Belt Colours & Levels Explained
Six Sigma is a management strategy for business processes, designed to improve productivity and overall performance using statistical data to identify errors. Originally developed by Motorola, the system was used to improve productivity by eliminating defects in their manufacturing processes. It is now widely recognised as one of the most effective ways to streamline any form of business process.
This article will explain the following:
- What Six Sigma belts are and why they are useful
- What each Six Sigma level is responsible for and the benefits they offer
- Who oversees Six Sigma projects
Six Sigma Belts:
Six Sigma methodologies use specific business data to identify process errors and then apply a precise plan of action to make the process as near perfect as possible. There is a hierarchy within Six Sigma which is similar to that used in martial art
- Yellow Belt
- Green Belt
- Black Belt
Each belt offers different business benefits for the holder and the teams he or she works with.
Yellow Belts are generally employees who have undertaken the basic training in Six Sigma methodologies and who report back to their project leader, typically a Green or Black Belt.
At Yellow Belt, holders focus directly on the process area being reviewed and implement changes at ground level.
Their participation in a project is crucial, as they are a core member of the team with specific expertise in the business area being developed. At the start of a project a Yellow Belt would help to develop ‘process maps’ using their practical experience, and may be responsible for smaller projects related to their work, within the main objective.
Employees with such practical experience are invaluable to any company and by undertaking formalised training in Six Sigma methods, they can gain a professional qualification and have access to a clearly laid-out path to promotion within the Six Sigma hierarchy.
Green Belt level is the next step up the Six Sigma hierarchy. At Green Belt level, an employee would lead a process improvement team alongside their other responsibilities. Being a Green Belt is not a full time role, but would generally take up around 25-50% of their time.
Projects tend to focus on their own work area or department, allowing their expert knowledge and practical business experience within the company to come into play.
Once qualified, a Green Belt may be selected to lead a project by the management team. A Green Belt would need to know how to motivate a team – not all members of staff happily embrace the Six Sigma approach, and it would be crucial to the success of a project to have full team engagement.
As leader of the process team, a Green Belt would be expected to gather all relevant data to be used in the project and also validate the measurement system. Leadership qualities are vital to this role in order to make the project a success.
Black Belt level is a natural progression from Green Belt and holders will spend 100% of their time dealing with Six Sigma projects. They are team leaders, guiding Green, Yellow and White Belts in a variety of on-going projects rather than focusing on just one.
Black Belt level requires strong leadership skills and the ability to clearly explain the philosophy and principles behind Six Sigma. They are key figures in training lower ranked Belts, whilst receiving coaching from Master Black Belts.
In addition to possessing passion and business acumen, Black Belts need to have a degree of technical aptitude to collect suitable data and analyse it consistently. They are expected to quickly produce tangible results for the business and explain each step of the process to the corresponding audience, whether that is management executives or workers on the shop floor
Everyone is accountable to someone and the same is true of Six Sigma practitioners. Once you attain Master Black Belt level you are directly responsible for the strategic leadership of process improvement projects, but who ensures that you stay on track?
Champions are responsible for implementing Six Sigma methodology within an organisation and work in senior management positions. They appoint and mentor Master Black Belts, select projects and remove barriers that might prevent a project from being successful.
These barriers could be financial, or problems associated with clashes of personality – the Champion is there to ensure that Master Black Belts and Black Belts are free to focus on the project without being caught up in office politics.
Executives include the CEO and other top management personnel. The Executive role is to prepare the company ‘vision’ for Six Sigma, ensure that funds are available to support its introduction and allow role holders in the levels beneath to embrace new ideas to make it successful.
Executives focus on Six Sigma as a strategic approach and are there to balance the adoption of Six Sigma with overall company goals.