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Taran March @ Quality Digest

Six Sigma

Just Say No to White Belts

Where do you draw the line between certification and certi-fiction?

Published: Monday, October 18, 2010 - 15:16

Sometimes it’s interesting to watch trends develop from the relatively safe perch of business media. A press release from Aveta Business Institute last week drew my attention because it wasn’t doing what 99.9 percent of all press releases do: selling something. Instead of announcing a new product, or even an old one dressed up to look like new, Aveta was offering an opinion.

The press release’s longish subhead declared: “Aveta Business Institute Announces Their Opposition to the Concept of Six Sigma White Belt Certification, Calling It Unnecessary, and Decides Firmly Against Offering It as Part of Their Coursework.”

Now that was interesting. Nothing makes a journalist sit up and pay attention like a possible scrap. “Opposition,” “unnecessary,” “firmly against”—them’s fightin’ words, or so I hoped.

The White Belt concept was new to me, so I checked online to see what I’d been missing.

As near as I could tell from a late-Friday survey, White Belts have been offered for the last year or so. I found a good half-dozen companies offering White Belt certification for Six Sigma. Most positioned it as an introductory course to those unfamiliar with the methodology before they leap into the martial-artsy scramble for colored belts, the Yellow, Green, and finally Black belts of Six Sigma familiarization and mastery. Presumably, a White Belt in Six Sigma signals something similar to a white belt in karate: I’m new at this, so please don’t pulverize me with your skill.

There’s some latitude to obtaining this certification, and as with most commodities, it pays to shop around. Robbins International offers a 45-minute online course for free, if you don’t count the $20 processing fee. Six Sigma Training Online will certify you for $89. Six Sigma Development Solutions Inc. offers White Belts for Six Sigma ($99) and White Belts for lean Six Sigma ($199). Not to be outdone, the Acuity Institute’s website includes a page headed, “Lean Six Sigma White Belt—Coming Soon.”

The Continuous Improvement Center seems the most urgent in promoting the concept. It offers a one-day “Quick-Start” to which customers can seek a full refund if not satisfied. Here’s the company’s (unedited) promise: “If after the first half day of the seminar you feel this isn’t a good investment for you, or you don’t like the instructors hair…whatever the reason…simply tell your training concierge, Peggy Farber, during lunch on the first day and you can leave discretely with a full refund, no questions asked. Plus, we’ll donate $100 to a charity of your choice. Simple. No quibbles, no hassles. Just a refund.”

Training concierge? I wonder if this outfit is aware that “concierge” comes from the Latin conservus, which means “fellow slave.” The “$100 donation” and “no questions asked” made me think of hush money, and “leave discretely” also struck me as a bit awkward. But never mind that. Attendees who don’t leave discretely and continue on with day two can expect to pay $797 for their certification.

“The Six Sigma Yellow Belt already stands as a recognized introduction to Six Sigma for auxiliary members of the Six Sigma team,” asserts Aveta’s CEO Craig Setter in the press release. “It was designed to fill the need of employers to educate employees that were not actually involved in Six Sigma projects. The White Belt, on the other hand, was solely designed to expand the product line of training providers.”

I invited Setter to expand on his comment. “The Yellow Belt role was simply created to fill a need for employers who wanted to educate their employees in the Six Sigma implementation strategy that their organization has chosen, without actually allowing them to be a physical part of it,” he says. “It was a low-cost, basic overview for the common employee to understand what exactly the company was trying to achieve.

“The White Belt does not seem to have originated in the same manner,” he continues. “It was not created because the Yellow Belt training was deemed too rigorous for its needs as basic education. It appears that the recent development of the ‘White Belt’ is an attempt of many training providers to expand their product line to target individuals at the consumer level instead of employees at the corporate level. By offering an ultra-low-cost form of Six Sigma certification at an ultra-low level of education, they create a larger opportunity for consumers to list basic Six Sigma skills on their resumes. But since few companies recognize the Yellow Belt, it is doubtful that any organization that is serious about its Six Sigma initiative would recognize the idea of a certified White Belt.”

I also queried Tom Pyzdek, a longtime Quality Digest contributor and reliable resource for all things Six Sigma. “I haven't really given the certification of White Belts much thought,” he admits. “I do think that this introductory training is useful for stakeholders and others who see Six Sigma activity in their work areas but are not involved as Black or Green Belts or team members. I think a certificate of completion to hang on the wall would be a nice touch, but calling it ‘certification’ is a bit much and might lead to the devaluation of significant certification such as Black Belt- or Green Belt-level certification.

“The Pyzdek Institute offers recognition for Green Belts and Black Belts at two levels below full certification,” he adds. “Bronze-level recognition indicates that the student has successfully completed training; Silver recognition indicates that the student has also passed a comprehensive exam. Full certification requires that the candidate successfully also complete and present a project. We make the actual level of achievement being recognized very clear on the certificates. We find that these additional levels of recognition are useful because employers often want candidates to pass their own proctored tests and present projects at their actual places of work.”

Finally, I e-mailed our enterprising intern Aly Fields, who took an online Yellow Belt course (from the Aveta Business Institute, as it turns out), asking whether she found the material onerous and would she have preferred White Belt certification. As a spanking-new college grad, she’d never heard of the Six Sigma methodology but thought it might help her find a job.

“I think the White Belt would be a waste of time, and I would have been disappointed if I had spent the money to take it,” came the trenchant reply. “It seemed to me that the Yellow Belt training was the preschool or introduction course, so I don’t know what they could possibly test on for the White Belt certification. The Yellow Belt was pretty straightforward, and I didn’t think it was too overwhelming with technical information.”

Way to go, Aly. I’m not sure I could say the same, since my eyes tend to slide off numerals and positively freeze when confronted with a square root symbol. But, hey, I’m just the journalist here, stirring the pot. Or maybe whipping up a tempest in a teapot would be more accurate? In the interests of full disclosure, I should state that I never made it past white belt in the karate classes I took.

Discuss

About The Author

Taran March @ Quality Digest’s picture

Taran March @ Quality Digest

Taran March is Quality Digest’s editorial director. A 30-year veteran of publishing, March has written and edited for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and universities. When not plotting the course of QD with the team, she usually can be found clicking around the internet in search of news and clues to the human condition.

Comments

Certification serve a purpose

While I believe that the martial arts terminology is unfortunate and even a bit silly, I also believe that professional recognition serves an important purpose. If the certification is rigorous (a big if, I admit,) then it signals mastery of a well-defined body of knowledge to prospective employers. The employers can then validate the certification with interview questions, their own proctored tests, project completion requirements within their own organization, etc.. But without the initial certification credential it's difficult for the professional to describe their level of proficiency, and equally difficult for employers to assess the job candidate. I've just finished reviewing a draft ISO standard on Six Sigma which, I believe, does a good job of defining the body of knowledge and curricula for Green Belt and Black Belt training. This is an important first step, and long overdue. Of course, the questions of training, testing, project completion and certification remain to be answered. I don't think any third-party organization will ever be able to remove the responsibility of the student and the employer for carefully researching various training and certification providers and making an informed choice on their own.

Thomas Pyzdek

https://www.pyzdekinstitute.com/lean-six-sigma

You don't need belts to improve

A number of years ago I got my Black Belt and Master Black Belt. I consider my self reformed from the whole belt program. The truth is you don't need certifications to improve in business. Other than the use of SPC and DOE, most six sigma tools provide little insight. I believe Drs. Don Wheeler and Frony Ward would support me on this.

Our biggest challenge is changing our thinking about the design and management of work. Most of the improvement efforts today address process improvement over system improvement. Evidence can be seen by the functional separation of work that still exists and other things like targets, decisions separated from the work, etc. Until we focus on these things we are doing little more than rearranging the chairs on the Tiotanic.

Tripp Babbitt