See prior section: Black Belt Selection & Training
A classic model for black belt training consists of one week per month of classroom training spread over four months. It integrates classroom learning with hands-on project implementation. Black belts are assigned a project for this training, which allows them to successfully apply the skills they are taught in training to the three weeks between each class session. The trainers, aided by master black belts, serve as coaches for these projects.
A newer model for training, which has proved even more successful, is a blended approach that employs online self-study training with on-site classroom review and mentoring sessions. Based on reviews and feedback, students enjoy the flexibility offered by the online format. The clearest benefit of an online class over the classroom setting is the self-paced nature of the online class. Students progress through the material at their own pace, based on their experience, skill set, and learning objectives. For students with busy work or home lives, this often allows them to better balance their time. Online unit quizzes are often provided to test the acquired knowledge for each topic. The online materials are supplemented with workshops and review sessions to discuss questions from the online materials and apply the materials to the ongoing student projects.
A key aspect of black belt training is successful completion of a project. Projects prove training. Projects are completed successfully only when the financials have been certified by the accounting department and the project has been accepted and closed by the sponsor. In addition to the usual criteria of bottom-line impact and customer focus, training projects usually are selected that will use many of the technical skills in an area of the business in which the black belt candidate has some experience (and comfort).
Each black belt should arrive for the first week of training with several potential projects, allowing that some of the projects may not meet selection criteria defined by management (usually as part of champion training). Workshops are incorporated extensively throughout the training to provide hands-on experience to the attendees. Project data are used in the workshops wherever possible so that students can effectively apply the subject matter to real-world examples. Since open discussions of confidential process data are not well facilitated in a public seminar, effective black belt training often is limited to in-house courses (blended with online training, as discussed earlier).
The flow of the course material roughly follows the DMAIC process so that the appropriate tools and concepts are taught and applied at each stage of project deployment. The black belt training requires the use of suitable Six Sigma software, such as shown in the examples throughout this book. Because of the availability of software, the course material may concentrate on the application and use of statistical tools rather than on the detailed derivation of the statistical methods.
A suggested schedule of training topics is provided in Table 2.3. While there is a credible argument that many Six Sigma projects will require use of only a handful of tools and that a portion of these will require only rudimentary statistical knowledge, black belts nonetheless need to learn these skills. Black belts should be taught to think critically and challenge conventional thought. Successful breakthrough thinking requires rigorous analysis. Black belts must be taught to accept ideas and opinions as just that, with their limitations, and to use the power of the analytical tools to prove the solutions and their assumptions. This applies equally to manufacturing and service applications. The statistical tools allow black belts to prove concepts with minimal data and process manipulation so that great advances can be made in a short amount of time. Problems that have gone unsolved for years can be attacked and conquered. Data-driven decision making becomes the rule, not the exception.
Six Sigma certification demonstrates an individual’s knowledge, skills, and dedication to achieving a high level of competency in the Six Sigma process. The certification criteria are varied. For some companies, completion of a course and a single project suffices. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) applies a rather simple scheme: passing a written exam, with a signed affidavit attesting to completion of either two projects or one project and three years’ experience in the body of knowledge. While the exam offers some proof of the skills learned by the black belt, the completion of two projects certifies successful application of the skills.
The International Quality Federation (IQF) provides an online certification exam that can be used by an organization as part of its certification process. While the ASQ exam prohibits the use of a computer, the IQF certification mandates its use. In this way, the IQF certification testing is much more realistic than certification exams that do not allow for the use of statistical software. With only the use of a calculator, it’s quite difficult to have a realistic estimate of a black belt’s technical skills. The IQF provides a form for use by the employer’s certification committee that identifies three main components of certification: change-agent skills, application of tools and techniques, and ability to achieve results. It also provides a change-agent checklist that is completed by sponsors and team members and submitted to the committee for review.
See next section Green Belt Training & Selection
Learn more about the Lean Six Sigma principles and tools for process excellence in Six Sigma Demystified (2011, McGraw-Hill) by Paul Keller, in his online Lean Six Sigma DMAIC short course ($249), or his online Green Belt certification course ($499).