Lean Six Sigma

12 minute read

Lean Six Sigma Belts Explained: Everything You Need to Know

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

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Businesses would do anything to get better at what they do. That’s why the best of them — including many Fortune Global 500 companies — practice the principles of Lean Six Sigma and hire professionals who are certified in its methodologies.

Developed to help organizations deliver high performance and sustain competitive advantage, Lean Six Sigma is a data-driven method that enables companies to:

  • increase revenue;
  • reduce waste, errors, and costs;
  • optimize profit margins;
  • maintain quality standards;
  • improve process efficiencies; and,
  • keep people productive.

These impressive capabilities make Lean Six Sigma among the planet’s most widely embraced process management frameworks.

Companies across a diverse range of industries rely on the tried-and-true methods of Lean Six Sigma to keep their people, processes, and products in a continuous state of improvement.

To make that happen, these companies depend on professionals who have the mindset and Lean Six Sigma training needed to execute Lean Six Sigma strategies and reap its compelling rewards.

No wonder a cursory search on any career site generates thousands of job posts for professionals who have Lean Six Sigma credentials on their resumes, with experts enjoying average salaries of $108K or more. If you want to become a hot item on the job market, acquiring a Lean Six Sigma certification is a good place to start.

But before joining the bandwagon, you might want to explore the different levels that professionals can attain in the Lean Six Sigma universe. The following article takes you through Lean Six Sigma belts explained, as well as the certification process.

Want to learn more about the Lean Six Sigma methodology?

Check out this ebook that will guide you through the key concepts of LSS.

Lean Six Sigma belts and expertise levels

Adopting the colored belt ranking system commonly used in martial arts, Lean Six Sigma implements four competency levels:

  1. Yellow Belt - entails awareness of foundational concepts
  2. Green Belt - requires proficiencies in field tools such as the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) methodology
  3. Black Belt - denotes the ability to lead projects full time as well as expertise in several areas such as Design of Experiments (DOE).
  4. Master Black Belt - refers to the expertise level of a professional who has had a black belt certification for at least two years and who has mastered the discipline to the point of being able to teach its tenets to others.

Here are the Lean Six Sigma Belts in more detail: 

Yellow Belt

Six-sigma-belts-explainedYellow Belts represent the entry-level rank in the Lean Six Sigma hierarchy. While they know the fundamentals, they are not fully trained to lead projects. Instead, Yellow Belts often serve as active and dependable members of one or more Lean Six Sigma projects, performing any number of project-related tasks in addition to their corporate responsibilities. As team members, they attend meetings, provide functional inputs, gather project data, and assist in testing and implementations. They help solve problems and bring projects into completion.

A Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification enables professionals to:

  • have basic knowledge of the principles, terminologies, roles, processes, deliverables, and tools of Lean Six Sigma.
  • understand how the source tenets (Lean Manufacturing/Enterprise and Six Sigma Process Improvement Techniques) complement each other.
  • learn relevant statistical concepts such as normal distribution and variation.
  • apply concepts such as Critical to Quality (CTQ), graphical analysis, and process stability/management.
  • gain basic understanding of the DMAIC method, especially the Define, Measure and Control phases.

Green Belt

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Most Green Belts are manager-level personnel in their respective organizations and nearly all have at least three years of work experience. Within the Lean Six Sigma universe, Green Belts have mastered the fundamentals and have acquired advanced knowledge and proficiencies in the use of analytical tools and statistical techniques. So equipped, a Green Belt often leads and focuses on a project directly related to his or her area of expertise/profession. They analyze problems and formulate solutions using Lean Six Sigma methodologies. In addition to presenting, leading brainstorming sessions, and analyzing data, Green Belts also report to and assist Black Belts, who often oversee multiple projects or manage a single, massive cross-sectional project.

As project leaders, Green Belts usually supervise an initiative to improve a specific process or aspect of their business. They apply the appropriate analytical techniques and transformational tools to accurately make assessments and drive positive change. Depending on its operational model and process complexity, a Lean Six Sigma organization normally has multiple Green Belts on its roster.

Designed for analysts, supervisors, quality engineers, and managers, the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification enables professionals to:

  • master Lean Six Sigma basics including methodologies, advanced techniques, and statistical tools.
  • understand, discuss, and apply all phases of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control). 
  • use analytical tools such as process control charts and hypothesis testing to measure data, detect problems, and make improvement-focused decisions.
  • learn project management techniques when it comes to building teams, delegating tasks, and setting project objectives.

Black Belt

Six-sigma-belts-explainedHaving become domain experts on specific elements of the Lean Six Sigma methodology, Black Belts lead cross-functional projects while serving as mentors, coaches, or advisers to one or more Green Belts who lead single projects as well as to Yellow Belts who perform support roles. They assume these functions while performing full-time responsibilities as senior leaders in the organization. Tasked to drive high performance and improve efficiencies throughout the company, Black Belts have what it takes to plan, implement, and iterate Lean Six Sigma strategies. Depending on its size, an organization can have multiple Black Belts in its roster.

Black Belts need to possess a keen understanding of both the business and the Lean Six Sigma framework to effect and sustain meaningful process improvements. They conduct meetings with different types of stakeholders, perform statistical analysis of specific projects they lead, and train the company’s next generation of Lean Six Sigma practitioners.


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To become a certified Black Belt, a professional should have acquired Green Belt certification, completed at least two verified projects, and have a minimum of three-years work experience in at least one core knowledge area. Designed for analysts, supervisors, quality engineers, and managers, the Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification enables professionals to:

  • gain expertise in Lean Six Sigma principles, roles, deliverables, methodologies, and statistical tools. These include mastery of the DMAIC method, Critical to Quality (CTQ), variation, and process management.
  • develop leadership capabilities required to manage multiple teams focusing on diverse improvement areas. These capabilities include mentoring approaches, coaching techniques, and performance feedback management.
  • apply advanced analytical, planning, and implementation techniques to drive major Lean Six Sigma programs from start to finish. These include measurement systems analysis, statistical process control, hypothesis testing, failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), and design of experiments (DOE).

Master Black Belt

Six-sigma-belts-explainedMaster Black Belts represent the elite practitioners of the Lean Six Sigma framework, with most organizations having only one such individual to manage their Lean Six Sigma initiatives and coordinate with a C-level advocate(s). Master Black Belts do not normally manage projects. Instead, they spearhead the organization-wide initiative for Lean Six Sigma-driven transformation. They work with top management and HR to build long-term improvement strategies, designate stakeholders, and assign specific Lean Six Sigma projects and deliverables to Black Belts and Green Belts. Each Master Black Belt is expected to oversee a portfolio of projects and to advise and train the Black Belts and Green Belts who lead those projects.

A Master Black Belt is an elite change agent, possessing a high degree of business acumen, a mindset for innovation, and practical people skills. He or she serves full-time as the company’s primary owner of process improvement and organizational excellence. To become one, a professional needs to have prior Black Belt certification, complete at least two verified projects as a Black Belt, have at least five years relevant work experience and demonstrate expertise in the application of Lean Six Sigma principles, methodologies, and tools. 

Designed for transformative leaders who understand process and can motivate people to effect culture change, the Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Certification enables professionals to:

  • achieve mastery of every aspect of the Lean Six Sigma methodology.
  • learn and apply sophisticated tools and techniques for overseeing and successfully completing full-scale Lean Six Sigma initiatives.
  • develop innovative thinking and creative skills to ideate new and far-reaching Lean Six Sigma programs.

Lean Six Sigma certifications

Being a combination of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma philosophy, Lean Six Sigma initially started as an informal discipline but became a more standardized field following its demonstrable successes and widespread adoption over the years.

The two most recognized organizations that grant Lean Six Sigma certifications are the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the International Association of Six Sigma Certification (IASSC). You can acquire certifications for any Lean Six Sigma belt from either of two certifying bodies. Either certification can help accelerate your career, raise your pay grade, reinforce your leadership skills, and orient your mindset towards excellence and continuous improvement. The GoSkills Lean Six Sigma courses are aligned with the IASSC Body of Knowledge.

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Conclusion

Given the competition among businesses as well as career professionals, a culture/mindset of continuous improvement has become a baseline for success and competitive advantage. The Lean Six Sigma methodology is a good framework to adopt if you want to:

  1. Help your organization maintain quality standards and become more profitable and efficient.
  2. Develop technical skills that are relevant and transferable across industries.
  3. Build leadership and management skills.

Among the best-paying certifications in the industry, Lean Six Sigma certifications help you gain recognition and the right credentials to participate effectively in process improvement projects. If you want to learn more about the topic, check out our extensive Lean Six Sigma Primer and Glossary, or try a Lean Six Sigma course for free with our 7-day trial.

Want to learn more about the Lean Six Sigma methodology?

Check out this ebook that will guide you through the key concepts of LSS.

 

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue

Joseph Mapue wears his writer's hat wherever he goes, crafting top-notch content on business, technology, creativity, and innovation. He is also a dreamer, builder, father, and gamer.

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