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Lost in Certification: Deconstructing Lean Six Sigma

Nikolas Dimitroulakis / 16 September 2014

Lost in Certification

The term ‘Six Sigma’ is itself so confusing and difficult to define that adding the word ‘certification’ just compounds the problem. Here is what expert Geoff Tennant says, quite early in his book Six Sigma: SPC and TQM in Manufacturing and Services: “Six Sigma is many things, and it would perhaps be easier to list all the things that Six Sigma quality is not. Six Sigma can be seen as: a vision; a philosophy; a symbol; a metric; a goal; a methodology.” To confuse things further, ‘Lean’ has become the added adjective for Six Sigma in the past several years, creating Lean Six Sigma (LSS). Lean Six Sigma is always Six Sigma, but Six Sigma isn’t always lean…well, let’s move on to creating clarity as opposed to more confusion about Six Sigma!

From In-house to out in the World

During the last decade, we have been seeing the (Lean) Six Sigma methodology transforming from an in-house, private matter, to a global, standardized and certifiable approach.

While the first to ever develop certifications to verify individuals in Six Sigma methods were General Electric and Motorola, the certification schemes for this often-misunderstood concept, have always stayed within the boundaries of private organizations that introduced and offered Six Sigma certifications to their employees. Because a certification body did not exist at the time, the schemes were only useful to the company itself rather than to the individuals that were certified.

Today, different certification services are offered by various quality associations and other providers. ASQ (American Society for Quality), IASSC (International Association for Six Sigma Certification) and recently APMG have all introduced global standards for certifying individuals and introducing them into the challenging—but definitely exciting—world of quality improvement and process optimization.

If you are reading this post in order to find out which of the above organizations offers the best Six Sigma certification then stop reading right now and go do something fun. Life is too short to waste time (see figure below) on trying to answer questions that shouldn’t even exist…

8 Wastes: Lean Six Sigma

icon1-inventory

Inventory

Excess products and materials not being processed.

icon2-talents

Talents

Underutilizing people’s talents, skills & knowledge.

icon3-waiting

Waiting

Wasted time waiting for the next step in a process.

icon4-motion

Motion

Unnecessary movements by people (e.g., walking).

icon5-defects

Defect

Efforts caused by rework, scrap, and incorrect information.

icon6-transportation

Transportation

Unnecessary movements of products & materials.

icon7-overprocessing

Overprocessing

More work or higher quality than is required by the customer.

icon8-overproduction

Overproduction

Production that is more than needed or before it is needed.

On the other hand, in this post we will try to demonstrate how all these certifications are structured so you can decide what is the best for you. Whether you are a trainer, a training company or just a Six Sigma enthusiast, this information can be useful when planning your next steps.

ASQ IASSC APMG
Certifications provided
  • Green Belt
  • Black Belt
  • Master Black Belt
Official training required No No Yes
Body of Knowledge ASQBOK ILSSBOK APMG syllabus
Complementary products offered
  • Certified Quality Engineer (CQE)
  • Certified Manager of Quality/Organ-izational Excellence (CMQ/OE)
None Lean IT
Exams offered by ASQ IASSC APMG
Availability of trainers Many (mainly in the USA) Many Limited (mainly in Europe)

As one might notice, there are multiple differences among the three main certification providers. Things that would be worth considering before adopting a Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma training in your portfolio are:

  1. Location, location, location: are you based in the US, in Europe or in Japan? Some certifications are the main choice in a specific region.
  2. Are you a market follower or a market leader? If your appetite for risk is low, you should probably go with the flow and offer what most people in your environment want.
  3. What are you willing to investment? Six Sigma trainers are individuals that (apart from being pretty good at statistics) have invested a great deal of time and effort in order to be able to introduce and explain to others, what are often highly complex concepts; therefore they charge significantly higher rates than an ITIL Foundation trainer, for example. Are you going to invest (as a training company or consultancy) in developing your own trainers or are you sourcing a training through ITpreneurs? It will depend on your specific situation.
  4. What other training courses do you provide? Your decision should also be based on your current portfolio. Do you offer other APMG products (e.g. Lean IT)? Do you offer products solely for IT professionals, or do you also provide more generic courses that can be applied to other industries like manufacturing (e.g. Kepner-Tregoe Foundation)?

To sum up, (Lean) Six Sigma training and certification presents some challenges for IT training providers and consultants. However, as (Lean) Six Sigma is a methodology of growing importance in practice, and growing potential for training providers, it is absolutely worth adding to the training portfolio. The cross-sell potential of the four levels of training—from Yellow Belt to Green Belt to Black Belt to Master Black Belt—is clear. As mentioned above, further cross-selling can happen depending on other certification courses you offer—the (Lean) Six Sigma methodology fits well with such frameworks as Agile, COBIT, ITIL, Kepner-Tregoe, PRINCE2, and TIPA.

My advice in navigating the mysteries of (Lean) Six Sigma: Understand your business and your customers. Focus on what you want to achieve, and the added value that you want to provide. You may well find that (Lean) Six Sigma is well worth offering.

Get started by viewing the #ITpreneursLIVE Go-to-Market Sales enablement webinar.

ITpreneurs Lean Six Sigma course offering includes off-the-shelf training solutions for all four ‘belts’ plus sales enablement and marketing tools, certification services, and instructor training materials and programs. More information on Lean Six Sigma courses is available in the ITpreneurs Course Catalog.

Need more information? Please contact ITpreneurs.

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