Good vs. Great Black Belts

In a prior post I reflected on desirable attributes for a Black Belt. After mentoring numerous Black Belts I can tell you what makes a good one, however I am wondering if one can statistically quantify a good vs. great belt.

Sure, there are tons of metrics that can be used to measure a belt:hard project savings, time to complete project, project audit success rate, etc.; yet factors such as department, input in project selection, and project team members often make it hard for an “apples to apples” comparison of two Black Belts.

There is the perception from some of my fellow colleagues that great Black Belts are the ones who go on to management and leadership positions, however the basic law of supply and demand for human capital in the workforce makes me think that perception isn’t always true.

Another belief I’ve heard is that great Black Belts are those who can stay in their role for at least two years which gives the implication that good Black Belts are likely to be more easily discouraged and seek other opportunities sooner. Again, I find fault with this logic due to supply and demand. In fact, one could just as easily argue the opposite- great Black Belts are in their positions less than good ones because their talent is more recognized and they are easier to transition into another job.

Aside from comparison of performance review ratings (which would only work under identical management), I’m at a loss and am beginning to think that it may be statistically impossible to quantify Black Belts in terms of good vs. great. I would love to hear from other mentors, especially those involved in Human Resources, as to how one can truly quantify this measurement.

Comments 8

  1. Andrew Downard

    I hear variations on this concern all this time, and I just don’t buy it. Measuring Black Belt performance is no harder or easier than measuring anything else in a noisy environment. True, there are many environmental factors that vary from BB to BB, or from project to project. But that’s no different than (for example) two DOE runs in a noisy process environment. The concerns are the same, and the methods for dealing with those concerns are the same.

    As for a simple comparison of the "quality" of one BB to another…well, that’s cetainly going to be difficult. You are looking at a two data points for a single Y and trying to understand Y=f(x). It’s just not possible. But you listed out several potential x’s in your post, and Six Sigma is of course very useful for figuring out which of those x’s are important. You just need to do the same kind of work you’d do on a project, including collecting data on both x’s and y’s and eventually figuring out Y=f(x). Do it successfully and you’ll know not only what makes a good BB in general for your organization, but even what makes a good BB for project type A in department B (or whatever your x’s are).

    I think the hard part is metricizing performance (x’s and y’s) in the first place. And it’s only hard because people are squeamish about it. You need to decide what’s important, and then figure how to measure it. You’ll proably get it wrong a few times before you get it right. But don’t let that stop you from getting started.


  2. Andrew Downard

    If you want to email me, I’d be happy to share some specific metrics for Black Belt performance. I do think that every organization needs to develop their own (because you’ll want to drive slightly different behaviors based on your own specific needs), but you’d be welcome to look at the ones I have as an example if you wish.


  3. Gary

    It’s like the comparison of Quality and Reliability, it’s what happens over time.

    The great Black Belts are not the ones who go on to management, they are champions with Black Belt Experience. They can also be poor (did the whole SS thing for the wrong reasons, good, or great.

    The great ones have at least the following attributes –

    1) A great understanding of the tools and roadmap, but does not apply them in a dogmatic fashion.

    2) A thirst to continue learning, knowing that BB training is the beginning of learning, not the pinnacle.

    3) A willingness to teach any who are willing to learn.

    4) A passion to find great problems, important to their organization, and fix them permanently.

    5) Always has too much on their plate.

  4. systhinc

    I agree totally with Gary’s first four points. The fifth, however, is not a characteristic of a great black belt, but of a project pipeline that is not flowing smoothly. A great black belt and a good champion or mbb know when plates are full and transfer the load to those whose plates are not.

    I would add innovative solutions that go beyond expectations and minimize human displacements as well.

  5. Mike Carnell

    You guys seem to have missed the point of the question. Holly is looking for data and asks specifically for a way to statistically evaluate good or great.

    I agree with Gary’s list, except number 5, in general terms but I wouldn’t try to sort a good/great BB with it. I don’t agree with systhinc that it has anything to do with Project pipeline flow it is a personal issue around time management and delegation and occasionally say "I am busy see someone else."

    See Gary Cone’s blog for data.

    Just my opinion.

  6. Chris Cheeseman

    Andrew, I would be interested to see those metrics, we are always looking for means to measure performance and we welcome ideas from all.

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