As many of you know, there are significant differences in Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt expectations and certification criteria between organizations. Typically Master Black Belt certifications focus on advanced tool knowledge, training/project coaching experience, portfolio management and program leadership to name a few of the most common ones.

While I’ve always thought that the program leadership component was a very important element, only recently did I truly realize the importance and degree of difficulty associated with this component. While a program might appear as a bigger project it does bring unique challenges and skills which I think are essential to the success of a strong Master Black Belt.

Program management is essentially the process of managing several related projects with the intent of improving overall performance, generally by significantly impacting a critical metric. In such a case, projects would deliver discrete improvements but the overall program would ensure the realization of tangible business outcomes that would not happen through only one or two projects. In most cases, this is the Lean Six Sigma way of addressing multiple linked root causes through a series of related projects, often occurring at the same time or in rapid succession.

The skills to be successful in Lean Six Sigma program management are fairly complex and include items such as:

– managing cross-functional program governance

– addressing ownership challenges where processes cross multiple executive teams with differing perspectives

– strong project coordination to ensure tight non-overlapping and prioritized project scopes

– an ability to gain a 35,000 ft strategic view of a value stream in order to quickly identify the overall projects that will need to be scoped and prioritized

– strong influence skills

Whereas Lean Six Sigma is occasionally criticized for driving positive improvements that are not materially felt by customers, the program approach does allow a significant positive customer outcome to materialize because of the concentrated force that is applied. For that reason, I definitely do think that this is a skill that should be developed for strong Master Black Belts.

The program approach that I’m advocating is different from a portfolio approach whereby a MBB would manage a series of different projects that improve a VP/GM portfolio’s performance. In the portfolio case, the key elements around governance, cross-functional collaboration and project scoping are quite distinct as they are stricly focused on enabling that functional area’s strategy.

At a future date, I will spend more time elaborating on the benefits of a program approach to Lean Six Sigma and some successful approaches in this space. In the interim, I welcome your thoughts around program management in the Lean Six Sigma space and invite you to reach out to me with questions.


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