My Daily Conversation

“We want to train a Green Belt to be our CI person (and single-handedly save the world!)”

A phone conversation I have almost daily with potential clients calling to get information about Green or Black Belt training:

Kevin – “Hello this is Kevin from Six Sigma Development Solutions, how can I help you?”

Potential Client – “I want to get some information about your Green Belt course. We want to send an employee to one of your courses”

Kevin – “Sure. Can i ask  you a question first? What kind of Infrastructure do you presently have in place to ensure that the Green Belts improvement projects sustain?” (at this point we discuss the infrastructure)

Potential Client – “Our intention was to have the employee trained as a Green Belt to lead our CI department and have them take on targeted improvement projects” (What the potential client is really saying is “We want to train a sole Green Belt to take on arbitrary projects that are the agenda of leadership in a haphazard attempt to continuously improve (or save the world)”)

We teach several public Green Belt and Black Belt courses every week throughout the globe. One question that we ask our students in the beginning of each class is:

“How many of you were sent to this class and are expected to go back to your company and ‘save the world’”?

What I mean by this question is: how many of our students are expected to learn the tools and methodology of a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and then go back to their company and single handedly improve processes.

It amazes me that nine out of ten students raise their hand.

Save the World

I tell the students: “Unfortunately, you have been set up for failure. You will learn excellent tools in this class that will follow you throughout your career. But you most likely have little effect on your company’s ability to succeed.”

This statement catches a lot our students off guard.

What happens when a new Belt is expected to be the CI person and single-handedly take on “improvement projects” by a group of leaders who most likely are not trained as CI champions and have little idea of how to choose the “right” projects:

  • “Stepping in someone else’s sand box” – I’m sure you have heard this term before. If a department is not educated and/or bought to this whole “continuous improvement” thing when the belt engages the department, then the turf war will start. The department leader will most likely be higher on the hierarchical ladder. The result is the belt leaving with a figurative “black eye”. This leads to a demoralized and un-motivated Belt and the project will stall or die altogether.
  • “Sub Optimization” – When a Belt or team of Belts are expected to be the CI person (or team) and improve processes, then the foundation has not been built. This usually happens because the company is not educated on the need for a foundation nor how to build the foundation (see more about the foundation for a sustainable Lean Six Sigma effort at When the foundation is not built, the company will not know how to identify Continuous Process Improvement projects. I have been in countless companies that have “Green Belts” and “Black Belts” that become the “new toys” to the company leaders. Projects are arbitrarily identified by the leaders based on where the present “pain” is experienced. Unfortunately, that “pain” in most cases is not the constraint in the overall system. The Belt may solve the problem in that step of the process but in the overall system, there is little or no improvement to company’s ability to produce.

An example of sub-optimization:

Save the World
  • “Trying to Solve World Hunger” – When the company leaders have this new Belt trained to solve problems, they take full advantage. But, because they do not have the foundation built and aren’t educated on the right way to pick projects, they expect the belt to “solve world hunger”. An example of this would be: “optimize on-time delivery” (What you don’t see in the problem statement is that the company is including all of their 2,500 different products as part of the problem statement). This is a monumental task, but to the company leaders, this seems quite do-able. In most cases, this will lead to a project that stalls, dies or fails miserably.

These effects and many more are evident of leadership not being educated (or not wanting to invest) in the infrastructure that should be in place for a continuous improvement effort to sustain. This will lead to continuous improvement projects failing and the Belt getting a bad rap. This in not the fault of the Belt. The fault lies with company leaders.

Even worse, because Lean Six Sigma projects fail, the company loses focus on continually improving their processes. This eventually leads to a company’s demise.

Where you sent to training to be a Belt and expected to come back and “save the world”? If so, tell us your story.