We are often asked this question, so thought we should address it here. Traditionally in a Six Sigma deployment the number that has been used is 2% of the workforce, that is 2% of the workforce should be Black Belts. That is 2 Black Belts per 100 staff. This 2% number has been around from the early days of Six Sigma and we heard it first mentioned in some articles on Motorola’s Six sigma program. Where do we stand on this question?

We think the 2% has no valid foundation. We think it depends on the goals of your program and  your industry. Some industries are labour intensive where the 2% would not apply. Better to let the business goals help to determine the number of Black Belts needed. The goals are important to understand as it will determine the number of belts required. Remember we talk about y=f(x) in Six Sigma and in this case one of the important inputs is the expected benefits to be achieved on an annual basis from a Belt. Of course this varies greatly and is determined from many factor, many outside the Belts ability to control.

Our experience shows the following annual benefits expectations from Belts, of course this will vary depending on the company size but as a guideline or starting point: Manufacturing $0.5 to $1M per annum (pa), Mining $5M pa, Oil and Gas ($1M to $10M) and Services are generally in line with Manufacturing. Note that we are talking real financial benefits that will flow to the bottom line, benefits that are tangible. These estimates are always re-evaluated when we start work at a clients.

Estimating expected benefits are difficult to determine and what it emphasises, is the importance of getting the right projects in your project pipeline. The other Important input is the quality of belts and their ability to focus on their projects.We have always found that it is much easier to get results with Black belts than Green belts because they are not conflicted between their project and day to day work. We find that Green belts need to be actively managed to keep them focused. A Green belt only deployment can work, we’ve worked with many successful deployments with only Green belts however we are always working on keeping the belts focused on the projects.