Don’t Look Now – Here Comes the Wave

While scanning news for lean and six sigma related articles this morning, I came across this gem: “Six Sigma Certification Booms as Employment Busts” – it was actually a press release posing as news over on That’s fine – I recall from my days in media relations that many news outlets craved pre-written content, especially now with the thinning of news gathering organizations.

Over the last few years, the business of Lean Six Sigma certification has bloomed trememdously – a phenomenon that has been discussed at length over on the forums. The consensus there seems to be that such cert programs in and of themselves are fine – I myself have gone through one such program, and had a fine experience with it. For some, online learning works as well, if not better, than classroom training. Different people learn differently. I’ve also had the opportunity to go through classroom training given at one of the most famous companies ever to use Six Sigma. Again, a fine experience.

So what’s the harm in presenting Lean Six Sigma certification programs as a way for currently unemployed workers to get a leg up in a tough job market? Or any job market for that matter?

As most (if not all) experienced practitioners of Lean and Six Sigma have learned, there is a huge difference between learning the tools and concepts of Lean and Six Sigma and actually applying them in areal business setting, with real people, real (usually messy) data, solving real business problems. In my own experience, running acorrect MSA, ANOVA or DOE is far less challenging than working through the politics and organizational challenges tocreate sustained improvements. And this is not something that one can really learn in the classroom or through an online course. It has to be experienced first hand. In this way, our field is no different than any other. The theory is important to know, but in the end, it’s the practical outcome that matters most.

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Worse yet, the change management approachesused in one company culture may not work in another, or even different cultures within a company. It’s a process of continuous learning, re-learning, and adjustment to bring about the desired business impacts.

The certificationquestion is not an issue unique to our field. Professional certification programs are widely available – the real question is, does the certificate provide the leg up during job searches? I would be very interested in seeing data on that question.

The bottom line: Is getting certified in Lean, Six Sigma, or anything else one of those critical X’s for the millions of unemployed right now? Please post your thoughts in the comments section.

Comments 9

  1. michael cardus

    I have also been reading about 6 Sigma trainings for the unemployment boom, especially here in Western New York.
    This does concern me – the point you made about the classroom vs. the work floor does create concer.

    My worry is this – if we have a overflowing market of Lean 6 Sigma specialist this is going to create a market approach where the certification will not mean very much for the people who have the practical experience. Unlike physicians or other highly trained as well as need for increased application of theory with hand on experience. Employers will begin to see 6 Sigma as a bidding process of the employee who is "certified" by someone? will take the lowest bid.

    Is 6 Simga becoming the "Fish Philosphy"? :)

  2. JConsidine

    If certification is seen as a commodity, then the lowest cost provider will win. If I were in the certificate granting business, I would be very concerned about this – do businesses know the difference between the different offerings? How would they evaluate an employee certified by X vs one certified by Y?

    When an inexperienced yet certified person gets into a real problem solving situation, it seems likely that everyone will be disappointed – hiring manager, the employee herself, the other workers.

  3. Mark Graban

    I’ve said it many times before — when looking at a job posting, the more "certifications" that a company wants for Lean, the less likely they are to be a truly Lean company (or one interested in more than superficial Lean tools).

    For example, if a hospital or company wants a certified Lean person who also has DFSS…. they’re just playing the "more certification is more better" game and a true Lean person should probably keep looking.

    Mark Graban
    Author, Lean Hospitals: Improving Quality, Patient Safety, and Employee Satisfaction

  4. Rob [ ]

    I do not believe in Lean certification.

    Lean is not really a Quality discipline.

    While Lean is used in many improvement projects and just because Quality touches everything does not mean we should certify everything.

    Most of the new courses include Lean and Six Sigma together at different levels (Green, Black, Master Black Belt). My Black Belt course certainly did.

    It’s only by practicing lean that you truly learn lean.

  5. Chris

    As a man "in transition" now, one cannot ignore the job postings asking for Lean and DMAIC experience and/or BB certification. If I take a certification class, do I not have that experience?

    Unless the job posting does not specify a length of time implementing those specific concepts, or for the applicant to have applied those concepts on the job, then educational experience counts…doesn’t it?

    I am going to spend the $995 and get my BB certification online. I certainly will not have the experience you folks with years of applied experience have with the same certification, but my resume verbiage will now trigger the filter to pop mine out as a viable applicant. Now, I am not going to apply to those positions that explicitly ask for experience implementing structured Six Sigma concepts, but I will certainly separate myself from those who do not know the difference between DMAIC and a DMF.

  6. JConsidine

    Chris, I appreciate your situation – hopefully the transition period is a short one.

    As we’ve been discussing, the main problem with any certification that is instruction only is that it’s only theoretical knowledge. So, I don’t believe completing an online BB certification gives you Lean or DMAIC experience. It gives you some training, but no experience.

    For some employers and roles, that may be valuable in and of itself. My concern is with those employers that don’t really know the difference.

    By the way, I don’t know what DMF is, so I guess I’m in trouble!

  7. Arnel

    What do you guys think is the most prestigious school out there that offers a black belt six-sigma certification?

    I am trying to decide where to get my six-sigma from, and money is not an object since my work will pay for it.

    So far I have looked at Villanova university (online) and University of Texas at Austin (2 weeks, on campus). They will both be around $8,000 for the black belt. I am slightly leaning towards the University of Texas because it is a better engineering school and also it offers the course on campus.

    What does everyone else think? I appreciate any help here, as I am looking for the most prestigious black belt that I can put on my resume, period. Please advise.

  8. John

    I recently found myself unemployed for the first time in 30 years. I have 15 years of operations/labor management experience.

    I have instituted many efficiency improvent programs as a manager, but never knew there was a dedicated discipline such as LSS. I have dealt with company-cultural problems that arise from a change in operating procedures.

    Because of my age (50 years), and my lack of a college degree, I find myself non-competetative for positions which pay the salary that I accustomed to.

    In my job search, I increasingly found the desire for LSS training or certification. I did some research on line, and purchased a book by Jay Arthur, sort of a LSS for dummies.

    I have decided to become certified. Because there is no standardization with LSS Certification, I am leaning towards the on line program at Villanova. I figure the name will help.

    It will cost me approximately $8,000. Am I kidding myself believing that this certification will help my future employment?

  9. JConsidine

    Just my opinion, I put more stock in your actual experience than your lack of formal training in LSS. At the end of the day, any of the firms offering certification will give a great foundation in the technical and theoretical knowledge behind LSS. That said, you’ll get a lot of that straight out of the book you bought.

    I have nothing against these programs myself – I would question the ROI of the pricetag, and whether it really will pay off in your situation.

    I would start off by looking for the local ASQ chapter and ask about any training or certification classes they may be doing. As "names" go, I think ASQ is as good as they come. At the very least, you will be able to connect with people in the field.

    Good luck out there…

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