The Six Sigma process improvement methodology gives you a data-driven approach to define and evaluate each step of a process, helping you remove the inefficiencies in your business structure, enhance the process quality and boost bottom-line revenue.
While the end objective is similar to other process improvement methodologies, Six Sigma takes a unique approach involving karate belt colors to denote a practitioner’s level of expertise, one of them being the coveted master black belt.
But what is black belt process improvement and how can your team reach that level? This guide will tell you everything you need to know.
What is process improvement?
Process improvement is a continuous process that involves identifying, analyzing and optimizing existing business processes to improve employee productivity, meet practice standards and provide better quality products and user experience to end-users.
It has many names — business process management (BPM), business process improvement (BPI) and continual improvement process (CIP) — and strives to achieve the following four objectives:
- Minimize errors.
- Eliminate waste.
- Improve productivity.
- Streamline efficiency.
While the goal remains the same, the steps of process improvement will differ depending on your choice of methodology. Check out our process improvement methodologies guide to learn more.
What are the Six Sigma methodologies?
As a process improvement plan, Six Sigma uses statistics and data analysis to analyze and reduce variations within the end product. If the process produces less than 3.4 defects per 1 million cycles, it’s considered optimized under this methodology.
What’s more, Six Sigma contains the following two processes, each with its own set of recommended procedures to improve and transform your business:
This method is primarily used for improving existing business processes. The acronym stands for:
- Define the problem and the project goals.
- Measure in detail the different aspects of the current process.
- Analyze data to find the root inefficiencies and defects in the process.
- Improve the process.
- Control how the process is carried out in the future.
This is a handy method to create new processes and new products or services. It’s the acronym for:
- Define the project goals.
- Measure critical components of the process and the product capabilities.
- Analyze the available data and build different designs/versions of the process to identify the most effective one.
- Design and test key process details.
- Verify the design by running simulations and a pilot program before finalizing the process.
Both Six Sigma methodologies are used in different business settings, which is why professionals seeking to apply them should conform to specified training requirements, education criteria, job standards and eligibility.
That’s where the different Six Sigma levels come into the picture.
Six Sigma training levels
Six Sigma has five distinct training levels to indicate a practitioner’s level of expertise and experience. These include:
This is the simplest stage that’s suitable for newcomers. Here, the participant requires a basic-level understanding of Six Sigma concepts so they can participate in certain quality control and waste reduction projects.
Here, the participant plays a more active role as a project team member. Since the part involves reviewing process improvements, they need to understand various applicable methodologies, especially DMAIC. They can also help out managers with higher belts.
This is where things get more serious and high-level.
Here, the participant should be trained to come up with process improvement techniques and employed full-time for a minimum of three years—both of which will give them an in-depth understanding of problem-solving tools and methodologies. The green belt certification is ideal for those working in healthcare, project management, and financial management.
Those who graduate from the green belt level can move up to black belt process improvement certification.
Participants with black belt certification should be able to break down and deal with more complex projects and jobs and tackle large-scale changes that impact a company’s bottom line through lean Six Sigma projects.
We’ll be discussing Black Belt certification requirements in more detail in a bit.
Master black belt
Those who graduate with black belt level certification can become master black belt holders.
This involves having a minimum of five years of full-time employment (alternatively, proof of completion of a minimum of ten Six Sigma projects also works), a proven work portfolio and the ability to develop key process improvement metrics and strategies. Master black belt holders also train and coach black belts and green belts, acting as the company’s Six Sigma technologist and internal consultant.
What is a black belt in process improvement & how to become one?
A black belt is professionally trained in Lean Six Sigma methodology and uses its knowledge to identify problems to reduce or minimize failures that lower a company’s total productivity. Getting a Black Belt certification indicates their expert level in creating improvements and optimizing operations related to business analysis, project management and functionality.
They’re responsible for planning and managing a company’s strategies for continuous process improvement, along with coordinating their adoption and implementation and monitoring the performance of these improvement projects developed within the company.
In most cases, a black belt is internally assigned so this person can provide other program professionals, including Green Belts, the appropriate supervision and assistance to develop the latter’s respective projects and activities.
The Black Belt is essentially the leader of your organization’s Lean Six Sigma program whose main priority is ensuring all your performance improvement goals are met.
How to become a black belt: Certification requirements
Here’s a quick rundown of the requirements to earn a Black Belt certification:
- Get a Green Belt certification.
- Have a minimum of three years of full-time professional experience.
- Need work experience in a core knowledge area.
- Proof of completion of a minimum of two Six Sigma projects, where the professional has applied all Six Sigma functions.
- Demonstrated expertise in applying multivariate project improvement metrics to diverse business change settings.
- Be a leader in process problem-solving and can train or coach project teams.
- Can devote time to Six Sigma execution and special tasks.
6 steps to get a black belt in Six Sigma process improvement
Getting a Black Belt certification is a matter of prestige and can be significantly beneficial for your organization. Here are the six steps your team members can take to earn their Black Belt certifications:
Step 1: Complete the Six Sigma green belt level
To become eligible for a Black Belt certification, your team members need to earn their Six Sigma Green Belt, as Black Belt concepts continue directly from Green Belt applications. Employees need to have the credential before taking the Black Belt certification exam.
While many institutions provide Six Sigma certification as well as Green Belt refresher courses, make sure you choose a reputable training company with experienced professionals to train your team members.
Step 2: Master the DMAIC and DMADV Six Sigma strategies
Black Belt professionals should be able to define a problem, measure and analyze data and develop controls to continually improve processes. To do this, they need a clear and in-depth understanding of the Six Sigma strategies, DMAIC and DMADV.
Mastering DMAIC and DMADV (think: analysis and decreased errors, lower manufacturing defects and improved cycle times that result in less than 3.4 defects per million units) makes your employees more likely to earn Six Sigma certifications.
Step 3: Complete black belt coursework
While not a mandated requirement, we highly recommend having your employees complete Six Sigma Black Belt training through a corporate program.
Consider hiring a Six Sigma trainer or enlist your employees to an accredited Six Sigma institution to build on the employees’ concepts from the Green Belt level. This will help them better prepare for the Black Belt exam by familiarizing them with key concepts, such as enterprise integration and deployment, project management, leadership and team management, data analysis, financial measures and business performance measures.
Step 4: Submit Six Sigma project requirements
Many testing facilities and certifying institutions require professionals to complete and submit a project demonstrating their knowledge using the appropriate tools and techniques within the Six Sigma methodologies.
Ideally, a Six Sigma project should showcase quality improvement models that reflect real-world performance and productivity measures to improve and streamline processes in relevant industries like manufacturing and service. These projects can also cover applications in product quality analysis, manufacturing operations, financial activities and human resources.
Step 5: Pass the black belt certification exam
The International Association for Six Sigma Certification (IASSC) will certify your employees for each level of Six Sigma, including the Black Belt.
Depending on the certifying institution your employees take their exam through, they can decide to take practice tests to evaluate their aptitude before taking the main exam. Many institutes also offer certification exams as open-book assessments. Be sure to check with the certifying institution and your employees to eliminate any ambiguity around exam requirements.
Step 6: Apply for the black belt certification
Your employees will become Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB) professionals after passing the certification exam.
The certification serves as proof of their advanced knowledge of project management and analysis techniques following the Six Sigma process improvement methodology and equips them to further advance their knowledge to the master level.
Help your black belt professional implement the Six Sigma methodology with Scribe
Scribe simplifies and streamlines process documentation that captures your screen as you work and converts workflows into visual, step-by-step guides. Here's what a Scribe looks like:
The Black Belt professional can use Scribe to create a shareable and customizable process improvement plan template for your organization. All they have to do is turn on the extension and complete the process. Scribe will then auto-generate written instructions, complete with rich text and screenshots — in a flash.
And with Scribe's newest feature, Pages, they can add each Scribe to a longer process doc or template. — combining their guides with video, images and more.
The fact that sharing the template with the team is easy and hassle-free is another reason why Scribe will make an excellent addition to your Black Belt's process improvement arsenal.