What It Takes To Be A Six Sigma Black Belt: Your Only Guide

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The Six Sigma method involves using a set of principles to increase quality, productivity, and efficiency in a business. In contrast to other quality improvement methodologies, Six Sigma focuses on the entire product development process. 

Six Sigma is intended to improve the overall quality of a product and the development, delivery, and management of that product. As will be discussed in detail later in this post, those who reach a certain level of proficiency are designated black belts. 

However, it takes a certain level of dedication and implementation to become a black belt. This post will discuss what Six Sigma is, the different hierarchy levels involved, and how you can achieve the black belt status level.

What is six sigma?

Various applications of Six Sigma are used in both the private and public sectors. It is regarded as one of the most popular quality improvement techniques globally. The Six Sigma methodology strives to eliminate all defects in the production process.

What It Takes To Be A Six Sigma Black Belt

Motorola invented it in the 1980s, and several organizations have adopted it since then, including Microsoft and General Electric. 

Its primary goal is to reduce variability to increase customer satisfaction by increasing product reliability. As a result, these organizations have decreased costs due to defects and increased productivity. The six sigma methodology has five phases, commonly abbreviated to DMAIC: 

  • 1. Define covers understanding the customer's requirements and defining goals. 
  • 2. Measure includes identifying current performance metrics and determining how well they meet goals.
  • 3. Analyze includes investigating root causes for any problems identified in either phase 1 or 2. 
  • 4. Improve includes designing experiments to eliminate or minimize identified problems within a specified timeframe or budget limit. 
  • 5. Control includes maintaining the standards set and correcting any naturally occurring deviations before they cause defects.

The Six Sigma method is based on lean manufacturing principles. Companies can eliminate waste, reduce costs, and increase profits by identifying what is essential or "value-added" to a process while removing anything that does not add value. 

Furthermore, seven core principles culminate in one logical conclusion: to provide the best products for the customer in the most efficient way possible. They include: 

1. Focus on the customer at all times

At the core of the Six Sigma philosophy is a conscious effort to provide the customer with a product free of defects and aligns perfectly with their needs. You can only achieve this by implementing the following steps and if every team member is on board with this idea.

2. Gain a deeper understanding of how work is done

If you are serious about the first point (customer satisfaction), you must have an in-depth knowledge of the work process. You can achieve this by using process mining, whereby you use software to analyze your existing workflow and see if anything can be fixed or updated.

3. Processes should flow smoothly

Although having a smooth workflow is not unique to Six Sigma, it is an ingrained part of the philosophy and one that all Six Sigma practitioners will learn from their first belt.

Processes should flow smoothly

It essentially involves identifying bottlenecks in an organization that can reduce quality. These bottlenecks can occur at any stage of the process, from design to manufacture.

4. Focus on value while reducing waste

Every company should have an eye on reducing waste, but Six Sigma focuses on how reducing waste can increase value. This waste can range from wasted time from inefficiencies in workflows to material wastage that can impact a firm's bottom line. 

By eliminating this waste, your company should be able to offer its products at a more affordable price, thereby increasing customer satisfaction (point 1). 

5. Eliminate variation to prevent defects

The essence of Six Sigma is to reduce inefficiencies in work processes. One of the most significant factors influencing this is when a company overburdens itself with too many product variations. 

By dramatically reducing the variations of a particular product, you will be better able to increase quality and reduce inefficient practices. Furthermore, you will reduce expenses and increase profits. A great example of this is Apple and its product lineup.

6. Collaboration will help you get everyone on board

As someone progresses through the Six Sigma hierarchy, their focus will shift from learning about processes to learning about expertly managing people. By the time you reach the black belt, you will be expected to mentor those beneath you while still receiving mentorship from those above you. 

As a result of keeping a link between each level, you will get everyone on board with how things should be done and further increase efficiency. This can be seen when you reach executive levels and are expected to lead the company or department to higher productivity levels through the application of this philosophy.

7. Organize your efforts in a systematic and scientific manner

Since Six Sigma was developed by an engineer, it should be no surprise that it employs systematic and scientific methods.

Organize your efforts in a systematic and scientific manner

Analytics and systematic approaches reduce waste, increase productivity throughout the product cycle, and create happy customers and a healthy balance sheet. 

What are the different levels of competency?

Six Sigma is known for its innovative approach to quality management. In order to define a hierarchy and career path across business functions and levels, official Six Sigma programs use a ranking terminology similar to martial arts systems like judo. The different levels include:

Green belt

A Six Sigma Green Belt is a practitioner who has a deep understanding of Six Sigma methodology and business knowledge in manufacturing, quality management, or other related disciplines. 

To become a Six Sigma Green Belt, you need to be an expert with Six Sigma experience that demonstrates both technical and functional skills in problem-solving and can work on multiple projects with little supervision (although they work with the guidance of a black belt).

Black belt

A Six Sigma Black Belt is an individual who possesses the skills, knowledge, and experience to manage the success of a Six Sigma project or program on behalf of their organization. This person must be familiar with all aspects of quality management and should also possess strong leadership skills.

Master black belt

A Six Sigma Master Black Belt is mastery of all Six Sigma tools and methods. They have relevant Six Sigma Certification to have demonstrated competence in the core knowledge and skills encompassed by this designation. A Six Sigma Master Black Belt can be a valuable asset to any organization, especially for those seeking a culture of continuous improvement. 

They can identify opportunities for improvement and then demonstrate how to drive outcomes that will generate increased customer satisfaction, improved product safety, reduced manufacturing costs, and increased operating profits. Generally speaking, they will devote almost all of their time to six sigma principles, and their work will involve assisting champions while also mentoring green and black belts.

Champion

A Six Sigma Champion will typically have a deep understanding of statistics and data analysis and a strong background in engineering, mathematics, and accounting. A Six Sigma Champion also has strong leadership skills and has been trained to train others on the methodology of Six Sigma.

Executive leader

These can include executive management all the way up to the CEO of a company. They are involved with integrating Six Sigma principles company-wide. 

How can you become a black belt?

Now that you understand what the method is and its various leadership levels, it is time to come to the purpose of this post, to explain what it takes to become a black belt.

How can you become a black belt

In order to become a Six Sigma Black Belt, professionals must complete two projects and sign an affidavit, or complete one project and sign an affidavit along with three years of relevant work experience. 

Before deciding to progress from a green belt status, it is wise to learn from the Six Sigma Black Belt Body of Knowledge course.

This will provide you with everything you need to know about what is expected of you and what knowledge of the principles you must have. 

Additionally, it is not just about learning the basics; you must understand them and demonstrate leadership skills to implement them. You will work under the guidance of a black belt and, in some cases, a master black belt, who will assist you throughout your progression.

To become a black belt, you must have worked in a full-time paid position. Co-ops, internships, or other courses cannot count towards work experience. Six Sigma Black Belts must also possess some other traits in addition to experience. 

Innovation, customer understanding, effective communication, leadership, and management skills are essential to produce tangible financial results for the business. Once you can clearly demonstrate that you have embedded these skills into your work process, you can move up to the coveted black belt and all that it entails. 

Final words: what it takes to be a six sigma black belt

Six Sigma is a business improvement method to reduce defects and errors in products, processes, and services. Using it reduces the time and costs involved in bringing a new product to market. 

Since the 80s, the technique has been used with great success and requires a strict hierarchy of those who devote their time to it. Becoming a black belt involves a deeper understanding of the system than a green belt, and takes time and perseverance to achieve.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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