Six Sigma practitioners across the globe are trying to accomplish similar objectives. Some might be surprised that these goals do not vary much from countries where Six Sigma is just beginning to take root to those where Six Sigma practitioners work in organizations where Six Sigma has become a way of life. As evidence, one might consider a recent conference in Arizona on Six Sigma in transactional environments. There speakers from across the globe shared concerns over achievement of the same objectives.

What makes Six Sigma a success in an organization? Achievement of Six Sigma objectives comes when organizations:

  • Involve their Six Sigma Master Black Belts in management decision making.
  • Acknowledge Six Sigma deliverables by its management in terms of financial savings.
  • Allocate strategic initiatives to Six Sigma Master Black Belts to Champions.

The formula for this success is a simple equation:

A = f(c) + k

…where A is achievement of Six Sigma objectives; f is top management alignment; c is competency of Six Sigma Master Black Belts; and k is a constant (some might call this good fortune).

If one were to remove the organizations wherein top management is completely aligned with Six Sigma initiatives (relatively few), the achievement of Six Sigma objectives becomes almost directly proportional to the competence of the organization’s Six Sigma Master Black Belts.

Since competence not put in action will not lead to achievement of results, it is important that Master Black Belts not only know how to be competent, but they regularly practice those things that proved their competency. Thus, the six habits of highly effective Six Sigma Master Black Belts:

Habit 1: Understanding Business

Different than business understanding – a competency, understanding business is a habit. The Master Black Belt should engage department heads and functional leaders to understand business. This habit not only provides an opportunity to understand aspects of business at macro and micro levels, but also helps to comprehend strategies framed to further business. At a personal level, it will ensure a face is put to the name, when these leaders think of Six Sigma. No functional head or business leader will likely say “no” when a Master Black Belt wants to understand their aspect of the business.

Habit 2: Creating Opportunities for Improvement

An effective Six Sigma Master Black Belt is always creating or searching for opportunities which will have significant impact on business. This might range from refuting existing measurement systems to capturing better voice of the business/voice of the customer data to creating new measurement systems, or from providing expertise in analyzing some data to sensitizing top management on validity of solutions being worked upon. Each strategy meeting provides ample improvement opportunities to be grabbed, and taken to logically data-oriented solutions. A Master Black Belt needs to understand the pain areas and nominate him- or herself for action planning. Even if these sometimes lead to few miniscule process improvements with abysmal levels of Six Sigma rigor usage, it will help showcase the rigor to management. This habit is often supported by assertiveness and good inter-personal relationships of the Master Black Belt.

Habit 3: ‘What Cannot Be Measured Cannot Be Improved’ And ‘What Cannot Be Seen Has Not Improved’

An effective Master Black Belt always ensures few projects are being championed by him- or herself and team. A Master Black Belt proactively, self-initiates identifying few critical complex pain areas of the business and offering their services be rendered by management to improve and deliver expected results. This habit ensures three things. First, it ensures dependence of management on the Master Black Belt for the progress of the projects and solutions to be implemented. Second, it ensures involvement of the Black Belt to drive the critical project. And third, it ensures the credit of the improvements is not divided among too many stakeholders. The habit is supported by a Master Black Belt’s understanding of business and to strategically balance improvement initiatives to both reduce costs and enhance revenue.

Habit 4: Communicate and Communicate Well

Though communication does wonders for any change initiative, particularly for Six Sigma project improvements, communication is all the more vital. As a habit, the Six Sigma Master Black Belt keeps note of communication sent across the Six Sigma desk. From small solutions with no noticeable impact to larger projects with large financial implications, all are regularly communicated. Any communication can be effective if it has supporting facts and figures. An effective Master Black Belt ensures that communication is complete with data or with examples from the work life.

Habit 5: Data Analysis Is Only Worthwhile When It Is Understood

Many Master Black Belts are fixated on the complex graphical outputs generated by statistical software programs. Though these charts might impress some members of the executive committee, the Master Black Belts must ensure that with or without graphics presentations must be straightforward enough to clearly highlight the key points of the analysis. The habit of presenting the data succinctly and making the point across the entire strategic committee significantly enhances the effectiveness of the Master Black Belt.

Habit 6: Identify and Engage the Key Stakeholders

Apart from the business leader (chief executive officer, chief operating officer, operations head, etc.), the chief financial officer and director of sales and marketing are key stakeholders and also are among the most influential people in most organizations. The effective Master Black Belt ensures that these people are always engaged. This can be achieved through involving them:

  • In discussions to identify areas of improvement.
  • As reviewers, Champions or Sponsors for projects.
  • By collaborating with them to train their team members to facilitate analysis to highlight focus areas.
  • By launching knowledge management/idea sharing initiatives supported by reward and recognition programs.
  • In any other way where their expertise and influence is showcased.

One of the most effective ways of engaging these key stakeholders is by having them hand over project completion certificates in front of employee gatherings. This ensures their social commitment toward Six Sigma initiatives. An effective Master Black Belt leverages such engagements to help drive Six Sigma initiatives.

About the Author