Organizations have been deploying and implementing Lean Six Sigma for decades. Yet, there are still many questions on how someone can get formally trained and certified in the tools, methodologies and philosophy of Lean Six Sigma. This article will be the first in a series to answer some of the most common questions about Lean Six Sigma training and certification.
Lean Six Sigma Training and Certification
The best place to start this discussion may be with a brief history of Lean, Six Sigma and the resulting combination of the two disciplines into Lean Six Sigma (LSS).
The evolution of Lean
According to the American Society of Quality (ASQ), Lean is defined as a set of management practices to improve efficiency and effectiveness by eliminating waste. The core principle of lean is to reduce and eliminate non-value adding activities and waste. Without delving too far back in time, let’s jump to the 1930’s when Toyota, under the leadership of Kiichiro Toyoda, transformed from a textile company to producing automobiles.
Based on the early work of Fredrick Taylor and Henry Ford, Shigeo Shingo and Taiichi Ohno (7 wastes of lean) of Toyota advanced Taylor and Ford’s thinking and developed the Toyota Production System (TPS), and subsequently The Toyota Way. John Krafcik coined the term Lean in his 1988 article entitled, Triumph of the Lean Production System. The concept of Lean was further advanced by James Womack and Daniel Jones in their 1996 book Lean Thinking.
Where did Six Sigma come from?
Bill Smith, an engineer at Motorola, is regarded as the Father of Six Sigma. Along with Dr. Mikel Harry, they evolved the concepts and methodologies of Six Sigma. However, Motorola still lacked a common metric for sharing and comparing improvement initiatives until Smith presented the Six Sigma calculation and idea to Motorola CEO Bob Galvin in 1985.
Six Sigma was used to describe an expected level of design margin and product quality rather than the organization-wide improvement philosophy as it is known today. Smith and Harry worked together to come up with a four-stage problem-solving approach: measure, analyze, improve, control (MAIC). A fifth stage, Define, was subsequently added resulting in today’s methodology referred to as DMAIC.
As a result of their quality improvement program, Motorola was the first company to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. As a result of Motorola’s success, Allied Signal (CEO Larry Bossidy) and General Electric (CEO Jack Welch) refined and implemented Six Sigma, starting the world wide adoption of Six Sigma and continuous improvement.
Who put Lean and Six Sigma together?
At some point, it became obvious that Lean and Six Sigma were complementary. Lean is intended to get rid of waste (muda) and Six Sigma’s goal is to reduce variation and improve the process. Therefore, it made sense to put Lean first since you wouldn’t want to reduce the variation of waste but to first eliminate it.
Authors Mike Carnell, Chuck Mills and Barbara Wheat first introduced the idea of combining Lean and Six Sigma in their 2001 book, Leaning into Six Sigma: The Path to Integration of Lean Enterprise and Six Sigma. Michael George published his book in 2002 which was titled Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma Quality with Lean Production Speed. Carnell, Mills and Wheat followed up on their original publication in 2003 by publishing Leaning Into Six Sigma : A Parable of the Journey to Six Sigma and a Lean Enterprise.
Now that you know the background and evolution of Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma here are some of the frequently asked questions about training and certification in Lean Six Sigma. Future articles will answer each of these in more detail.
FAQs on LSS Training and Certification
LSS training consists of a formalized approach to learning the tools and methodologies of LSS. The length of training will depend on the level of certification you are seeking. The higher the level, the more time and more content that will need to be presented.
Training provides you the skills while certification is the recognition and acknowledgement that you have acquired the skills and can appropriately apply them in an organizational setting. This will typically occur after testing you on the content and at the higher levels of certification, the successful completion of a project. There is a difference between being LSS Trained and LSS Certified. The difference is the completion of a project(s).
In some cases, students are just interested in getting the piece of paper or certification document. For those, it might not matter whether the training and certification organization is credible or accepted by others, including their employer.
For others, it is important that the effort and money they invest in training and certification are recognized and have value. When you answer the question of where you obtained your certification, you don’t want people to roll their eyes at you and snicker. This means they don’t consider your training and certification to be credible.
The problem is there is no central body for certification. As a result, there is not a universally accepted standard for training and certification. You must be careful and do your research to be sure your efforts and money are not wasted. The provenance of your certification is important. The famous quality expert, Dr. W. Edwards Deming, had a famous quote about teachers: The beginner is entitled to a master for a teacher. A hack can do incredible damage.
There are three common sources for getting trained and certified. The most common way is to be trained and certified by your employer. This assumes they have deployed and implemented a LSS program and that you are chosen to participate.
The second way is to work directly with an external consulting firm who offers public training and possibly certification. Not all firms will offer certification even if they provide the training. If that is the case, there are separate organizations that just do third party certification if you have been trained elsewhere.
The third source of LSS training and certification is through an educational institution. Here you must consider the reputation of the institution, the quality of the training and whether they also offer certification.
Your employer, as well as an external consulting firm and education facility might offer classroom training, online training or a hybrid of the two. There are pluses and minuses of each format. You should do a personal assessment of your preferred method of learning, your schedule, cost and convenience of each approach you are researching.
As consultants are fond of saying, It Depends. It will depend on whether you are doing it internally with your employer or using an outside resource such as a consulting firm or educational institution. It will also depend on which format you select and the level of certification you are seeking. It will vary if you are just doing training or also want to be certified.
For the lower levels of training and certification there will likely be no impact on your compensation. But, you will have the personal satisfaction of achievement and possibly by demonstrating increased value to your organization, your training and/or certification may position you for promotion which otherwise would not be available.
At the higher levels of training and certification you may decide to pursue LSS as your career path. It is common for the highest levels to earn 6 figures. More specifics will be provided in a future article.
While certain organizations providing training and certification stand out as leaders and benchmarks, the mention of a specific name is not appropriate for this article. There are things you should look for with regards to reputation, training curriculum and the certification process that can provide a guide for evaluating your options.
Deciding whether and how to pursue your LSS training is a big decision with several options to consider. The number of organizations offering LSS training and certification have proliferated over the years. This presents you the challenge of identifying the credible ones who will give you value for your money and provide you the skills necessary to competently utilize the LSS tools and methods.
Is it worth the effort and money to be LSS trained and certified? Absolutely! LSS is applicable to any organization and function. It will teach you to think differently about processes and improvement. It will make you a more valued employee whether your organization has formally adopted LSS as the way they do business or not. Future articles will dive deeper into each of the above questions to help you make the decision most beneficial to you both personally as well as professionally.