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Tom Pyzdek

Six Sigma

The International Quality Federation’s Black Belt Certification

An interview with Bryan Dodson

Published: Tuesday, July 19, 2005 - 22:00

Some years back I, along with Drs. Doug Montgomery, Bryan Dodson, John Ramberg and others in the quality community, became concerned that there was no standardized criteria for becoming a Six Sigma Black Belt—or any other Six Sigma belt for that matter. The leading quality organization at that time had formed an alliance with a Six Sigma consulting company, which we believed compromised its objectivity. It also appeared that this organization was becoming increasingly commercial and less interested in their membership or in the broader interests of the quality and business process improvement community. In response to these concerns, we formed a new organization, the International Quality Federation (IQF). The IQF is an all volunteer organization dedicated to helping people and organizations interested in process improvement. Its chief contribution to date is the creation of a rigorous set of criteria for becoming certified as a Six Sigma Green Belt, Black Belt or Master Black Belt.

Since its inception, the IQF has certified hundreds of Six Sigma belts. The IQF certification process is also used internally by leading companies and organizations around the world and its popularity is growing rapidly.

Although I’m no longer in a leadership position in the IQF, I still believe in its mission. I recently interviewed Bryan Dodson, who’s been the driving force behind the IQF certification exam. The conversation went like this:

Pyzdek: Can you tell us a bit about the IQF and your role in the organization?

Dodson: The mission of the IQF is to promote quality improvement throughout the world. The IQF pursues its mission by cultivating environments that allow member societies and other organizations to work together and spread quality awareness. IQF membership is free, and anyone can join by visiting the IQF’s Web site.

Tom, when you first contacted me with the thought of IQF certifying Black Belts, I thought it was a great idea. I’d heard many complaints about the varying skills of Black Belts and the need for a rigorous certification process. Tim Johnson and I volunteered to create a novel method for administering the exam, and I volunteered to be the secretary for IQF. Since then, I have continued to provide technical support for the exam on a volunteer basis.

Pyzdek: What’s required to become an IQF-certified belt?

Dodson: IQF Black Belt certification requires that the applicant passes the IQF Black Belt exam. It’s a rigorous 8–hour examination targeted toward technical knowledge. The IQF also provides the sponsoring organization with criteria for assessing the candidate’s effectiveness by evaluating the ability to achieve significant, tangible results by applying the Six Sigma approach; and the ability to lead organizational change as demonstrated by the candidate’s leadership, teamwork, project management and communication skills.

The sponsoring organization can be the candidate’s employer, an organization for which the candidate volunteers or a university. Evaluation criteria are available here.

To obtain Master Black Belt status, the candidate must provide evidence of teaching and leading Black Belt projects. Green Belt status just requires passing the examination.

Pyzdek: How does IQF certification differ from certification by a consulting company, training company or university?

Dodson: The IQF certification is very rigorous and is similar to obtaining a professional engineering license or becoming a certified public accountant. (Note: IQF certification isn’t a professional license.) Candidates must pass an 8-hour exam that’s very technical, and they must demonstrate that they have applied this knowledge and obtained results. The primary reason the IQF began certifying Black Belts was because there were many organizations with many levels of standards for certifying Black Belts. Even today, there are relatively few organizations that require an exam to become certified. If you sit through the class, eat your donuts and your check clears, you become a Black Belt.

The IQF exam and effectiveness criteria were developed with input from more than a dozen major companies. The exam simulates real world problems and allows the examinee to utilize their computers.

Pyzdek: Tell me about the exam itself. How is it different than, say, the ASQ Black Belt certification exam?

Dodson: The exam is delivered through a Microsoft Windows application (Windows NT, 95, 98, ME, 200 or XP is required). This allows examinees to be presented with large data sets, which allows them to use their own computer. This is important because the IQF wants the exam to test the ability to achieve results. Certifying that someone can compute sum-of-squares for error by hand don’t necessarily translate into someone who can apply ANOVA to a situation and obtain results.

The exam is exclusive because there’s not a bank of questions. For every exam, questions are randomly generated and solved. Thus, every question is unique. For a demonstration of how this works with a subset of the topics on the real exam (discrete and continuous distributions) visit www.engineeredsoftware.com.

Another benefit of the electronic exam is that when the examinee completes the exam, a code is generated. Entering this code in the IQF Web site gives instant exam results and the scores are recorded in the IQF Web site. Many companies that use the IQF exam for internal certification have internal Web sites to score exams and record results. IQF is happy to provide this capability to any interested organizations.

The exam comprises 2 sections: a Fundamentals section and an Applications section. The examinee is given four hours to complete each section of the exam. The Fundamentals section is designed to test the examinee’s understanding of basic statistical methods. The questions can be answered in less than 2 minutes if the examinee understands the principles of the question. This section consists of the following types of questions:

Question Type

Number of Questions

Six Sigma process


Discrete distributions


Continuous distributions


Statistical inference


Measurement assurance




Process capability




One-way ANOVA


Multi-factor ANOVA



The Applications section of the exam is designed to test the examinee’s business methods and problem-solving capability. The problems in the Applications section are more involved and may take up to an hour to complete. Because the questions in the Applications section vary in the level of difficulty, the questions are weighted when the exam in scored. This section consists of the following types of questions:

Question type

Number of Questions

Question Weighting

Process cost optimization



Process target optimization



Project value



Project management



The following scores are required to meet the exam requirements for certification. Before full certification can be achieved, other requirements must be met for Black Belt projects.



Certification Type

Section Score

Section Score

Green Belt

50 percent

0 percent

Black Belt

60 percent

50 percent

Master Black Belt

75 percent

75 percent


Pyzdek:I recently called ASQ to verify the certification status of an individual and learned that they don’t provide this information. I think that this makes it easy to fake certification. How does the IQF deal with this?

Dodson: If you know an individual’s IQF member number, you can go to IQF’s Web site and find his or her certification status.

Pyzdek: Is the IQF exam widely accepted?

Dodson: The number of examinees is growing. We are seeing organizations of all sizes using the exam to certify Black Belts internally. IQF provides the exam, and the means of administering and grading the exam to companies for internal use. In this case, the IQF doesn’t know how many people are taking the exam. Some organizations that use the exam to certify their Black Belts use the IQF Web site for grading. This gives their Black belts external as well as internal certification.

So far, people in more than 50 countries have passed the exam. Examinees from the Boeing Co., Siemens, Sara Lee Corp., PepsiCo Inc., Visteon Corp., Valeo, Trane and the U.S. Navy have passed the exam.

Pyzdek: Let’s say that I’m someone interested in taking the IQF exam. What’s the process I will go through?

Dodson: There are 2 parts to this question. If companies want to use the exam to certify Black Belts, they can contact me or go to IQF’s Web site. An individual who wants to take the exam can click here to contact the organization representing their country.

For additional information, contact Bryan Dodson or visit the IQF Web site.


About The Author

Tom Pyzdek’s picture

Tom Pyzdek

Thomas Pyzdek’s career in business process improvement spans more than 50 years. He is the author more than 50 copyrighted works including The Six Sigma Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Through the Pyzdek Institute, he provides online certification and training in Six Sigma and Lean.