Steve Wittig, vice president-Six Sigma at Masco Builder Cabinet Group, offers his views on Six Sigma certification. He discusses his company’s policies on certification criteria, third-party certification and recertification for all levels of Belts.

Q: What is the certification policy at your organization for Green Belts, Black Belts and Master Black Belts?

A: The Masco Builder Cabinet Group requires Green Belts to complete 64 hours of training, pass a written examination, complete a project, and defend the project. The written examination lasts 2.5 hours and includes multiple-choice and true-false questions, calculations and hypothesis testing using Minitab software (both normal and non-normal distributions). A score of 75 percent is required and approximately 90 percent of those who take the exam pass. The project book is normally 70 to 100 PowerPoint slides and must include the use of hypothesis testing. The project defense is 1.5 hours and is delivered to a consultant and myself.

Black Belt certification requires doubling the Green Belt requirements – a total of 128 hours of classroom training, another 2.5-hour written exam, leading a project with strategic significance, completing the project in less than five months, and defending the project. New this year is the requirement that all Black Belts must already be Green Belt-certified. Our Black Belt pass rate last year was only 67 percent, with most not being able to pass the defense or meet the project deadline.

Master Black Belt certification is a development program which includes the successful completion and defense of two additional projects, completion of self-study assignments and presentations, literature reviews, benchmarking, development of case studies, teaching of at least one wave of training, and coaching of project teams by the Master Black Belt candidate. During the development program, which may last five to seven months, the candidates are mentored by a Master Black Belt supplied by our consultant.

Q: Is a strict certification policy necessary in your organization? Is it necessary in any organization?

A: Yes, we are very strict in regard to certification. We expect our Green and Black Belts to solve problems that are highly complex and/or highly cross-functional. We use other tools such as individual problem-solving, Kaizen events, value stream mapping, and the Deming cycle (plan, do, check, act) to solve the less complex and cross-functional problems. None of these require certification.

Our primary metric in evaluating our Six Sigma process is project success rate. Projects will not be successful if the people leading and participating do not have the skills to manage and solve the problems encountered in the project. We are also active in working with our customers on Six Sigma projects. All of our sales and marketing directors, national account managers and area managers (plus our vice president for sales and vice president for marketing) are at least Green Belt-certified. This allows us to launch projects that matter to our customers.

Q: Is retraining and recertification a part of your program? Why or why not?

A: Both are required by the Masco Builder Cabinet Group. Green Belt recertification requires either participating in or championing a project annually once the initial certification requirements are completed. Black Belt recertification requires leading a strategically significant project and advising/assisting on at least two other projects per year. If the requirements for recertification are not completed, the individual is not recognized as being a Green Belt or Black Belt within our organization. Retraining is required if the individual goes two years without meeting the recertification requirements.

Just as with any other skill, practice makes perfect and failure to practice leads to a deterioration in skills. As Dr. Joseph M. Juran said, “All improvement takes place project by project…and in no other way.” Our improvement efforts are only as successful as the people leading and participating in them. Green and Black Belts who understand the process they are trying to improve, understand the tools of Six Sigma, and are experienced in using them on a regular basis are the foundation of our success and the key to our future.

Q: Who developed your certification criteria? And what is it based on?

A: We use the Juran Institute to certify all our Green Belts, Black Belts and Master Black Belts. The criteria is based on what our consultant and the Masco Builder Cabinet Group believe to be “best in class” Six Sigma practitioners.

The use of outside certification also is critical to our deployment and project completion success. Our consultant brings a “brand name” to our certification and sends a message to all of our Green Belts and Black Belts that we value their development.

Our consultant is able to assure we are current in all of the latest training materials and changes in Six Sigma because they work with numerous clients in diverse industries. Finally, the outside certification makes sure everyone meets the criteria for certification – no favorites, no free passes – including the top 50 individuals in our organization who have all been certified and recertified.

Q: How do you value third-party certifications when evaluating job candidates from outside your company?

A: Six Sigma certification from an outside party is valued more in hiring candidates outside the company than “company certification.” We have seen a great deal of variation in the certification requirements from company to company – not only in the training, but also the type of projects completed.

We have a limited number of full-time Black Belt positions and none of our Green Belts are full-time in Six Sigma. We believe the project comes first, then the best people to improve the process are assigned to the project. We have found that the most difficult part of completing successful projects is understanding whom to get involved and how to get them involved – not the tools. People new to our organization tend to have difficulty understanding the processes and people involved on complex problems.

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