A Guide to the Lean Six Sigma Belts
Dean Simpson, training consultant at Renault-Nissan Consulting outlines the Lean Six Sigma belts.
Lean Six Sigma is a business management strategy that helps organisations and leaders operate more effectively. There are a range of different principles within Lean Six Sigma that help to remove defects within an organisation’s processes, speed up manufacturing and reduce wasted resources.
The strategy is often implemented in the manufacturing industry, where the slightest improvements or reduction in costs can lead to greater success, but it can be applied to any sector or type of business.
Lean Six Sigma requires input from various levels in a business and there are official qualifications employees can obtain. This hierarchy of ‘Belts’ allows representatives to gain accreditations for the work they do and creates an internal infrastructure when it comes to business improvement.
Below we have explained the belts and the different stages.
1. White Belt
The first stage of accreditation is a White Belt. This is a relatively easy stage to pass and is commonly achieved by someone at the beginning of their Lean Six Sigma journey. The White Belt training course and certification takes place over half a day and those who achieve this level can make a very valuable contribution to projects.
Team members with a White Belt often assist with problem solving.
They may be responsible for helping more senior or experienced professionals to identify where issues exist or eliminate ‘root cause’ problems that prevent an organisation from operating at its best. ‘White Belts’, as they are known, possess a basic-level knowledge of Lean Six Sigma. They will also need to understand the background and philosophy that form the foundations of the methodology.
2. Yellow Belt
Employees with a Yellow Belt will have carried out basic-level training in Lean Six Sigma and have a good understanding of the methodologies involved. At this stage, their participation in the process is crucial, often being required to report back on their findings to project leaders.
At the Yellow Belt stage, team members will be tasked with a particular focus area, which they will review before making recommendations for improvements.
A Yellow Belt will be involved in the development of process maps and will also be expected to draw on the practical experience they have gained. In certain cases, employees at this stage will own smaller projects that have a direct impact on the success of a larger, overall Lean Six Sigma initiative.
3. Green Belt
The Green Belt is the next level up after Yellow in the Lean Six Sigma hierarchy.
Green Belts tend to be leaders and oversee a process improvement team, often running this as well as other organisational responsibilities. It is likely they will be chosen to drive improvement in a particular area of the business, such as manufacturing, due to their skillset or existing knowledge. They will have a good understanding of the way certain parts of the organisation operate, guiding team members including White or Yellow belts.
At the Green Belt stage, project managers are often responsible for motivating a team and will dedicate up to around 50% of their time to Six Sigma work. They may encounter resistance from employees within an organisation who don’t believe in the benefits of a Lean project hence, Green Belts must inspire anyone involved to embrace a culture of Continuous Improvement and motivate them in order to ensure a project is successful.
4. Black Belt
Black Belts are team leaders. Most will spend all of their time dealing with or supervising Lean Six Sigma projects. This includes directing White, Yellow and Green Belts across a few different projects, rather than just one. They will usually have visibility of an entire on-going Lean programme and liaise with more senior team members about the goals of each project.
Anyone possessing a Black Belt will have strong leadership skills. They will have in-depth knowledge of Lean Six Sigma methodologies and can successfully implement the principles throughout an organisation.
At this stage, a Black Belt will be expected to pass on valuable knowledge to other more junior employees who may be completing their early Lean Six Sigma stages. They will often provide training, mentorship and advice for anyone on the team. And are also required to produce results and reports, quickly showing the effects of their team’s work on particular areas of the business.
5. Master Black Belt
Master Black Belt is the pinnacle of Lean Six Sigma project management. People who reach this level are comfortable leading the team and can guide multiple projects at one time. They will be adept at reviewing and analysing the statistical information presented by other team members. They will also have an exceptional understanding of the Lean Six Sigma business methodology.
As a leader, a Master Black Belt must be strong and remain in control, as the overall project may require numerous tasks at different stages. Other executives and department managers will look to the Master Black Belt for direction and guidance or wisdom when necessary.
As well as possessing a high standard of technical knowledge, Master Black Belts must be prepared to impart this knowledge and experience to others. This will ensure Lean Six Sigma project team members are both engaged and effective.