Lean Six Sigma is still fairly new to the R&D people in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, where I have been supporting its deployment. Often people ask me “What is Lean Six Sigma?” and “How did you become a Black Belt from a scientist?”

I used to give a textbook answer to the first question and then give a brief bio on how I started from research, technology development, New Product Introduction, and then got into manufacturing and the quality/process improvement area before I was introduced to Lean & Six Sigma.

That’s all good. Then, I realized there is a different answer. The answer is less about what defines Lean Six Sigma than about who we are and what we do.

One common quality among the best practitioners I know is the intrinsic motivation to learn and do the right thing, which means continuous self improvement. Personally, Lean Six Sigma is simply a scientific approach to problem solving and learning, and I love it. I am a better scientist now than ever, although I haven’t been in the lab for years.

If you ever wonder why Lean Six Sigma hasn’t made much improvement on your process, my experience taught me the following:

1. before you change the process, change the people
2. before you change the people, change yourself

Hm, you thought changing the process was hard!

For those who aren’t open to learning and aren’t motivated to improve their effectiveness, no methodology can help them improve the process. The challenge lies in changing people’s mind, including ourselves.

I recall that I had a T-shirt when I was at Georgia Tech as an undergraduate, and it has “The Top 10 Reasons Why I Became a Chemical Engineer.” They were all pretty funny (“I couldn’t join the plumber’s union.” “A hard hat makes a heck of fashion statement.”)

So what is the reason you or someone else became a Black Belt (or the like)?

10. My boss told me to.
9. It looks good on my resume.
8. ….

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