Six Sigma Black Belt Curriculum and Body of Knowledge – 2012

As Six Sigma’s DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology has spread across diverse industries, there has been much discussion about what the body of knowledge should contain for Black Belts. It is common to see different “flavors” of Black Belt certifications created within the same company:  transactional Black Belts, manufacturing Black Belts, etc. Each flavor typically has its own training sessions and separate body of knowledge for addressing specific areas within the company. In these environments, Black Belts can become overly specialized if they are not exposed to scenarios outside of their particular area of expertise; they may not experience how transactional, operational, logistical, and other systems interact and impact each other. They may not see how a particular tool that is not featured in one area may have a great impact when applied to a different area. Worse yet, training for transactional environments often gets watered down, with technical content being replaced by less intimidating soft skills and high-level philosophical discussions.

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Black Belts should be Six Sigma experts – capable of leading a team of process experts in applying the methodology and corresponding tools to any process in any industry. Such Black Belts should also be able to confidently answer the numerous technical and statistical questions that Green Belts, Champions and management will ask in any Six Sigma effort. In order to accomplish a return to this traditional and ideal Black Belt, there needs to be a universal, highly technical body of knowledge within Six Sigma training for that level.

The updated Black Belt body of knowledge  represents the baseline topics that should be taught in a standard four-week training program. There is a fair amount of technical proficiency that is required as Black Belts should have a great depth of understanding of the tools, and also have the confidence and ability to address the most difficult challenges in any department or industry.

The argument is often made that teaching technical statistical tools such as advanced DOE or regression methods would not be useful for Black Belts involved in transactional or service organizations because such tools are not used in those types of industries. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The reason that many advanced tools are not utilized is because people in those industries are not taught how to use them. There are countless articles and examples throughout the Six Sigma community detailing great successes in applying advanced tools to non-manufacturing environments. A capable Black Belt should have these methods at their disposal.

This Black Belt body of knowledge does not contain dedicated modules to such soft skills as change management, leadership training, project management, etc. This does not mean that these skills are not important – even critical – to being an effective Black Belt. No matter how much technical knowledge Black Belts may have, they are completely ineffective if they cannot lead people and instill changes in the work areas. However, these are general management and leadership skill sets and not unique to Six Sigma. In the limited training hours for a Black Belt program, candidates are better served by gaining the technical knowledge; additional training courses (facilitation, change management, etc.) can be provided through other leadership programs.

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Black Belt training should focus on imparting the technical skills that will allow Black Belts to be the sources of Six Sigma expertise across all business units, plants and industries. The body of knowledge for this training as shown here is rigorous. A properly chosen Black Belt candidate will embrace this depth and, as a result, will be well-equipped to develop innovative approaches and solutions to the types of difficult problems for which Six Sigma was intended.

Black Belt Body of Knowledge
  • Statistical process control
    • I-MR charts
    • Xbar-R charts
    • Xbar-S charts
    • P-charts
    • C-charts
    • U-charts
  • Control plans
    • What, who, where, how often, how much
    • Decision criteria
  • Action plan
  • Management engagement and handoff
  • Project closure

Comments 14

  1. Daniel Zrymiak

    As an experienced Black Belt, three red flags appear. First, the project management portion is limited to a Project Charter within Define. A Black Belt has to not only be proficient in these areas, but be adept at managing other practitioners to drive the results and communicate those outcomes effectively to Senior Management, which is not reflected in this BoK. Second, the Design of Experiments (DoE) is limited to a single line item, when in fact this is one of the most robust and beneficial elements of a Six Sigma program. At the highest level, the Six Sigma practitioner should at least be able to distinguish between full and fractional factorial experiments. Third, the Control section is too light and does not address Rational Subgrouping, the distinctions between Attributes and Variables Charting, or the other important considerations necessary to control and preserve the improvements over time.

  2. Mike Clayton

    The individual has to decide whether they have time and talent to go deeper vs broader vs both.
    Within some industries, there is already major training efforts on Lean followed by Basic Statistics and then Program Management, not tied together as part of an LSS program. For those individuals that have that training and yet no certifications, they have to decide to focus more on Lean, Advanced Stats, or Full PM training. Each company within an industry may have found that tools vendor training beats academic training, for example. Then those trained on “everything you need to know about plasma etching” may want more physics, more chemistry, or most DOE training. Careers are long, but job sites may be short duration, as more and more engineers find they are migrant workers. So incremental skills learning and certification may be more important than overall MMB training and certification. We have to recognize realities, and skill support the core values of this group. That may mean a slow but steady approach rather the usual 4 week or 8 half week training, something like Motorola’s old 40 hours per year mandatory training on site, and then personal choices online, on employee off-time. Given mandatory compliance classes, there is not much work-time left.

  3. Paul Morgan

    I have practiced LSS as an MBB/deployment leader in a transactional environment (financial services IT and operations) for around 14 years. It’s been my experience that very rarely is DOE or regression analysis conducted while executing process improvement projects. For the most part, it’s not because the more complex tools are not taught (because they are), it’s because the business rarely wants to take the time or incur the additional costs associated with running these tools. In most cases I agree with them as we have gotten excellent results using the simpler stat tools. In one way it’s a shame because I believe BB’s develop much better critical thinking skills when they use of the more “complex” tools and these critical thinking skills add tremendous versatility and value to the enterprise.

  4. Tenured MBB

    Six sigma is more than technical proficiency. Six sigma exists to drive business results. The intense focus on technical tools misses the point and marginalizes six sigma in practice.

    As a certified MBB and as an Operations leader in a transaction environment, a “B” solution I can implement effectively is far better than the “A” solution that, by the time is developed, is obsolete.

    Business acumen is valued above technical mastery. I don’t see the benefit of mastering a BoK that, in too many cases, is neither used effectively nor is relevant to the business problem to be solved.

    Again, I am certified and have practiced six sigma since 1996. It’s disheartening that we are still having the “how technical do we need to be” discussion.

  5. Chris Seider

    It is interesting how things have changed from the olden days when not so many things were taught but so many benefits were captured.

    I still am the advocate of a week zero that emphasize Define ONLY along with presentation skills, project mgmt skills, and a smattering of some other stuff.

  6. Chris Seider

    @Nick You forgot uphill both ways. I think you got it right about power of statistical software makes some think that more has to be put in the lap.

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