Six Sigma certifications explained

Joanna Six Sigma

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement developed by Motorola in 1986 and made central to General Electric business strategy in 1995 by Jack Welch. Six Sigma is a methodology used to improve business processes by utilizing statistical analysis rather than guesswork. The Six Sigma method follows an approach called DMAIC: Define, measure, analyze, improve and control.

What is the Six Sigma certification?

Six Sigma Certification is a process of verification of an individual’s command of the Six Sigma methods and techniques, and of assessing of the individual’s skill level using a “Belt” classification. The main Belt certifications are:

There are additional levels and roles for the Six Sigma professionals:

  • Brown Belt – Six Sigma Green Belt who has passed the Black Belt certification examination but has not yet completed their second Six Sigma project
  • Champion
  • Executive

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Belts, their meaning, differences and requirements

The referencing of “belts” by color is a simple and effective way of quickly understanding an individual’s skill level. Here’s a quick look at the differences:

Yellow Belt

IASSC Yellow BeltA Yellow Belt typically has a basic knowledge of Six Sigma, but does not lead projects on their own. S/he is responsible for the development of process maps to support Six Sigma projects. A Yellow Belt participates as a core team member or acts as a subject matter expert (SME) on a project or projects or may conduct small projects on a part-time basis. They may also be responsible for running smaller process improvement projects using the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) methodology. PDCA is a ‘continuous improvement’ technique which enables Yellow Belts to identify processes that could benefit from improvement. These smaller Yellow Belt projects often get escalated to the Green Belt or Black Belt level where a Define Measure Analyze Improve Control (DMAIC) methodology is used to maximize cost savings using Statistical Process Control.

Green Belt

IASSC Green BeltA Green Belt possesses a thorough understanding of all aspects within the phases of DMAIC. S/he typically operates in support of, or under the supervision of a Six Sigma Black Belt, analyzes and solves quality problems and is involved in quality improvement projects. Unlike Black Belts, who typically lead cross-functional projects, Six Sigma Green Belts usually work on projects within their own functional area. Green Belts typically liasise with their Black Belt coach to review project progress and seek advice. Green Belts are employees of an organization who have been trained on the Six Sigma improvement methodology and will lead a process improvement team as part of their full-time job and do not need to know as much as Black Belts.

Black Belt

IASSC Black BeltA Certified Six Sigma Black Belt is a professional who can explain Six Sigma philosophies and principles, including supporting systems and quality tools. S/he should exhibit team leadership, understand team dynamics and allocate team member roles and responsibilities. Black Belts have a thorough understanding of all aspects of the DMAIC model in accordance with Six Sigma principles. They are able to identify non-value-added elements and activities and are able to use specific tools. In short, they understand how to perform and interpret Six Sigma tools as well as know how to use standard principles of Lean. They typically coach and guide Green Belt professionals on various organizational projects. They lead a cross functional team for a project which may comprise of a number of Green and Yellow Belt professionals. They are also trained in analysis tools (i.e. think stats), change management philosophy or stakeholder influencing.

It is important to note here however, that if you wish to become IASSC Green or Black Belt certified, it is not necessary to be Yellow Belt certified beforehand, or have prior industry experience, or complete and submit projects as part of the certification process. The only prerequisite is that you pass the official IASSC exam for that belt, i.e. Green or Black.

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