Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is usually not taught until college, but middle and high school students can learn and apply these techniques to solve problems and make significant improvements. This two-part article will look at one school taking the lead and certifying younger students* as White Belts. Part 1 focuses on an overview of the program. Part 2 reviews the eight projects that the students completed.

Achieve Buy-in from Students and Their Parents

The idea to teach Lean Six Sigma principles and techniques to youth was conceptualized as a summer activity for students in Cary, North Carolina, by a certified Master Black Belt (MBB). Discussions with interested parents focused on the concept of teaching professional, yet practical, problem-solving skills.

Parents were skeptical because their children had taken a two-hour seminar on problem-solving skills and wondered how this summer offering would add value. In order to make the program more valuable, it was decided to certify the students as White Belts as they learned the practical application of concepts. The co-founders of We Strive (a nonprofit organization) decided to directly pitch this certification course to middle and high school students. Some were enthusiastic, a few wanted to try it out, others had no choice but to attend, and some were interested because their friends signed up. A total of 21 students registered.

The criteria to get certified as a White Belt was clearly explained along with the zero-exception policy on attendance, exam and project completion. The White Belt certification criteria was rigorous and far exceeded the industry standard. This was intentional, to stretch the abilities of the participating students.

Formation of Project Teams

The students quickly realized collaboration was key in succeeding at their projects. The MBB – and the students – made it clear that their team members must be committed and should not get sidetracked. Using that criteria, each group made sure that everyone in the group was passionate about whatever project was chosen and interested in improving the process. Each team picked members with different strengths, so that together the group could excel in many ways.

The students picked groups in which each member was willing to put in enough time and effort to deliver their project. Once they selected their teams, they immediately started to work on their projects, trying to find ways to assign tasks to one another, ensuring that everyone had a part to play.

Selecting Their Lean Six Sigma Project

Selecting a LSS project is not simple. It takes observation. LSS projects can be of two types: improving an existing process in the community or creating a new process that is efficient. The students selected their projects by a variety of methods.

  • One group had each group member suggest three topics for a project, then they chose a project they had a common interest in as a full group.
  • Another team decided to choose a project based on a theme.
  • Another group chose to brainstorm and research ideas to decide whether LSS was applicable. They believed that projects that had a scope for completion would help them to be a step ahead.

All the teams came up with a broad idea for what to do and then looked at which LSS tools they could apply. They all made sure to choose a topic that every team member showed interest in.

Successful Completion of Projects

The key to the successful completion of a project is the following seven key points:

  1. Problem statement
  2. Goal statement
  3. Team members
  4. Obstacles faced during project
  5. Process map
  6. Implementation using tools
  7. Result

Problem statements should be concise, but they should deliver the message of the problem to an audience. The problem statement should be 30 words or less and follow SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) guidelines. The same goes for the goal statement, but the difference is that the goal statement is supposed to deliver the project’s objective to the audience.

The next step is to identify your team members. Then identify your obstacles and resolve them. The students were faced with teamwork problems, survey glitches, lack of data, time constraints, the challenge of deciding which project to select and more. Then came process mapping, which helped the students map out the steps needed to move from start to finish.

The teams identified the needed data, gathered the data, analyzed the data and made connections between the analysis and the goal to be achieved. Basic tools such as histograms, pie charts, Pareto charts, surveys, scatter diagrams and more were used to analyze the data.

The last step of the projects was to quantify the result of improving the process and check if the goal was achieved. The teams pulled together all of the parts of this problem-solving process before presenting their results using PowerPoint presentations.

Certification and Recognition

Certification and recognition are important to make any course not only valid in the eye of the public but also to reward the hard work that participants put in to learn and practice the basic concepts of LSS. The certification criteria for the students included eight hours of training, a pass rate of 80 percent or more on the exam, completing a project, and presenting the project to a judging panel. All 21 students received a White Belt certification. The We Strive organization held a ceremony on August 18, 2018, to honor all the students, each of whom was certified. Prominent community members (mayor, town council members, etc.) attended the event and presented the White Belt certificates.

Next Steps

One way to continue the momentum of implementing these methods and tools is by continuing to learn. The students knew that moving to the next level of training and getting certified as Blue or Green Belts would arm them with advanced LSS skills. Therefore, they have committed to completing Blue Belt certification in summer 2019 and Green Belt certification in summer 2020.

All participants are looking forward to spreading the idea of teaching LSS to middle and high school students. This article is one way that everyone hopes to help generate awareness with the hope that similar programs will be built in other locations.

Click here to learn more about We Strive.

Click here to read Part 2!

*Co-authored by students: Megha Marni, Sreya Chebrolu, Samantha Kamineni, Bhavika Lingutla, Chakri Vemulapalli, Hari Vemulapalli, Sriharsha Jaladhi, Aneesh Gottimukkala, Sumant Anantha and Sneha Nalluri.

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