Deployment Focus: Certifications or Project Benefits?

Which is more important initially in a Six Sigma deployment – Belt training or project benefits? Without quality training of project leaders, a Six Sigma program is unlikely to be successful. So there is no question of its importance. Yet the purpose of Six Sigma is to make a positive difference to the bottom line via an endless series of process improvement projects. So while critical, Six Sigma training, which leads to certifications like Green Belt, Black Belt, Master Black Belt and others, is just a means to an end. Certifications are not an end in themselves. In Six Sigma parlance, certifications are the Xs, or the causes, and benefits are the big Y, or the effect.

It is easy to see how some organizations’ attention is so strongly focused on training Green Belts and Black Belts. That training is one of the biggest overheads of any deployment, not only initially but through the program. While the quality of training must be ensured, organizations must constantly remind themselves that the reason for a Six Sigma deployment is actual dollar benefits from the projects their trained staff undertake. Without this emphasis projects can just lose steam along the way and never be completed. When that happens not only does the investment in training and effort go waste, managers and employees can become disillusioned and see Six Sigma as just a passing fad.

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Optimum Rigor in Six Sigma Projects

Only as much rigor is important in a project as is required to effect the required process change and demonstrate dollar benefits to the customer. Many times the aspiring Green Belts and Black Belts are asked to use tools and templates which are not really required for a complete analysis. Spending valuable resource time in preparing documentations and presentations which will not be used to meet the above end is not justified.

Not the entire gamut of Six Sigma tools and techniques are required in each and every real world Six Sigma project. Some projects can demonstrate benefits by using effectively a simple Pareto diagram or a fishbone diagram, while some others might require an elaborate quality function deployment or design of experiments. A comprehensive process mapping exercise can be executed by using just two simple tools – level 1, level 2, level 3 deployment flowcharts and an failure mode and effect analysis. Thus the rigor used should be proportional to the complexity of the project and not be constant across all projects. With the exception of tools like the charter and the high level process map, which are required in every project, only tools which fit the project’s purpose should be used. Mandating the use of a plethora of tools in a Six Sigma project in order to get certified is wasteful considering the amount of resource time spent in manipulating and adjusting the available inputs to the tools.

The Certification Criteria

Yet it is still important to ensure that every certified practitioner should know almost 90 percent of the tools, techniques and terminology used in Six Sigma. The question is then, if they do not use these tools in their projects how can they be certified as proficient in Six Sigma. The apparent contradiction can be addressed via specific case studies which demonstrate the actual usage of the major tools a mandatory part of the certification criteria. Solving these case studies will not only allow Green Belts and Black Belts to be familiar with using the tool but also appreciate the right circumstances in which the tool should be used for solving problems. Also a Six Sigma project completion with optimum rigor and quantified benefits should be a mandatory criterion for certification. This will go a long way in shifting the focus to the actual benefits of a project instead of a mindset of just using the tools.

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When evaluating the performance of Green Belts and Black Belts the criteria should focus on how effectively the process changes have been implemented and how rigorously the benefits have been quantified. Such details as the number of tools used, number of slides in tollgates, etc. are secondary and should not be considered as major roadblocks for certification or Six Sigma project completion. Mandating a complete project for certification and having a tracking mechanism for the dollar benefits for a specified period of time after the project is completed, not only ensures better returns from Six Sigma but also lets people appreciate the project’s true value.

A Focus on Benefits

Most often the organization’s leadership team or project sponsor is interested in knowing only what the outcome of the Six Sigma projects was and how the solutions can be implemented. And this is logical, considering the fact that they expect a return on their investments. The methodology and rigor used in the projects is essential only to the extent of arriving at the right conclusions and capturing their attention in the beginning. In the end, any management or sponsor is primarily interested in how much savings can be realized and how quickly the solutions can be implemented with what constraints. They are least bothered or interested in the tools used unless they are exceptionally Six Sigma savvy.

Though the importance of certifications and the right rigor in projects cannot be underrated, the use of unnecessary rigor at the expense of successfully closing strategic Six Sigma projects and rewarding deserving candidates cannot be justified. Master Black Belts mentoring projects should decide the optimum level of rigor required in a particular project. This can go a long way toward Belt candidates not losing the enthusiasm with which they began their training, and for projects being completed on time.

Comments 8

  1. Rajeev Jain

    As a certified Master Trainer, I understand the value appropriate training brings to improvement projects. Also, as a certified Quality leader and certified Executive Belt, I clearly see how important it is for senior leaders to direct the efforts in the right areas and with optimum rigor.
    LSS is a great tool set – to be used by experts to solve real business issues , and not just to demonstrate proficiency.

  2. John

    Nice article. I agree there is always a balancing act between individual recognition, certification, and business recognition, project success.

    As a Lean Six Sigma trainer and mentor I always stress is that certification is just the beginning of the journey. GB or BB certification should not be put on the shelf and admired, you will continue to refine and learn as you complete more projects, and become more proficient the more you use the methodologies and tools. A newly certified GB/BB will not have all the answers, nor be expected to have used all the tools in the tool belt day one. Every project will bring unique challenges and critical thinking to successfully complete.

  3. Sourav Dutta

    While nothing comes for free in this world, hence the benefits derived out of deploying six sigma is important. Having said that the deployment of six sigma also comes at a cost. Hence the right training is equally important to get the optimum level. As a Six Sigma Practitioner, both needs to go hand in hand and one cannot be achieved without the other. But for a larger forum it is the number that talks, hence the benefit derived out of deployment of the six sigma practices is utterly important.

  4. Adam Shaw

    The certification criteria for my Belt training is that the candidate follow the methodology as suitable to the project, using whatever tools are appropriate. To certify, there are 5 compulsory tools:
    1. Project charter, so that the project sponsor agrees with the project and shares the ownership.
    2. A process map, so that the project is directly linked to the process in which it occurs.
    3. An FMEA to identify and mitigate any risks with the solution that is implemented
    4. A Control Plan, to ensure that the solution is embedded and controls are accepted by the process owner
    5. A Benefits Realization plan so that the benefits don’t get overlooked post project.

  5. Chris Seider

    Benefits focus must be the driver for the majority of projects. Impact to safety, morale, etc. can be a subset of the projects but without a focus on hard and soft dollar savings–the program will just be a bunch of activities.

  6. Mike Carnell

    I agree with @CSeider position and I am aware that he has the personal experience to make that judgment. The guy that referenced the Six Sigma toolset? There is no such thing. There is a general set of tools that are taught but that is not an exclusive set. Six Sigma is about a thought process but over the years the financial benefit to the SS companies has become selling certification rather than selling results so we basically have lowered our expectations of the classroom guys and now have people that train who are tool zombies.

    The entire premise of this article makes any sense. Basically it says there is someone somewhere who is looking at projects and saying “That project does not use enough tools so we will not do that project. I will take this lower value project because it uses more tools.” At this point in time I have never met anyone who can look at a project before it begins and can tell someone what tools will be used. “Let’s see this project will need a charter, problem statement, primary and secondary metric, process map, t-test, a couple chi square tests and a c chart.” If I cannot determine what tools a project will require and most deployments are so loosely wired they have net to no financial modeling so what would someone use to make the certification vs benefits decision? If someone is saying they do tell them you want to see the data they are using to make that decision. I am pretty sure you will find most of it is BS.

    Results are the lifeblood of a deployment. No results no deployment. No deployment then your certification is wall paper.

    Just my opinion

  7. Lew Yerian

    When beginning a deployment, you have to ensure that certifications lead to benefits. If you do not, you are just hanging wallpaper in your office while lining the pockets of the consulting world. A certification by itself is useless. I know too many “paper black belts” that cannot problem solve their way out of a wet paper bag. Utilizing the tools and methodologies is far more important than gaining a certificate.

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