Six Sigma is a set of tools, techniques, and strategies that are used to improve processes within an organization. It has been used by companies across virtually every industry, and is adopted in regions around the world. Of all the process improvement techniques out there today, Six Sigma is almost certainly the most popular, and best known.
It was initially introduced by Bill Smith, who was an engineer at Motorola. He developed the process in 1986. It really started to become well known in 1995 when Jack Welch implemented it as a key component of his overall business strategy at General Electric.
What Is Six Sigma
Six Sigma is a very in depth set of ideas that can take years to master. To break it down into the most basic explanation, one would say that it is a process for removing imperfections. For any process to become Six Sigma, it must produce things without defects 99.99966% of the time. This works out to be 3.4 defects for every million opportunities.
This is a difficult goal to attain, but it is possible when using all the tools and techniques that have been developed for the Six Sigma methodology. When a company is able to meet this threshold, and maintain it over time, they will be producing constantly high-quality products for their customers.
Working toward the goal of becoming Six Sigma compliant can take many years, and will involve everyone on the team who works on any project. While everyone who works on a process will be part of its success, it will be guided along by people who have had some type of Six Sigma training.
As someone goes through this training, they will attain different colored belts, based on their level. Any company that is looking to use Six Sigma strategies will need to know about these different levels, and get their employees certified at the level that is appropriate for their role.
Understanding Six Sigma Belt Levels
The Six Sigma system has several levels of belts, similar to what people would attain when training in Karate. The colors for Six Sigma are Green, Yellow, Black, Brown, and Master Black Belt. The belt color someone holds will help to determine what role they will have in a given project, and how they will be spending their time. Learn more about the different Six Sigma belt levels here:
Six Sigma Yellow Belt
Yellow belts in the Six Sigma process aren't always listed in the official lineup of belts. This is because it is something of a 'half step' for those who are just starting out with Six Sigma. Someone who holds the yellow belt will have already completed and passed the green belt certification, but has not yet completed a Six Sigma project. Once they have gotten a Six Sigma project completed, they will have their green belt.
Six Sigma Green Belt
The Six Sigma green belt is the entry level certification that can ben held in this process. Those who have a green belt have passed the necessary certification, and completed at least one Six Sigma project. This is the level where most people will be positioned, and is the level at which most of the work is done.
Those with a green belt will typically operate as a team member on a project, but for simple projects, they can be the leader. In most organizations, those who are at the manager level will hold green belts.
When working on a project, people with green belts will review and refine project charters, work and communicate closely with the project's champion, schedule meetings, coordinate logistics, analyze data, and perform day-to-day tasks to complete projects. In addition, they can help to choose other team members who will work on a project in many cases.
Six Sigma Brown Belt
The brown belt is similar to the yellow belt in that it is more of a half-step above the green belt. This is for those who have already passed their black belt certification, but haven't completed a second Six Sigma project. Not all lists of Six Sigma belt levels will include the brown belt.
Six Sigma Black Belt
Black belt holders will typically be operating as full-time change agents within a company. They are responsible for making improvements within the company where they work.
Those who are interested in attaining a black belt for Six Sigma will need to have technical and managerial roles and experience related to process improvement. They should also be good at gathering and analyzing statistics, and be able to lead teams effectively. Black Belts will spend a lot of time coordinating and running meetings that are focused on identifying problem areas and coming up with effective solutions.
In addition, those who hold Six Sigma black belts will be working regularly with members of executive management. With this in mind, they must be comfortable with this type of activity, and be willing and able to present to these people as well as stand up to them when needed.
Six Sigma Master Black Belt
The master black belt is the highest role for Six Sigma. Those who attain this level will hold leadership roles in the Six Sigma process. They will also be advisors to executives and other high-level managers. In order to become a Six Sigma master black belt, one must complete all the required certification tests and also complete at least ten complex Six Sigma projects. This process will take many years of work. Once someone becomes a black belt, they must have a master black belt as a mentor in order to attain this rank.
Those who are master black belts will be responsible for counseling senior executives on Six Sigma, identifying key projects where improvement can be made, and apply Six Sigma concepts to areas throughout a business.
With the exception of large corporations, companies don't usually employ a master black belt themselves because of the large amount of work that needs to go into attaining this designation. In addition, smaller companies wouldn't be likely to have the amount of work (or budget) for a full time master black belt.
Preparing a Company for Six Sigma
When a company wants to take advantages of all the benefits that Six Sigma can provide, it is important to get a good understanding of what it will entail. The management teams will need to decide whether they want to train existing employees to attain the various belt levels, or hire from the outside. Companies can also bring in Six Sigma black belt or master black belts as contractors to help bring employees and the company up to speed. When done properly, it will be well worth the effort.