Question: What’s your opinion of black belt certification? Is it important to have a certified black belt on my staff?
Answer: The short answer is yes. Since I don’t know the size of the company or factory, or what your position is (whether you are at corporate or a factory), it’s impossible to comment with specifics. In any case, I’m happy to share my experience regarding black belts as well as other important certifications.
First, part of every continuous improvement journey should include broad and ongoing education and training programs for all incumbents as well as all new hires regardless of position. Lots of companies use a yellow belt process to provide a basic overview of lean and Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma 101. This is a good introduction to the process of CI and the tools necessary to change the way all employees think, work and behave. This is especially important in the C-suite and corporate/division staff members. This is where C-level leaders have the opportunity to answer these two critical questions that are on every attendee’s mind: 1) Why are we doing this? 2) What are your expectations for me in my role?
All these groups need to understand why the company has committed to a CI journey and what role everyone will be expected to play in supporting the leaders and other employees who will be working the priority projects to improve the business. This group should expect to be supportive when a CI project initiated elsewhere surfaces a process issue originating from their function. They will be asked to participate on corrective action teams in those cases. This could ultimately involve every function represented in the corporate/division offices. My many years of experience confirms this truth: Most of the problems that show up on the shop floor were sent there by a staff function due to process disconnects, e.g., lack of proper systems integration, inaccurate information, missing or dysfunctional processes, lack of alignment.
The next group is green belts. They represent the small army of problem-solvers who make process improvements happen. They are trained to bring expertise to bear for the execution of priority improvements that move the needle on cost, inventory and customer service. Lean Six Sigma 201 if you will. Their skill set with both lean and Six Sigma tools is extensive and equips them to deal with most process issues. These people are scarce resources, and leadership must keep them focused on high impact projects.
Depending on the size of the organization, some number of black belts is a necessary skill set to have on staff. Think lean 301 and Six Sigma 401. The capability of these people encompasses the full scope of tools proficiency. While they likely oversee and guide green belts with their projects, black belt projects should be game-changers, such as gage R&R studies, process capability studies, de-bottlenecking, highly complex project management and the like. They also should be used to train new green belts and yellow belts as the needs arise.
In large organizations, it also makes sense to have one or more master black belts. These leaders will likely have received their training by a master black belt at another company, a university, a not-for-profit organization (e.g., ASQ https://asq.org/training/lean-six-sigma-black-belt-training-ssb) or by a consultant master black belts should be in the loop on tracking project performance by each black belt and are considered a company sensei. These very scarce resources should be trainers to sustain the proper number of black belts in the company. Finally, their expertise can be applied on the company’s largest strategic breakthroughs for process improvements anywhere in the company. This is one of their most important roles. Since they have the corporate perspective on processes that are used at multiple sites, they can “put legs” on great projects and follow through to see that these breakthroughs are shared and implemented company wide.
“A corporation is a living organism; it has to continue to shed its skin. Methods have to change. Focus has to change. Values have to change. The sum total of those changes is transformation.” -- Andrew Grove, co-founder and long-time CEO of Intel
“Waste is worse than loss. The time is coming when every person who lays claim to ability will keep the question of waste before him constantly. The scope of thrift is limitless.” -- Thomas A. Edison