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Master Black Belt

Definition of Master Black Belt:

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You might have heard of the term Black Belt in the context of the martial arts. In the context of Six Sigma, achieving a rank of Master Black Belt, or MBB, indicates a level of advanced personal achievement, competency and success.

Let’s explore how one achieves the rank of MBB, what kind of work the MBB does, and the benefits of being an MBB — and having one in your organization.

Overview: What is an MBB?

Dr. Mikel Harry is often credited with adapting the martial art concept of belt rankings to Six Sigma. While different organizations may have different names and colors of degrees of expertise in Six Sigma, the following represents the most common levels of achievement.

As you can see, the MBB is the top ranking in the belt hierarchy. To achieve the MBB ranking, you may start at the lowest level and then progress, like is done in martial arts. The most frequent model is to get certified as a Black Belt (BB) first and then progress to MBB.

To become a certified MBB, there are a set of common requirements you must meet (although there is considerable variation in what is required). Since there’s no recognized central accreditation organization, requirements may vary depending on where you get trained and the specifics of your role in the organization..

Currently, candidates can be certified internally by their own organizations, external consultants, professional organizations, or even educational facilities such as universities or their university-related subcontractors. Training can be accomplished in the classroom, online, or through a combination of both.

While variation exists, these are a common set of requirements and responsibilities that a number of successful organizations have used for certifying their MBBs. These are presented as guidelines and not mandates.

Training

    1. Length of Training: 80 hours of advanced training beyond that for a BB
    2. Classroom Size: Limited to 10, one on one, or self directed
    3. Curriculum: Should include such topics as; advanced analytical concepts, mentoring, project management, change management, interpersonal skills, training and consulting
    4. Principal Instructor: Experienced MBB or subject matter expert with extensive knowledge, experience, competence, and training abilities.

Testing

    1. It is recommended testing and/or assessment be done multiple times during training to assess and monitor the candidate’s understanding and progress.
    2. At a minimum, candidates must pass a cumulative final exam to receive a certificate of training. This exam should include both acquired conceptual knowledge as well as a demonstration of business, leadership, statistical and analytical skills.

Project

    1. It is recommended that a minimum of 10 BB projects be completed that demonstrate a broad application of LSS methodology and tools, including statistical analysis.
    2. Two MBB projects with a minimum Type 1 benefit of $1,000,000 each
    3. These projects should have a significant financial or operational impact on your organization.

Software

    1. MBB candidates need to exhibit adequate skill and experience using an appropriate statistical software package. The ability to do interpretation alone is insufficient. MBB candidates should be sufficiently knowledgeable of statistical theory.
    2. It is also recommended that the MBB candidate be proficient in additional software including Office Suite, Visio, and an appropriate program for project tracking.

Mentoring

    1. An MBB candidate should mentor a minimum of 10 BB candidates to completion of their Six Sigma projects.

Teaching

    1. It is expected that an MBB candidate teaches, along with an MBB instructor, a minimum of 10 Six Sigma Body of Knowledge modules to classes of lower rank, Green Belt (GB) or BB classes.

These are additional expectations and responsibilities of the MBB:

  • Two or more years in the role of BB
  • Five or more years of business experience with proven business acumen
  • Mastery of the tools of Six Sigma process improvement (DMAIC), including Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), and Lean
  • Completion of at least 10 BB projects with significant business results
  • Experience in managing cross departmental and cross business projects
  • Strong change management and project management skills
  • Experience in delivering BB and GB Belt training
  • Ten or more BBs coached to successful project completion and certification
  • Excellent written and verbal communication and presentation skills
  • Helping to develop and deploy organizational KPIs, metrics and dashboards.
  • Developing, maintaining and revising the Six Sigma training curriculum, delivering classroom training, and serving as liaison with external agencies in the delivery of Six Sigma training
  • Networking with other Master Black Belts
  • Ongoing professional and personal development

3 benefits of an MBB

One of the success criteria for the deployment of Six Sigma is the availability of qualified and competent resources. The MBB is a key resource needed to drive a successful implementation of Six Sigma in your organization.

It’s a recognized and respected professional credential

To be certified as an MBB, you will have to complete a rigorous program of training, project work, mentoring, and teaching. The attainment of your MBB certification is recognized as a professional achievement requiring an advanced level of knowledge and expertise that requires a lot of effort.

It’s a key strategic resource for deploying Six Sigma

If your organization is implementing any type of continuous improvement effort, you will need people with specialized skills, knowledge, and expertise. The MBB is a full-time position dedicated to the successful deployment of your continuous improvement effort, whether it be Six Sigma or another methodology.

It provides a career path

Once you have your MBB certification, you then become eligible for moving into more responsible roles if you wish. You may serve in the role of project or deployment champion. Your special skills will set you apart from other candidates should you wish to move into a senior functional leadership role.

Why is MBB important to understand?

The path to becoming an MBB is rigorous. The role of the MBB is varied. You and your organization will want to understand what is involved and how the MBB will be utilized in your organization.

1. Capabilities

An MBB has a wide range of skills and capabilities. Your organization will want to efficiently and effectively make use of those skills and capabilities. Understanding what the MBB knowledge and skill sets are requires some understanding of the nature and content of the MBB training and expertise.

2. It is an expensive undertaking

Additional weeks of training, mentoring, project work, and all the other efforts needed to become an MBB and continue to serve in that role costs time and money. It’s a major investment to have a staff of MBBs in your organization. But, if you understand what they can bring to the organization, you will realize that it is money well spent — and that the return on investment is well worth it.

3. Flexibility to be applied to any function

MBBs have the ability to apply their skills to any function within your organization. Although the original use of the MBB was in manufacturing, today they can be deployed into every area of your business.

An industry example of using MBBs

A well-recognized company made a decision to embark upon a Six Sigma effort to help make the organization even more successful than it was. The company selected the first cohort of people to be trained as BBs. A small number of top MBBs from outside the company were hired to do the training, coaching and mentoring.

The first group was trained using training materials brought in by the MBBs. The first group of BBs was able to show financial impact in the multi millions of dollars. This encouraged senior leadership to expand the number of BBs and embed them in almost every function within the company, including sales, R&D, finance, marketing, warehousing, fleet, HR, and even legal.

Once a critical mass of BBs were sufficiently experienced, the original group of MBBs developed an internal process for certifying a selected group of BBs. A number of the original MBBs then moved into senior operational roles and helped embed Six Sigma in the rest of the organization.

3 best practices when thinking about a MBB

Given the importance of an MBB as a valued resource within your organization, here are a few tips for optimizing their use.

1. It’s not about the training

While training is a necessary evil since your MBB has to have the knowledge of what Six Sigma is all about, it is not the only key to success. Developing their analytical, problem-solving, project and people skills is where you will reap the most benefits of having an MBB.

2. Not everyone is cut out to be an MBB

There are certain characteristics and traits that a truly talented MBB will have. Consider not only the technical skills of your MBB, but also their people skills. Beyond the basic skill requirements, offer an elective path for those with varied interests. Some MBBs may be more effective doing project work. Others may prefer to do mentoring while others may love to do training. It is very unusual to find a single MBB with great expertise in all aspects of the job. Be flexible when assigning responsibilities to your MBBs so it is win-win for everyone.

3. Provide a career path if they want it

While some MBBs may be content in doing the MBB job forever, others may want to expand their scope of work and responsibility. Some organizations make a purposeful effort to prepare their MBBs, usually after a minimum of five  years in the role, for a different career path should they express a desire to do so. This allows for the organic growth of your improvement effort and the placement of highly skilled Six Sigma experts into key leadership roles in the business.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) an MBB

How long does it take to become a certified MBB?

Like everything else in Six Sigma, this will vary by organization. The training element of becoming an MBB typically requires a minimum of two weeks beyond the BB. Since certification requires the completion of at least two significant MBB projects plus coaching and mentoring 10 BB projects, it could take 1.5 – 2 years to complete the MBB certification process.

Do I have to be a BB before becoming an MBB?

Yes. While the additional training to become an MBB is not a significant time issue, it is the acquisition of project experience, mentoring capability, and teaching skills that takes the time. It’s typical to spend about five years in the role of BB and have completed about 10 BB level projects plus 2 MBB projects before becoming an MBB.

How much can I expect to earn as an MBB?

The best answer is “It depends.” It depends on your experience, geographic location, type of industry, size of company, education, and a host of other factors. According to Comparably.com, the salaries of Six Sigma Master Black Belts in the US range from $81,827 to $229,523, with a median salary of $142,090. The middle 57% of Six Sigma Master Black Belts make between $142,090 and $171,21, with the top 86% making $229,523.

What more can I say about becoming a Master Black Belt?

The role of the MBB is an important part of any Six Sigma or continuous improvement effort. It takes work and dedication to be certified as an MBB, but the personal satisfaction and your value to your organization is well worth considering whether this is a career path that might appeal to you.

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