Management
Speaking of Quality

The Life and Death...of Six Sigma (and its Training)

November 2, 2012

Six Sigma is dead! Long live Six Sigma! 

Take a look at anything popular. There are those who hold it high on a pedestal, nothing anyone says will make the convert take it off the base. Then, there are the detractors. Some of these individuals will say that the product/idea/service will not be popular for long. Others will say it is not new, it is simply a repackaging of an existing product/idea/service.
 
Six Sigma is one of these popular items. There are many companies that faithfully use the methodology and wouldn’t consider any other program. The detractors are quick to dismiss Six Sigma methodology as slow, hierarchical, and expensive.
 
For most of us, it is difficult to see either view as the ultimate truth. No system is perfect and no system is right for everyone. You must weigh the pros and cons, determining if Six Sigma training is a worthwhile investment for your company. If you decide Six Sigma is right for your company, training individuals to serve on project teams is a necessary component to effectively implement a Six Sigma program. While the company reaps benefits, so do individuals. Six Sigma training looks good on a résumé, and ASQ’s annual salary survey verifies the pay increases quality professionals receive with Six Sigma credentials (specifically Black Belt and Master Black Belt experience. But receiving Six Sigma training without an organization to share your knowledge does little good for you. Therefore, you either need to be in the position to decide your organization will implement Six Sigma or you need to be armed with information that convinces your boss that your organization needs Six Sigma training. Either way, you and your organization benefit from the decision and hard work implementation entails.  
 
But first, a brief background of Six Sigma methodology and training is in order.

About Six Sigma

Six Sigma started at Motorola in 1986. This new methodology laid out a means of improving manufacturing processes to eliminate defects and minimize variability in manufacturing and business practices. Six Sigma also helped break down departmental silos by “professionalizing” quality positions. To reap benefits from the collected data and the improved processes, a Six Sigma organization needs to have quality processes throughout the organization. According to Motorola University, Six Sigma is used as a metric, methodology, and management system. To ensure this occurs, there is a Six Sigma hierarchy. The titles of each of these positions mirrored martial arts rankings—a sticking point for many detractors. However, the intention is not to create a new class structure. The belts simply define an individual’s project role. All team members are considered subject matter experts. When managed properly, these levels help clarify roles and expedite projects. This structure can also be used to enhance professional development programs. Here is a rundown of the belt levels:
  • Yellow—The integrator. A yellow belt is a member of the core Six Sigma team but is not a project lead. The yellow belt is often responsible for process mapping. 
  • Green—The deployment expert. A green belt serves as a leader of some smaller projects but works primarily in project deployment. A green belt needs working knowledge of the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) model. 
  • Black—The leader. A black belt supervises project execution and has a full understanding of Six Sigma management and principles.
  • Master Black Belts—The coach. A Master Black Belt, Champion-appointed, dedicates 100% of work time to Six Sigma projects, often working with Champions to identify projects and coaching Black and Green Belts through projects.
  • Champion—The overseer. The Champion makes sure the Black Belts can focus on projects, removing roadblocks to success.
In the early days of the 21st century, when Six Sigma began getting headlines, and training for this “new” methodology popped up throughout the world, it didn’t take long before business experts, including quality professionals, were stating that Six Sigma methodology—and the training that went along with it—was losing favor in the marketplace. However, during this time, ASQ saw an increase in attendees to the annual Six Sigma conference (which now includes lean) and companies continued to create or sustain a Six Sigma infrastructure with training. These companies have shown—and continue to show—results. ASQ has case studies detailing the process for Cummins (16% decrease of cab vibration for the Dodge Ram, which helped increased sales 100%), Crown Equipment ($1.5 million saved), and many other companies. These case studies attest to the value of Six Sigma programs and the training needed to be successful.*
 

Training to Implementation

These results certainly didn’t come overnight. But the results were no accident, either. The individuals and teams involved used skill sets developed in Six Sigma training programs. Six Sigma training is an investment in time and money. It allows you to identify your opportunities for improvement, to improve your processes, and to save money. Miracles no, results yes. 
 
Organizational buy-in is key to the success of your Six Sigma training and implementation. There are plenty of overview courses (classroom and Web based) that can be used to inform executives, even board members, to ensure buy-in and necessary knowledge from the top. Capitalizing on your investment is too important to spend valuable time justifying the expense throughout the implementation process. Decide, upfront, how you want to use Six Sigma principles and how (and when) you want them disseminated throughout the organization.
 
Typically there are no prerequisites needed to enter any of the courses. However, since data collection and analysis is elemental to Six Sigma projects, at least a working understanding of statistics is key to any Six Sigma course. 
 
Since the skill sets greatly differ from belt level to belt level, training for each level differs greatly in depth and length. It is important that you and your students understand the curriculum and are prepared for the time commitment.  
 
Don't leave this page thinking Six Sigma training is about learning heady topics. On the contrary, Six Sigma training, especially Black Belt training, is about applying your recently acquired knowledge. Part of Black Belt training is choosing a project you can work on at your company. Successful completion of this project equates to successful completion of the course.
 
Organizations can improve processes, reduce waste, and save money. This might be the key to Six Sigma’s power. While opponents continue to knock it down, ready to announce its demise, it gets up, dusts off, and continues to deliver for you and your company. Six Sigma is alive and well, and living in manufacturing.
 
References
*For these and other success stories, visit the ASQ Knowledge Center

ASQ is a global community of people dedicated to quality who share the ideas and tools that make our world work better. With millions of individual and organizational members of the community in 150 countries, ASQ has the reputation and reach to bring together the diverse quality champions who are transforming the world’s corporations, organizations and communities to meet tomorrow’s critical challenges. ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., with national service centers in China, India and Mexico. Learn more about ASQ’s members, mission, technologies and training at www.asq.org.

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