Which is more important initially in a Six Sigma deployment – Belt training or project benefits? Without quality training of project leaders, a Six Sigma program is unlikely to be successful. So there is no question of its importance. Yet the purpose of Six Sigma is to make a positive difference to the bottom line via an endless series of process improvement projects. So while critical, Six Sigma training, which leads to certifications like Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt and others, is just a means to an end. Certifications are not an end in themselves. In Six Sigma parlance, certifications are the Xs, or the causes, and benefits are the big Y, or the effect.

It is easy to see how some organizations’ attention is so strongly focused on training Green Belts and Black Belts. That training is one of the biggest overheads of any deployment, not only initially but through the program. While the quality of training must be ensured, organizations must constantly remind themselves that the reason for a Six Sigma deployment is actual dollar benefits from the projects their trained staff undertake. Without this emphasis projects can just lose steam along the way and never be completed. When that happens not only does the investment in training and effort go waste, managers and employees can become disillusioned and see Six Sigma as just a passing fad.

Optimum Rigor in Six Sigma Projects

Only as much rigor is important in a project as is required to effect the required process change and demonstrate dollar benefits to the customer. Many times the aspiring Green Belts and Black Belts are asked to use tools and templates which are not really required for a complete analysis. Spending valuable resource time in preparing documentations and presentations which will not be used to meet the above end is not justified.

Not the entire gamut of Six Sigma tools and techniques are required in each and every real world Six Sigma project. Some projects can demonstrate benefits by using effectively a simple Pareto diagram or a fishbone diagram, while some others might require an elaborate quality function deployment or design of experiments. A comprehensive process mapping exercise can be executed by using just two simple tools – level 1, level 2, level 3 deployment flowcharts and an failure mode and effect analysis. Thus the rigor used should be proportional to the complexity of the project and not be constant across all projects. With the exception of tools like the charter and the high level process map, which are required in every project, only tools which fit the project’s purpose should be used. Mandating the use of a plethora of tools in a Six Sigma project in order to get certified is wasteful considering the amount of resource time spent in manipulating and adjusting the available inputs to the tools.

The Certification Criteria

Yet it is still important to ensure that every certified practitioner should know almost 90 percent of the tools, techniques and terminology used in Six Sigma. The question is then, if they do not use these tools in their projects how can they be certified as proficient in Six Sigma. The apparent contradiction can be addressed via specific case studies which demonstrate the actual usage of the major tools a mandatory part of the certification criteria. Solving these case studies will not only allow Green Belts and Black Belts to be familiar with using the tool but also appreciate the right circumstances in which the tool should be used for solving problems. Also a Six Sigma project completion with optimum rigor and quantified benefits should be a mandatory criterion for certification. This will go a long way in shifting the focus to the actual benefits of a project instead of a mindset of just using the tools.

When evaluating the performance of Green Belts and Black Belts the criteria should focus on how effectively the process changes have been implemented and how rigorously the benefits have been quantified. Such details as the number of tools used, number of slides in tollgates, etc. are secondary and should not be considered as major roadblocks for certification or Six Sigma project completion. Mandating a complete project for certification and having a tracking mechanism for the dollar benefits for a specified period of time after the project is completed, not only ensures better returns from Six Sigma but also lets people appreciate the project’s true value.

A Focus on Benefits

Most often the organization’s leadership team or project sponsor is interested in knowing only what the outcome of the Six Sigma projects was and how the solutions can be implemented. And this is logical, considering the fact that they expect a return on their investments. The methodology and rigor used in the projects is essential only to the extent of arriving at the right conclusions and capturing their attention in the beginning. In the end, any management or sponsor is primarily interested in how much savings can be realized and how quickly the solutions can be implemented with what constraints. They are least bothered or interested in the tools used unless they are exceptionally Six Sigma savvy.

Though the importance of certifications and the right rigor in projects cannot be underrated, the use of unnecessary rigor at the expense of successfully closing strategic Six Sigma projects and rewarding deserving candidates cannot be justified. Master Black Belts mentoring projects should decide the optimum level of rigor required in a particular project. This can go a long way toward Belt candidates not losing the enthusiasm with which they began their training, and for projects being completed on time.

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