In the musical Camelot, there is a landmark scene in which King Arthur discusses his dream of a new legal system with Pellinore, the scraggly old king that Arthur adopted into his court. This new legal system would have trials led by a judge and the ultimate verdict would be decided by a group of the defendant’s peers. Arthur continues by describing how the jury will be composed of people completely unfamiliar with the defendant. Pellinore retorts, “How can the jury possibly make a judgment about the defendant if they don’t know him?”

“That’s precisely the point!” exclaims Arthur. “They can render a fair judgment because they don’t know the defendant!” The old king exits in disgust, shaking his head as he goes away.

Just as a jury functions best when it is made up of unbiased peers of the defendant, so may Black Belts and Champions during a Six Sigma deployment. By employing Black Belts and Champions from outside the area that is being improved, organizations will receive a more objective, and, therefore, more helpful guide to process improvement.

From Camelot to Company

A large, global organization was about one and a half years into a major implementation of Six Sigma for software. Groups had been trained as Black Belts and Master Black Belts. Several Green Belt waves were in the planning stages. Short- and long-term goals had been set. As this scenario unfolds, a new wave of Black Belt training is just beginning. A group of new expert Master Black Belt contractors has just been brought in to coach and mentor the new Black Belt trainees.

When the first week of training ends, the candidates assemble with their assigned Master Black Belt mentors to plan future work and interactions on their projects. Project charters are thin and Champions have not been assigned in many cases. The mentors begin to question the Black Belt candidates to get additional details about the processes under study. The Black Belts explain that they know nothing about the problem or the process to be improved and are from a totally different organization.

The Master Black Belts are shocked by this lack of knowledge and ask how the Black Belts were assigned to the problem if they know nothing about the project, the process or the business area. The Black Belt candidates explain that the organization’s strategy is to assign Black Belt candidates to projects outside their areas of expertise. After absorbing the initial shock, much like the old king from Camelot, many of the mentors then think the Black Belts will depend on the Champions to fill in the unknowns about the project, process and business area; but, they are mistaken. The Champions are also selected from areas outside of the process being investigated.

Why would an organization establish such a set of strategies? There are several reasons.

Eight Benefits of “Know-nothing” Black Belts and Champions

1. Fostering a more objective view – One of the goals in pursuing Six Sigma projects is to have an objective, data-driven investigation of the problem at hand. By using Black Belts and Champions from outside the politics of the process, an arms-length view is assured; such Black Belts and Champions bring no baggage with them that will negatively affect the project efforts.

2. Eliminating pre-conceived solutions – Sometimes Six Sigma teams will propose projects that are not problems, but are instead pre-conceived solutions masked as DMAIC projects. Often the Champion is the advocate of such “solutions to be implemented,” which can put political pressure on the Black Belt to point their work toward this conclusion. Having both the Black Belt and the Champion based outside the home of the process under study virtually eliminates this problem.

3. Forcing full team participation – In many Six Sigma projects, the Black Belt performs a large percentage of the work. This can arise for two reasons: a) the Black Belt decides to downplay the rest of the team and instead push their own personal agenda, or b) due to pressure from the home leadership, the team members do not deliver on the time commitments originally agreed to in the project charter. Black Belts and Champions who are not knowledgeable about the problem, process or organization being reviewed, however, must push and utilize the entire team to make progress on the project. Because a lack of project progress would be obvious in this scenario, required action would surface early to assure team involvement.

4. Enforcing unbiased data analysis – Unbiased, data-driven analysis is a top Six Sigma priority, and using Black Belts and Champions from outside the process assures this objective view. These people have no pre-conceived views about the project; therefore, they are forced to rely on the data to understand the problem and to drive solutions.

5. Reducing the tendency to protect turf – Black Belts and Champions often try to protect their turf as problems and issues are investigated. This is a natural tendency for people working within the politics of most corporate cultures. But when Black Belts and Champions are free from home organizational pressure, they can better focus on the problem to be resolved.

6. Increasing the possibility of cross-organizational adoption – Typical Six Sigma deployment teams often see an inward view of process improvement. When the team is made up of more than simply local participants, however, it gains the benefits of diverse views and usually finds better results. Additionally, the benefits derived from the project efforts are more likely to be adopted outside the local focus because there was greater cross-organizational participation.

7. Stretching the Black Belt team to use more tools – Because pre-conceived solutions are less likely to occur in this scenario, the team is forced to use more of the Six Sigma tools and methods to investigate and solve the assigned problem. In a study at a large financial organization in 2004, data showed that projects without predefined solutions used nearly twice as many tools throughout the DMAIC process as projects with predefined solutions.

8. Increasing overall organizational knowledge – When Black Belts and Champions from outside the problem, process and organization are put in a deployment team, it promotes a cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge that is beneficial to the organization beyond the focus of Six Sigma. In the organization being described above, a strict rule is that potential Black Belts and Champions must be strong performers with high potential for advancement; therefore, getting these people involved across organizational boundaries will be good for the company as a whole.

Keeping Fresh

Change-management leaders are always driving participants to look “outside the box” to make improvements in a Six Sigma implementation. Choosing BBs and Champions from outside their home organizations fits this bill, and can provide many benefits. After all, no leader wants to become the scraggly old king from Camelot.

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