In a Vacuum

I was facilitating a process-mapping session recently, and one of the team members came up to me during a break. She said, “I think it’s really interesting that you are leading us in the process mapping in a way that’s much different than I’ve seen before.” I said, “What do you mean?” She explained that she’s seen 3 or 4 Black Belts lead process-mapping sessions at various times, and we all have a very different approach. She wondered why we didn’t all do it the same way.

I answered, “Well in fact, I’ve never seen another Black Belt do mapping. I’ve only ever done it on my own, so I don’t know how anyone else does it.”

That made me stop and think. I realized that I’ve never seen another Black Belt lead a team meeting for a Six Sigma project. As soon as we all became Black Belts and attended training, we went our individual ways to lead our own projects. When we get together to talk about our work, it’s apparent that we all have different approaches, and we accept that while continuing to run our projects in our own ways.

Now, I’m all for individuality, in that we each bring our own experiences, skills, and strengths to our work. And in truth, I don’t havea lot of free time to sit in on other Black Belts’ projects. But this exchange made me wonder: Could I learn to be a better Black Belt if I sat in on other project meetings once in a while? Or is rugged individualism the way of the Black Belt?

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I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences with this.

Comments 12

  1. eric

    I think this is the greatest mistake BB’s can make- there is much to be gained by peer review and looking at other’s work. You can learn from someone else’s project, what works, what doesn’t so on. When you can step back and look at someone else objectively you can see your mistakes by looking at others, or realise there is just a better way. You also get an exchange of ideas that might not happen otherwise. We should all make the time to look in on others.

  2. Mike Carnell

    A quote from Michael Eisner as CEO of Walt Disney Company:

    "This autonomy crap? That means you are off working alone. If you want autonomy be a poet."

    We do not allow any Rambo Black Belts. A belt is a part of a deployment and a deployment is part of a strategy and a strategy is part of a vision and the vision is where the company is going. If you are not involved then you will ultimately end up somewhere else and nobody want s to expend resources on a misdirected belt. As a part of that BB team you need to operate in sync with fellow BB’s. If you don’t know what they are doing how can you accomplish that?

    Even at the lowest level of concern there needs to be a desire to learn from fellow BB’s. I have been involved in this thing at one level or another for a couple decades and am constantly amazed at what innovative ideas show up particularly when we deploy outside the US. A different up bringing, a different thought process, etc seems to show things up in a different light.

    I have never advocated certification outside of a deployment. To much is lost in what it takes to transform a company. It is walking around with one walkie talkie. I cannot imagine any justification for isolating yourself inside a deployment. As for being to busy – that is the same excuse disengaged management uses to avoid involvement – it is only a reflection of priorities not activity.

    Just my opinion.

  3. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks Eric and Mike for your comments. During our initial training/deployment, we Wave I Black Belts were so busy trying to keep up with our own projects that we never even considered sitting in on anyone else’s.

    Now that we’re into year 4 and have incorporated lean thinking into our DMAIC process, we have time to reflect on our learnings, which are right in keeping with your feedback.

  4. Sven Saerens

    Sue, I fully agree that there is not much time to spend observing in other black belts meetings. However, the Master Black Belt that I was trained by in 2001 told us on the first day of training to get ourselves a Black Belt Buddy : a peer inside or outside your own organisation to exchange experiences with, to ask questions to if your MBB is not always easily available, etc … I searched and found my BBB and after 6 years of Lean Six Sigma practioning, we still talk to each other at least once every second week. I can only recommend this to all the Six Sigma Belts : get yourself a Lean Six Sigma Buddy !

  5. Christan

    More then true!

    Very rarely, in all my years experiencing SixSigma, there is time taken to see each other working, other then in training GBs etc.

    Sometimes I ask people from my SixSigma network to step in and share info on their projects. Then I use people from same working environment but from total different businesses to avoid competitive interest.

    Also an advise is to meet with BB’s frequently to share expertise, problems, progress etc. This helps, for sure.

  6. Mike Carnell

    Let’s reconcile this conundrum with the emotionally charged "exiling Black Belts." Co-located Black Belts will support and help each other quite naturally. Particularly through the training period. It creates a very convenient place for a GB to go for help at almost any time they need it. It may even make the search for a BBB easier.

    They can even have two locations to work. One where they work together and one where they are sitting with the organization.

    Just my opinion

  7. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks, Sven and Christan, for your thoughts. At our organization we are working on developing a buddy system in the form of a mentoring partnership, especially as about half our Black Belts come from healthcare and the other half from industrial engineering – we think they can learn a lot from each other!

    The other thing we do is to have a Black Belt meeting at least once a month – we were able to do this every week in Wave I when we had only 4 Black Belts; then in Waves II & III we did it every other week with 15 Black Belts; then for a while we tried once a month; now we’re back to every other week. It is problematic trying to get a large number of people together from all parts of the organization, but we are persevering – as Christan mentioned, sharing problems and solutions is a basic building block for any improvement community.

  8. GaryPCox

    I have taken on the role of a Master Black Belt, and in fact am still in training. (I guess we never stop learning.)

    We have ’Value Stream Specialists’ in our company, which are either SS or Lean BB’s, or hold both Lean and SS BB’s.

    Since taking on the role I have had our BB’s meet bi-montlhy to reveiw projects together as a team, in addition to our 1×1’s. We take this time to review our apporach and refresh our learning on tools. This is a good time share ideas for how to address concerns and plan the future. We have agreed these meetings are important as we learn from each other. We rotate the location of our meetings among our plants so we get to tour each other’s facilities and observe the projects in progress.

    I feel it is my role as the MBB role to ensure that the BB’s have a standard approach to deployment of their skills as project leads and experts in their discipline.

    Much of Lean, and the quality of SS, depend on standard work along with stable and capable processes… I see the need for standard work and stable and capable processes in the leading of projects and training.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic Sue.


  9. systhinc

    In my initial assignment as a deployment champion, we had 40 BBs in 14 facilities in 5 countries. In order to maintain a grip on what was happening around the world, we not only travelled a lot, but we held opportunity identification workshops annually at corporate (to determine strategic initiatives) and then at each of the facilities. From this we created a master project list and a best practices database. There were also montly web meetings, gate reviews, and an annual conference. It created a sense of community with very litte possibility of Rambo creation. Hope it helps.

  10. Chris Cheeseman

    This is interesting. I have been the sole Black Belt on our program (3400+ strong!) for about a year. Having lead a lean transformation at a location remote to the main program I became ’separated’ from the majority of the program population. For rehabilitation I am assisting another employee (separate project) through their BB course, added to that we have agreed on a series of Green Belt projects to employ each of our trained personnel on this year. That is a shock to the system after working ’in a vacuum’, but a pleasant one.

    The ability to share ideas and even application of methodology leads to finding solutions for problems that an individual would not necessarily discover alone.

    Working as a team also strengthens the LSS role within an organization and provides greater visibility, and can generate more support from the senior leadership.

  11. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks to all for your thoughts. We have thought about Mike’s idea regarding two places to sit – at their site location and a "hotel" cubicle at the corporate headquarters. I appreciate Gary’s and systhinc’s comments about meeting frequently to share & keep the work "standard." And Chris’s reflection about working separately mirrors experiences that have been shared with me from BBs in manufacturing and production environments, who get trained and then work almost as individuals, going to the "team" only for data and when making the actual changes.

    What I tell my fellow BBs is a quote from Benjamin Franklin, said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

  12. Ajay

    Well,i was a undergoing a GB training and had the most horrendous experience when 2 BB clashed with their own thoughts and techniques.It was disgusting.As long as people can keep their ego’s aside and keep the discussion over their differences for a later date, this would be very productive.

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