Quality Management
A. Blanton Godfrey

Back to Basics

Many Green Belts could stand some training in fundamental team skills.

A true challenge for those involved in Six Sigma quality initiatives is deciding what kind of training team members need. Numerous articles and books have been written about Black Belt training, but the same can't be said for training Green Belts, those absolutely critical team members. Companies often assume that Black Belts will train Green Belts. But does this really work?

 Many of the companies that first adopted Six Sigma already had some experience in other quality initiatives. Team and facilitator training, the famous "seven simple tools," statistical process control and problem solving were understood and implemented. Many of these companies had also received ISO 9000 registration, implemented kaizen programs and trained people in standardization, replication and mistake proofing. Project management training was also incorporated into their management development programs.

 For these companies, Six Sigma was a natural extension of previous programs and was built upon skills that employees had developed during the past five or 10 years. Thus, for Black Belts in these companies, teaching Green Belt team members wasn't a problem. The Black Belts could select new subjects they felt were important from the ever-growing Six Sigma tool box and train team members when needed. For team members who hadn't received training in basic skills, the companies could call on experts to provide it.

 Other companies jumped into Six Sigma with only a few basic skills. Often, these companies brought in outside consultants who quickly taught what they knew—usually the subjects and tools they had mastered in their own Black Belt training. Most of the fundamental skills necessary for leading teams, managing projects and even defining problems were overlooked.

 So perhaps it's time to review the prerequisites for successful team participation. The most obvious are teamwork skills. Some people naturally work well in teams, but for most of us, doing so is an acquired skill. Our schools—even our universities—fall short on teaching teamwork.

In fact, students are often encouraged to compete, not cooperate. When working in a group, people need to clearly understand both their own strengths and weaknesses and how groups interact. Resolving conflicts is a critical basic skill, as are understanding the value of diversity and making sure all members contribute.

 The second critical aspect of basic training is problem solving—the key part of the Six Sigma breakthrough process. We sometimes forget that the tools are useful only if applied to the right problem at the right time. Black Belts can become so enamored with teaching new methods that they forget these methods must be used in context. The problem-solving process—nothing more than the scientific method made clear—should be the framework for most of the basic training.

 The third key part is computer skills. We often assume that everyone in today's organizations have all the computer skills they need, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Many people have learned only what's important for their current jobs and for using their home computers. Data entry, data checking and simple data analysis skills might be new to them.

Moving information or data from one file to another or reading from automated machines or other sources could present a challenge, as could preparing graphical output and other analyses.

 Another challenge is deciding which tools and methods to include in the training process. Most Black Belts who have worked on different projects have found a use for almost every tool. Consequently, the inclination is to teach all of them, but it's important to consider what you'll be asking your Green Belts or team members to do. In a few companies, they'll be working under the leadership of a skilled Black Belt who will define and manage the projects, plan the experiments, obtain the necessary resources, deal with resistance to change and other implementation challenges, and create the new standard operating procedures when the new process is turned over to the entire workforce. In most companies, however, Green Belts will also be asked to solve problems on their own, lead small project teams, define problems, collect and analyze data, present results and implement changes. These companies often consider Green Belt training as a first step toward future Black Belt status.

 For these companies, I suggest the following training for Green Belts: basic team skills and teamwork; problem definition; reviewing or practicing basic statistical methods (e.g., graphical analysis, regression, simple hypothesis testing, experimental design and statistical process control); process mapping and FMEA; understanding the cost of poor quality analysis, value-stream analysis and rolled throughput yield; and mistake proofing. These subjects can be taught and thoroughly learned in one intense week if the skills are practiced on team projects that integrate the lessons with real work.


About the author

 A. Blanton Godfrey, Ph.D. is dean of the College of Textiles and Joseph D. Moore Professor at North Carolina State University. E-mail him at godfrey@qualitydigest.com . Letters to the editor regarding this column can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com .  


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