Today we want to discuss Six Sigma certification and the decaying of certification standards, an understanding of our journey to becoming Master Black Belts will help.

I started out being trained as a Black belt in the first wave of Black belts trained outside of Motorola when I was working at Asea Brown Boveri (ABB). ABB got interested in Six Sigma as a result of a global management conference where Mikel Harry presentation to Business Unit Managing Directors on Six Sigma. I can recall our Business units MD coming back from the conference excited and enthusiastic with what Six Sigma could do for our business. I think it resonated with engineers and MD’s who were generally engineers by background. The fact it was mathematically based and suited the typical engineers mindset did not hurt.

In 1994 I got to attend the first of two weeks of Black Belt training in Sydney. My recollection of Six Sigma back in those days was it was not like we know Six Sigma today. Minitab was not around or was not well known except in universities. We spent two one week training sessions with pencil and paper calculating Six Sigma values, Process Capabilities, DPMO’s and yields. We learnt basic hypothesis testing using manual tables. We did not learn cause and effect diagrams, Measurement system analysis, designed experiments or any of the other tools of Six Sigma.

At the time we were aware that there was a lot more to Six Sigma than what we had been taught, as we were each given a copy of Mikel Harry’s two Six Sigma ‘books’ (a collection of Powerpoint slides). It was clear, that there was a comprehensive improvement methodology behind Six SIgma. It was when I started working as a consultant and through my own research that I taught myself the full methodology. That knowledge only increased as I taught hundreds of Green, Black and Master Black Belts.

Right from those early days it was always a goal of students to get certified, with the benefits of increased marketability on the job market and in some cases financial compensation tied to the certification. It was considered important.

The generally accepted standards that to gain Green Belt certification the following standards were required:

  • Attend Green Belt training
  • Pass Green belt DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control) test at the end of each weeks training with at least 80% average mark
  • Complete one Green Belt project showing appropriate use of the methodology.

It was recognised that not all the tools would be used on a project so Belts were expected to use a ‘dummy data set’ to demonstrate they could use the tools and understand how and when they were required to be used. For Black belts the requirements were the same except two projects were required to be completed. The expectation was that these projects were substantial projects. The belts that were developed through this rigorous coaching, training and coaching model were of extremely high calibre. They were very capable and confident Belts that went on to more senior roles in the organisation they worked for.

If we fast forward to today we have recently seen the following:

  • A Oil and Gas company certifying Green belts without having done any capability analysis, in fact there training doesn’t even train the belts in Measurement System Analsysis (MSA). Belts would not know how repeatable and reproducible there data is. MSA’s are one of the cornerstone tools in the Six Sigma methodology.
  • A Business Improvement Consultancy running Black Belt training and asking participants to look at old projects to rewrite them to fit the DMAIC framework. The objective was to sell these Belts as Business Improvement Professionals to clients.
  • Another consultancy selling Green Belt training as three days of training plus two days of coaching and then expecting the belts to be able to complete projects on their own. It was no wonder that the success rate was very low.

The continually dumbing down of Six Sigma certification requirements and training is leading to a situation where peoples Six Sigma qualifications cannot be trusted. If you are looking to employ a belt then be very weary of stated qualifications – I have interviewed over 60 people for Black Belt and Green Belt roles and have seen many so called belts attending Six Sigma training and then selling themselves as experienced Six Sigma professionals. Let the employer beware.

As you probably are aware the learning comes from the correct application of the tools on projects. It is the coaching and mentoring that is the difference from someone learning the tools in a class room and someone who knows how to successfully apply the tools.

In an upcoming Post well discuss great recruitment questions to ask any Business Improvement Professional that will quickly gauge the validity of their Six Sigma knowledge.