Plain and simple, the illusive key to the realization of six sigma is knowledge. In today’s economy, the capability to harness and deploy knowledge constitutes an essential form of power. It is a form of power than can develop the momentum for and delivery of quantum change.

Knowledge represents a corporation’s greatest source of leverage, more than any other factor, including even the idea of measurement, and most certainly the idea of mastering and applying classic quality tools and methods. Simply stated, the functionality of Black Belts and the other six sigma roles can be best characterized as idea mongers, not tool masters – even though many have erroneously characterized Black Belts as the latter.

We must understand that the primary purpose of a Black Belt is to provide project leadership. Naturally, we also recognize that Black Belts must often wield certain tools in the execution of this aim. Black Belts cannot, by any stretch, be considered to possess the same level of tool mastery as, say, statisticians or quality engineers (CQE). In true self-fulfilling manner, the more one tries to circumscribe the Black Belt role with the notion of tool mastery, the more they form the notion that Black Belts are not much different from statisticians or certified quality engineers.

In reality, we should focus our energy on articulating why Black Belts are not like statisticians or CQEs. More specifically, we should recognize that; a) there is no singular definition of what a Black Belt is or does, as this varies from corporation to corporation, and b) all projects lead by Black Belts are different and, therefore, require the use of different tools. Given this, it is much more accurate and appropriate to view Black Belts as idea-rich project leaders who often require and rely on the technical expertise and consult of tool-rich subject matter experts.

As such, Black Belts spend most of their time and brainpower measuring, structuring, dissecting, and analyzing performance problems – while the tool masters (statisticians, quality engineers) spend most of their time and brains on improving and controlling problems. While the former activity is by nature one of penetration (pioneer), the latter activity is by nature one of preservation (settler).

As idea mongers, Black Belts and other six sigma roles naturally have a different working orientation and require a different skill set than tool masters – which is really the crux of this issue. In their roles, therefore, they learn and apply such big ideas as uncovering causal leverage, questing for entitlement, realizing the path to breakthrough, entrenching deterministic reasoning, and vaccinating against variation – just to mention a very few.

Given this, an appropriate and effective curricula for each of the six sigma roles must be comprised of key and guiding concepts, not specific quality tools – a thought that cannot be fully developed in the space of this forum. Suffice it to say that a sound six sigma curriculum design should be fixed in terms of central ideas but flexible in terms of how those ideas are interrelated – as well as their relative weight and order in the total scheme of things.

Thus, we are compelled to concede that there is no standardized listing or prioritization of tools. Such a listing must remain flexible so as to meet the dynamic needs of local organizations. Of course, the argument against certification logically flows from this reasoning.

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