7.9. The Six Sigma Team
Even from the light view of Six Sigma taken in this chapter, I hope it is clear that Six Sigma is not a casual, let's-try-it-out approach to process improvement. It's not a simple form of inputs, outputs, actors, and steps. It is a highly structured approach to decision making based on the methodological application of statistical design and quantitative analyses. That's why organizations that religiously employ Six Sigma do so with specialized teams trained in the methods and techniques of the program. You don't just throw a Six Sigma team together. You form a group with a specific set of dispersed skills. Here are some talents the people on your Six Sigma team could do well by possessing:
Knowledge of process systems
Knowledge of process systems is essential for any process improvement team. This is true for ISO 9001 and CMMI, and it is especially true for Six Sigma. The actions you take under Six Sigma are going to quantitatively alter how your processes operate. And improvements designed under Six Sigma are designed to stick. They are designed to be fixed in place. So you teams will be well served to have an appreciation of process systems and the concepts of process improvement. Otherwise they could be setting Six Sigma depth charges off all over the place.
I was recently called into the compliance office of a major telecommunications company to help them overhaul a process program that guided the way their business units engaged with IT. Frankly, the program was a mess: a hodgepodge of patches and fixes that had evolved over time into a convoluted mishmash. My first bits of advice had to do with remapping the program to its original high-level intentions, then flowcharting at descending levels what the program ought to be doing for the company. I got a very bad reaction to that. The people in the compliance office apparently wanted me to take the program deeper. They thought it was failing because it was filled with holes. They never considered that maybe it was failing because it had gone to depths that would pop the rivets off any process program. It then dawned on me that these people, well intentioned as they were, had no real knowledge of process systems, of how to structure an effective process program, or the basic tenets of process improvement.
Knowledge of statistical data management and quantitative analysis
One of the points I've tried to make in this chapter is that you can take advantage of the Six Sigma methodology and the Six Sigma approach without having to necessarily check yourself into the realm of quantitative analysis. However, if you find that you and your team can tackle this aspect of the program, you'll be solidly armed to make both subtle and sophisticated process improvements across a wide range of environments.
One of the mantras of Six Sigma is "data-driven decision making." In other words, you don't decide to alter or adjust a process on whim. You don't do it because you've got a great idea or have developed an intuitive hunch. With Six Sigma, you can't say that things are better until you can show that they are better. And you show it with numbers. Data and the recognized interpretation of data have the power to tell a process improvement story in a totally convincing way. But to get to this point, you need people on your team who are familiar with designing the types of experiments relevant to Six Sigma analysis. You need people who are familiar with statistical techniques and who understand how to apply quantitative analyses.
If someone hires you to change the process that etches a microline into a layer of silicon 120 angstroms thick, you probably ought to know something about chip production. Like maybe what an angstrom is. If you're going to create a process used by project managers to estimate the time required to design a payroll system, it would help to know something about accounting. And if you're going to figure out how to time things so that the pizza comes out of the oven precisely 20 minutes before it's scheduled to arrive at someone's front door, it'd help to know how to bake a pizza. Industry knowledge is a great thing to have on your team. All industries are unique. They operate on individual tracks. The best way to begin to improve how the tracks run is to know how they were laid down in the first place and what they are aiming for. In fact, you could probably make a pretty good argument that if you had a choice of hiring really good process people who knew nothing about the industry in which they had to work, or hiring people who knew very little about the mechanics of process improvement but were renowned experts in the field in question, it would probably be the smart move to hire the industry ones. The key is, those guys are probably already process experts; they just haven't realized it. Your job could be to simply refine their way of thinking about process management and process improvement, guiding them as they begin to look into the innards of what they always saw in the past as a seamless whole.
Industry knowledge gives your team a degree of expertise on how the industry as a whole operates: the rules, the regulations, the generally accepted practices. That's good, but a great complement to that is knowledge about how the organization works. How your organization works. Every organization has a culture, and culture is little more than unwritten, unspoken, invisible processes woven into the fabric of the daily work routine. A process that might prove efficient and effective for one group might work terribly for another group. Same industry, same practice, maybe even the same job. But if the cultural fit is all askew, it will serve little constructive purpose. That's why with Six Sigma teams you should possess a degree of organizational familiarity. Your people should have a good feeling for how processes work in the culture, what kinds of improvements might be welcomed, what sacred cows should not be touched, and how change could best be introduced.
If you pepper your Six Sigma teams with this kind of qualification knowledge, then the players should be positioned to operate well on your Six Sigma projects.
That brings us to the question of certification. In the domain of Six Sigma, there are recognized roles. These are people who have been recognized through training and experienced to possess the kinds of technical Six Sigma skills that allow them to make specific contributions on Six Sigma projects. Let's take a brief look at what these designations are.
At this point, I'd like to remind the reader that the following descriptions of what are commonly called Six Sigma Professional Designations are pretty much meaningless. Lots of people take exception to my position on this. But I don't mean that negatively. I mean it sincerely. The problem as I see it is that Six Sigma is not a program or a methodology that is controlled by a central governing body. ISO 9001 has the International Organization for Standardization. CMMI has the Software Engineering Institute. Those bodies train people, audit and register companies, and generally monitor the market's use of their standards.
But that doesn't exist with Six Sigma. And so any organization can claim that it is a Six Sigma training facility or a Six Sigma consulting firm. In metro Atlanta, I can receive a Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate by spending $1,800 for a five-day course offered by Southern Polytechnic, or I can get a Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate by spending $400 for a three-day course offered by "Hexagon Consulting."
Here's the kicker: the $400 course might be exponentially better than the $1,800 one. There's just no way to be sure. And so when somebody presents themselves to you as a Green Belt or a Master Black Belt, I recommend that you appreciate it for what it is, but look closer. As with almost any kind of certification, the proof of competence and professionalism comes not with a degree of accomplishment but through the application of experiential knowledge.
7.9.1. Six Sigma Champion
The Six Sigma Champion is usually an executive or high-level manager in the organization with the ability to promote and sponsor the use of Six Sigma. Champions may manage a series of Six Sigma teams, or they may simply fund and support Six Sigma projects. Champions should have a pretty good working knowledge of Six Sigma, but more than that, they should share an enthusiasm for the promise and approach of Six Sigma, believing in the Six Sigma vision of improvement through data management and quantitative analysis. Well-positioned Champions will possess authority to:
Set strategic direction
Champions are the executive sponsors of the Six Sigma world, and they usually direct and develop the organization's Six Sigma programs.
7.9.2. Master Black Belt
Master Black Belt is the highest level of Six Sigma certification. This is an individual who has not only had extensive training in the methodology and techniques of Six Sigma, but who has also had extensive experience designing and implementing Six Sigma projects in a variety of organizations. Master Black Belts possess a deep understanding of DMAIC, as well as Design for Six Sigma and the Design Measure Analyze Validate Deploy methodologies. They are considered experts at applying statistical measurements to diverse and heterogeneous data sets, and they have a solid grasp of the use and application of quantitative techniques to understand process performance and derive empirical process improvements.
Master Black Belts have the ability to manage Six Sigma programs as well as program teams. The tradition with Master Black Belts is that they can empirically demonstrate that their projectsdesigned and managed by themhave saved companies hundreds of thousands of dollars. The term "hundreds of thousands" is not used here for dramatic purposes. It's to be taken literally. In the true Six Sigma culture, no one will call herself a Master Black Belt if she is not able to put that data in front of a client.
7.9.3. Black Belt
Black Belts typically lead Six Sigma projects. They may design the project with the help of a Master Black Belt, or they may design it on their own. They are usually highly trained in Six Sigma methods, with solid experience in DMAIC, DFSS, and DMAVD. Like Masters, they should have sound knowledge in applying statistical measurements to diverse and heterogeneous data sets. And they should have broad experience applying Six Sigma methods to a number of process improvement projects. They should be able to demonstrate very strong statistical and quantitative analysis skills, effective project management skills, strong interpersonal and communication skills, and strong writing and organizational skills. Like Masters, Black Belts should also be able to show empirical cost savings or ROIs as a result of their Six Sigma project work. Most reputable Six Sigma Black Belt courses require that the candidate design, plan, and execute a real-world project with the potential to save an organization at least $100,000.
7.9.4. Green Belt
Six Sigma teams are usually mostly composed of Green Belts. These are people with at least one pretty in-depth course in Six Sigma applications and the interest (and opportunity) to work on a Six Sigma project. They have a beginning ability to produce statistical control charts, calculate percent noncompliance, plot histograms and Pareto charts, identify common-cause and special-cause variation, and calculate process sigmas. They have a good working knowledge of DMAIC, DSFF, and DMAVD and are positioned to participate in Six Sigma projects of varying complexity, size, and duration. They are the field soldiers in the world of Six Sigma.
7.9.5. Yellow Belt
Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt are well-accepted Six Sigma designations. Yellow Belt is less so. Many people think there should be no such things as a Yellow Belt. I tend to agree. Because when you think about it, under a Green Belt, a Yellow Belt can only be a Six Sigma team contributor. And if someone is on a Six Sigma team but is not really trained in any of the methodologies, design considerations, or statistical techniques, they can't really be expected to contribute a lot. I guess he could perform measurements and collect data; those are valuable activities, but they probably don't warrant a belt of distinction on their own. What does it take to be recognized as a Yellow Belt? If you read this chapter, twice, slowly, you might be able to qualify.