Close Menu

By LauraLee Rose, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager and Six Sigma Black Belt

Ask 10 different Six Sigma experts for their definition of Six Sigma and you will more than likely get 10 different answers. And none of them will be wrong. Six Sigma means different things to different people. It may be defined as a structured problem-solving methodology using Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC). Others may simply say it’s a toolbox of statistical tools which we apply to issues involving quality. And still others may simply look on it as a metric which represents 3.4 defects per million opportunities. And they’re all right.

Beyond the definition is a movement in manufacturing that has grown to encompass health care, banks, and other service industries. Businesses everywhere are training in different colored belts (borrowed from the martial arts) and claiming substantial savings using Six Sigma. What can it do for your business? Many businesses have reported hard savings up to six figures. It also engenders a problem-solving culture where defects are immediately attacked by looking at ways of controlling the inputs to the process, in order to better predict the output.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) offers the only internationally recognized certification for Six Sigma Black, Green and Yellow Belts. ASQ requires passing a 4-hour multiple choice test, plus for Black Belts, proof of Six Sigma tool use in a project. Missouri Enterprise takes a different approach to Six Sigma training than many other consultants. We teach to the test.

So what do all the colors of belts mean? Let’s start at the lowest level. Six Sigma White Belts have received between 2 and 8 hours of training simply for awareness. They are familiar with the language and terms of Six Sigma, and will probably not work on directly with a Six Sigma team. ASQ does not offer a certification for White Belts, but Missouri Enterprise offers it to companies wanting to make sure all their employees are aware of the efforts they are making to reduce variation.

Yellow Belts are team members who support the process improvements of the project. This is ASQ’s newest certification test for Six Sigma. The Missouri Enterprise training consists of three days of study to prepare for the certification exam, and includes basic understanding of most of the lower level tools, but without the statistical rigor of the higher level belts. Included in the Yellow Belt Body of Knowledge (BoK) is information in each of the 5 DMAIC phases, including project identification, project management basics, basic statistics and data collection, plus an introduction to a plethora of analysis tools.

Green Belts dig deeper into the same subjects as Yellow Belts, including some higher level statistical problems. Although there are software packages (Minitab and Excel add-ins) that can do the statistical calculations, ASQ doesn’t allow software for the test. “I got my first Green Belt through my employer, and the training was Minitab based,” said Missouri Enterprise Six Sigma instructor Laura Lee Rose, who holds ASQ certifications as a Six Sigma Black Belt, Quality Engineer, and Quality Auditor. “I knew which buttons to push, but I really didn’t understand what was taking place behind the scenes,” Rose added. “The trainers would show us the formulas, and then tell us we didn’t need to know them because the software would do the work for us.” For Rose that worked in the classroom, but out on the factory floor she struggled with how to arrange the data so the software would recognize it.

Rose teaches the 10-day Green Belt class with those same formulas, and makes sure her students understand what they mean, so they can do a better job of interpreting the results, and recognizing data that may not fit.

Black Belt training with Missouri Enterprise is another 10 days of training, built on the basics taught in the Green Belt class. Black Belts spend more time on team dynamics, leadership, project management, and learning about some of the more advanced statistical tools. To gain ASQ certification, they must also provide a signed affidavit describing a project, including the tools used and financial results seen.