The first Black Belt project is just that – a training project.  It is not a platform from which to attempt solving world hunger, or the like.  The purpose of a training project is two fold.  The first purpose is related to the reinforcement of learning.  The second purpose is to realize an operational objective of some type. 

If the first project is too rich in scope, depth, or performance expectation, the Black Belt’s experience will likely prove counter-productive.  On the other hand, if the first project is too light (in terms of application gravity or potential benefit), it will likely be viewed as insignificant and therein fail to carry momentum – personally and operationally. 

From this perspective, it should be quite apparent that a leader’s ability to properly scale a Black Belt project is more art than science.  However, there are some generally broad criteria (guidelines) that can greatly assist in this effort.  From a lofty perspective, the likelihood of successfully completing a “first project” can be significantly enhanced if:

1) The project targets only one CTQ (for purposes of improvement).
2) The target CTQ should be measurable – conveniently and economically so.
3) The CTQ should have a well-defined set of performance standards.
4) The CTQ should not involve destructive testing or excessive preparation.
5) The CTQ can be readily linked to some form of value.
6) The project must be “complete-able” and “conclude-able.”
7) The CTQ and related CTP’s must have a clear line-of-sight connection.
8) The underlying process must not cut across organizational boundaries.
9) The CTP’s must be capable of being manipulated or otherwise altered.
10) The process owner must set aside committed resources for the project.
11) The Black Belt must be given autonomous control over those dedicated resources.
12) The nature of the project must “match” the nature of the curriculum.
13) The project should be consistent with the Black Belt’s professional experience.
14) The Black Belt must have open access to the instructor during project execution.
15) The Black Belt (and instructor) must be a part of the project selection process.

Of course, these are just a few of the “success factors” that come to mind.  Perhaps the biggest killer of “first projects” is a management team that wants to put Six Sigma through an “application acid test.”  In such cases, the management team selfishly selects projects that have traditionally defied solution.  Of course, we should not hold such an expectation of unseasoned Black Belts – no more that we should expect new MBA’s to save a failing business.

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