Lean Six Sigma Tutorial

Lean Six Sigma Tutorial

Last updated on 13th Oct 2020, Blog, Tutorials

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Sekar (Six Sigma Quality Manager )

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Six Sigma is a quality management approach that seeks to minimize or eliminate defects or errors in products and business services. Originally developed to improve manufacturing processes, the tools and techniques used in Six Sigma are now considered industry-agnostic, which means they have been successfully used in such sectors as aeronautics, electronics, pharmaceuticals, retail and more.

Organizations that have adopted Six Sigma processes may also see improved customer service, shorter cycle times and better compliance with regulations and business development standardization. However, the rigors of Six Sigma make its processes somewhat difficult to implement, and it typically takes months or years before all relevant employees are on board, following the processes closely and consistently enough to realize such benefits and value.

Lean Six Sigma Certification Levels:

Unlike most IT-related certifications, Six Sigma certs are available from several different certification bodies, such as the American Society of Quality (ASQ) and the International Association for Six Sigma Certification (IASSC). That means either the individual seeking certification or the individual’s company must research and compare programs before committing to one in particular. Each certification body offers similar (not identical) Six Sigma certification levels, although the following are mostly standard across programs:

  • Yellow Belt: This person is a project team member who supports project improvements.
  • Green Belt: This person also supports project improvements, helps with statistical analysis, and may lead projects in a part-time capacity.
  • Black Belt: This person leads projects (usually full time) and often trains, coaches and/or supervises project members.
  • Master Black Belt: This person develops project metrics and strategy, serves as an organization’s go-to Six Sigma person, and trains and coaches Black Belts and Green Belts.

Unlike some IT certifications, Six Sigma certs do not form a certification ladder. That means a Yellow Belt is not a prerequisite to a Green Belt, you don’t need a Green Belt to become a Black Belt, and so forth.

Job opportunities for Six Sigma certified professionals

Just as there isn’t one industry to which Six Sigma processes apply, Six Sigma job roles vary. The most common roles are project manager, project or process engineer, and quality assurance engineer. However, because employees from many different departments may participate on a Six Sigma team, you can also find business intelligence analysts, operational risk managers, software developers and consultants, to name a few.

There’s a healthy job market for Six Sigma certified professionals. Job websites such as Simply Hired and Indeed.com show more than 2,500 open positions for Six Sigma Green Belts and about 3,000 for Black Belts, but the numbers drop below 200 for Yellow Belt. Master Black Belts are mentioned in about 1,000 job postings each day.

On the salary front, data from Glassdoor and PayScale indicates that the U.S. average annual salary for a Yellow Belt is about $68,000 and a Green Belt is $72,000. A Black Belt can expect just under $90,000 (on average), whereas a Master Black Belt averages $119,000, but it’s common to see job descriptions with salaries of $135,000 to $150,000, and sometimes more.

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Becoming Six Sigma certified

To achieve a Six Sigma certification, a candidate should expect to meet experience requirements, pass a written certification exam and demonstrate hands-on competency. Most of the various certification bodies offer training (which is recommended but not typically required) as part of a certification package, which also includes training materials and written exam costs. Exams are administered by Pearson VUE, Prometric, or the certification bodies at special conferences and educational events.

Written exams are usually multiple choice and increase in allotted time and difficulty at each certification level. Where a Yellow Belt written exam may take 90 minutes, a Black Belt exam may take four hours. The hands-on portion of certification testing usually means completing one or more quality projects with signed affidavits. For example, a Green Belt might be required to complete one project, a Black Belt two projects, and a Master Black Belt 10 or more projects. Most certification bodies allow candidates to count college or university degrees toward the work experience requirements.

ASQ certifications

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) certification program has 18 certifications. It includes the Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt and Master Black Belt credentials, along with 14 others that are specific to job roles, such as Biomedical Auditor and Calibration Technician.

Candidates for ASQ certifications can save money by becoming a member, which costs $29 to $159 per year, depending on whether you join at the Student, Associate or Full level. The following table shows exam fees for a sampling of ASQ certifications.

ExamFee(member)Fee (nonmember)Retake fee
ASQ Yellow Belt$244$394$184
ASQ Green Belt$438$299$239
ASQ Black Belt$538
ASQ Master Black Belt*$2,229$2,074$2,229 / $2,074
* A candidate for Master Black Belt must also pay $650 (or $495 for members) for a portfolio review.

IASSC certifications

IASSC focuses on Lean Six Sigma, which combines lean manufacturing processes and principles within the Six Sigma structure. IASSC exams are based on topics in the IASSC Universally Accepted Lean Six Sigma Body of Knowledge, or IBoK. Speaking of lean, the IASSC Lean Six Sigma certification program has only three (but reputable) certifications: Certified Yellow Belt, Certified Green Belt and Certified Black Belt.

IASSC stands out in the Six Sigma field because the organization does not offer training, and it does not require work experience or hands-on projects as part of its certification requirements. Candidates must simply pass a written exam.

The cost of IASSC certification exams are $395 for the Certified Black Belt, $295 for the Certified Green Belt and $195 for the Certified Yellow Belt.

Where else can you get Six Sigma certified?

The Council for Six Sigma Certification maintains the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge for Black Belts, Green Belts and Yellow Belts. It also accredits organizations to administer certifications. You can search the Accredited Six Sigma Provider Directory to locate certification bodies and training providers (which usually are one and the same).

You can also check out other organizations that offer Six Sigma training and certification, such as Six Sigma Certification Tulsa and Villanova University. And be sure to visit the iSixSigma website for all kinds of Six Sigma resources, such as training materials, a dictionary, project templates and examples, a blog, Six Sigma tools, and a job board.

Benefits of Lean Six Sigma 

The benefits of Lean Six Sigma fall in to 7 key categories

  • Financial benefits
  • Strategic benefits
  • People development benefits
  • Customer benefits
  • Competitive position
  • Stakeholder benefits
  • Standardisation benefits

Financial benefits

The financial benefits associated with Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma are well documented. Companies such as GE, Motorola and Honeywell have been posting amazing numbers for decades based on Lean Six Sigma projects. Typically we see projects which on average save around £50k. Projects which save less than £50k either have not had the right support or they were not chosen correctly in the first place. We frequently see projects which save well over £100k.

  • Allied Signal – Cost savings exceeding $800 million since 1995.
  • General Electric – Most admired company three years running, and consistently increasing growth and profit – cost saving exceeding $2 billion.
  • US ARMY- Lean Six Sigma techniques implemented throughout the Army continue to prove successful, and leaders anticipate reaching $2 billion-savings.

Financially if you put a person onto Lean Six Sigma training and they successfully complete a project then you would typically expect then to save around £50k. This does depend upon the project. The typical Green Belt or Black Belt will also complete around 3 projects in a year as well as doing their day job. Which means that on average a typical Green Belt will save their company around £150k if they are given the projects and support to complete them. This has to be a major advantage to any company.

Companies can also be confident that the savings are real. This is a result of a key structural element of Lean Six Sigma. The finance department signs off any savings, they say if the savings are real or not. It is no longer just enough for an employee or manager to run a project and say we saved X, Y or Z. In Lean Six Sigma it is only a saving when finance can see it. A major benefit of Lean Six Sigma is therefore that the savings are real. This gives companies the confidence to say we saved X amount and is why GE, Motorola can publish their savings with confidence.

The average savings per project also means that most delegates will pay for their training many times over just by completing one project, a fantastic return on investment.

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Strategic benefits

Companies who deploy Lean Six Sigma also see benefits of a strategic nature. This is achieved by taking your trained Green or Black Belt and asking them to complete projects which are of a strategic importance – solving major problems in the business. The skill set that a Green or Black belt will obtain through their Lean Six Sigma training will enable them to solve complex problems for good. They will not just put out fires but they will remove the root causes stopping the fires from starting again. How much time and money have you spend fire-fighting over the last year? Lean Six Sigma is about putting out major fires permanently.

As Lean Six Sigma Green and Black Belts are trained to analyse data they can also assist you in understanding where your current problems are, how large they are and develop solutions to solve them. You can then reassess or develop a strategy for the business based on fact.

People development benefits

The vast majority of people who are trained as Lean Six Sigma Green and Black Belts provide many softer benefits for their organisations. They obtain an amazing amount of self confidence, the training and being able to speak with data enable them to challenge the norm, suggest new ideas and solve problems. The result of this confidence normally means that Green and Black Belts want to see things in the organisation change and as such become change agents for the business. If they have influence in the business in any way then they start to affect those around them to change as well. The result is an organisation that can implement change, develop and grow.

The trained Green and Black Belts also start to understand the need for change in the organisation. They understand and can not only identify but eliminate waste they start to explain this to other members of the organisation and the business improves without formal projects.

Green and Black Belts also become very enthusiastic about applying the tools and spending time solving problems. They will in fact start to use the Lean Six Sigma methodologies and tools in all aspects of their jobs, meetings and interactions. Your people will have a whole new set of skills to apply in all aspects of their jobs. You therefore see that your people change to become more focused, data driven and have more energy.

An issue however becomes the expectations which are set in the Green or Black Belt. They want to change the business and many become frustrated if the business will not embrace this change. The result therefore can be a highly fired up individual who becomes frustrated which can lead to many negative consequences for the business.

Customer benefits

The benefits to your customers normally take the form of better service, better delivery and even better quality. As a result many customers are now asking their suppliers if they use Lean Six Sigma in their business. We have clients who have started their programs as a direct result of a request from their customers. So you can start to advertise the fact that you are using state of the art process improvement and problem solving methodologies to further enhance your offering to your customers. You can also at that point ask them to get involved and as a result become closer to your customer.

The immediate benefit to your customers would of course be the result of your Green and Black Belt projects. If you have customer issues then having a project in that area will dramatically improve the situation. So if you have delivery issues or quality issues then your customer will see the difference meaning at worst secured continual sales and at best improved sales.

Competitive advantage

As you improve your performance you will start to see a difference between yourselves and your competitors. You can then use this in your marketing and sales pitches. On the other hand if you don’t start to implement Lean Six Sigma you can bet your bottom dollar that your competition either are or will implement Lean Six Sigma. That will leave you trailing them and will ultimately cost the business.

Stakeholder benefits

The key benefit in this area is the engagement of your workforce in transforming your business. Companies who have deployed Lean Six Sigma successfully see this engagement and reap the benefits – the whole workforce identifying and solving problems how much power would that give you.

It also means you can engage with suppliers and customers to jointly solve problems. Even the shareholders can benefit as many city analysts are now asking why if you are not deploying Lean Six Sigma.

Standardisation benefits

Every company’s processes would benefit from standardisation. If you implement Lean Six Sigma a major benefit would be that all projects would be run in a standardised same way following the same process – DMAIC. This means that as managers you can be confident that the problem is being solved properly with data to back up any decision. It means that you can monitor progress of projects easily as you can see which stage each project is in. If you have to change the person running a project then it is easier for others to pick up where they left off. It also means that your decisions will be based on accurate data, analysis and processes giving improved solutions.

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Six Sigma Drawbacks

It is difficult to imagine that a methodology created to improve can actually bring problems to an organization. 

  • The first drawback is that Six Sigma can create amazing bureaucracy and rigidity because the methodology covers all the process of the company and this, in turn, leads to delays and problems in creativity. Furthermore, when Six Sigma is taken to the extreme problems can arise because companies tend to favor policies that follow the Six Sigma methodologies and forget about policies or approaches that can only apply to their company. So, for example, a company can prefer to follow the Six Sigma methodology and apply a very expensive measure rather than trying a very inexpensive measure that evidently is needed in the business.   
  • For small businesses, one of the biggest disadvantages is that applying Six Sigma can be very expensive to implement. The main cause of this cost is training. Companies have to find certified Six Sigma institutes to get their training or do their training in-house without formal certification. Either way, the cost for small business is too high and a lot of training is needed to really get the grasp of the system and to apply it to each and every process. 
  • Six Sigma really focuses on a strict and rigid process to follow and that goes against the new trends that favor creativity and innovation because the innovative approach focuses on redundancy, unusual solutions, and deviations in production, and all these things clearly go against the Six Sigma principles.
  • People are not trusting Six Sigma as a methodology in itself anymore. They are saying that this methodology is just a continuation of the continued improvement techniques that were applied in Toyota and companies are shifting to other approaches or strategies that require outsourcing of projects that bring big problems with accountability. With this in mind, it is clear that Six Sigma also requires many trained staff that needs to be motivated in time and well trained for long periods.

So Six Sigma has been an approach that has been around for quite a time now. It has been useful for some companies and for others it just does not apply. It is now being challenged by new innovative approaches but it still remains a good way to improve processes.

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