test a statistical hypothesis about a population parameter. Azares said both are processes “where the end result helps me rule out all other potential outcomes so that you can get to what is likely the cause or not the cause of variation, errors, or whatever it is that you may be trying to measure.”
For example, a t-test can be run to test whether a new set of equipment under consideration for purchase by a company will provide the expected efficiency when compared to the current system. Such a test is run on a predetermined critical value and determines whether the new equipment actually will reduce inefficiencies in the desired area.
Azares said ANOVA addresses the next critical step. If the t-test proves the new equipment under consideration is more efficient than the current equipment, applying ANOVA helps to “stabilize the process by making sure all of the new equipment performs equally or as close as possible,” Azares said.
That again requires running a test based on a critical value and reducing variance to get the desired performance level from all the new equipment.
“It sounds difficult at first, but when you do figure it out and are comfortable running those kinds of tests then finding the results can be rewarding,” Azares said.
Practitioners of Six Sigma assert the methodology alters their thinking about processes and efficiencies, allowing them to think about improvement opportunities in new ways, something to which Azares attests. He stated he is more organized and linear with his solution brainstorming after completing the Six Sigma Black Belt course.
He’s also poetic about the potential of Six Sigma, comparing it to “a haiku: a style of poem writing that consists of only three lines with a limited number of syllables per line; each word has meaning and purpose and no breath is wasted.”
Asked how he might pitch the merits of Six Sigma to an organization’s executives, Azares said the success of the methodology over many years speaks for itself. But he also offered a haiku of his own:
Too much waste is sad
Six Sigma improves it all
No more goes to waste