iSixSigma

How I Became a Black Belt

Lean Six Sigma is still fairly new to the R&D people in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, where I have been supporting its deployment. Often people ask me “What is Lean Six Sigma?” and “How did you become a Black Belt from a scientist?”

I used to give a textbook answer to the first question and then give a brief bio on how I started from research, technology development, New Product Introduction, and then got into manufacturing and the quality/process improvement area before I was introduced to Lean & Six Sigma.

That’s all good. Then, I realized there is a different answer. The answer is less about what defines Lean Six Sigma than about who we are and what we do.

One common quality among the best practitioners I know is the intrinsic motivation to learn and do the right thing, which means continuous self improvement. Personally, Lean Six Sigma is simply a scientific approach to problem solving and learning, and I love it. I am a better scientist now than ever, although I haven’t been in the lab for years.

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If you ever wonder why Lean Six Sigma hasn’t made much improvement on your process, my experience taught me the following:

1. before you change the process, change the people
2. before you change the people, change yourself

Hm, you thought changing the process was hard!

For those who aren’t open to learning and aren’t motivated to improve their effectiveness, no methodology can help them improve the process. The challenge lies in changing people’s mind, including ourselves.

I recall that I had a T-shirt when I was at Georgia Tech as an undergraduate, and it has “The Top 10 Reasons Why I Became a Chemical Engineer.” They were all pretty funny (“I couldn’t join the plumber’s union.” “A hard hat makes a heck of fashion statement.”)

So what is the reason you or someone else became a Black Belt (or the like)?

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10. My boss told me to.
9. It looks good on my resume.
8. ….

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Comments 9

  1. catı tamirleri

    thanks

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  2. david

    i knew and fell in love with six sigma later in my career. i took the initiative to study and paid for it myself. i enjoyed the class, loved the lessons, and i know that i can do much more for my firm if i practice six sigma.

    i applied what i learned, reaped rewards, even converted non-believers on the benefits of six sigma. and just like what you poignantly pointed out:

    For those who aren’t open to learning and aren’t motivated to improve their effectiveness, no methodology can help them improve the process.

    in the end, i left the firm. you really can’t teach obstinate old dogs and the entire pack (who aren’t data driven and relies solely on gut feel) new tricks.

    it is also the same lesson Dan Chauncey taught us:

    Sometimes the best way to improve a process isn’t to change the process – it’s to change the organization’s culture.

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  3. Fang Zhou

    David’s comment really touched a critical sucess factor in deploying Lean Six Sigma – organizational culture.

    Lean Six Sigma is not for everyone or every organization.

    It is not that its concepts or tools don’t apply as some people argue. It is the fact that its fundamental philosophy is just incompatible with some people’s values or some organizational structures and culture.

    The reality is that many of us are working with these people or in these organizations. It can be very frustrating for sure. So what can we do beside finding a better environment to work?

    My answer lies in "why" I became a Black Belt. Like David, I love it. It’s how I can develop leadership and improve myself.

    My favorite quote "Every challenge is an opportunity."

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  4. vgm32

    Great post Fang. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. sabrena

    10. Because I have OCD and wanted an excuse for my obsessive behavior like 5S and NVA.
    9. Complaining about poor customer service. Now I can say VOC with authority.

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  6. Pilla

    8. I love playing with numbers, and torturing them into telling me the truth.
    7. I love learning new things from different processes.
    6. I love hitting my head against the organizational culture wall, because it feels so good when I stop.
    ….

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  7. MMH

    5. Because Black goes with everything.
    4. Because statistics rhymes with sadistic.

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  8. Fang Zhou

    Great comments. Let me add a couple.

    3. Because I hate waste.
    2. Because I see variation everywhere.

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  9. Suresh

    "1. before you change the process, change the people
    2. before you change the people, change yourself "

    Well Said Mr Fang. The whole change management strategy is based on the above two sentences. I personally had a lot of failures in deploying or changing any process because the process owners did not believed in that totally.

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