Lean Six Sigma training risks following the demise of TQM. It must focus on competency development if it is to avoid the same fate.
Suppose for a moment that I spent two weeks with you and taught you how to use the complete range of tools in a motor mechanic’s toolkit. I am a tradesman and I am positive I could show you how to use a torque wrench so you correctly tension bolts and nuts, how to use ring spanners so you don’t skin your knuckles or round off the heads of different bolts you might have to tighten or undo and even how to use a reaming tool to safely and effectively polish a brake cylinder. Would you consider yourself a motor mechanic after that experience? Of course not, you and I both know it would be absurd to make such a claim.
What would it take before you would be considered competent enough to be able to use the qualification? In teaching the trade of Motor Mechanic, the qualification is given only after a person has learnt not only how to use each tool, but when they demonstrate the ability to: (1) Decide which tools to use in various mechanical repair situations across a variety of motor vehicles; (2) Apply the tools and processes in the dynamics of an actual work environment; and (3) Achieve and maintain new levels of performance as a result of their work.
Would you consider yourself a doctor after learning how to use each of the tools used in surgery? Would it make sense to consider someone a competent dentist if all they learnt was how to operate the tools of dentistry? Of course we wouldn’t for the same reasons.
It seems to me that in the world of business improvement, in particular Lean Six Sigma Training, there has been a shift in some quarters away from this competency based thinking. There are so many providers of Lean Six Sigma Training these days that we are overwhelmed with offerings. I get the impression that every consulting company of significance has jumped on the band wagon. Correspondingly, the duration of Lean Six Sigma Training offered for project team leaders varies greatly.
For example, advertised training for Black Belts can vary significantly. From as little as five days to as long as six weeks of face to face training to become a qualified Black Belt. I struggle to come to grips with how the latter can be realistically achieved!
Learning to become a competent Black Belt or Green Belt is like learning a trade. When we had our Lean Six Sigma Training programs accredited with the national training body in Australia that certifies all formal tertiary qualifications, I was not surprised that the Black Belt program met the requirements for an Advanced Diploma qualification.
It’s important that we all recognise competency with tools is not the primary intention with the issue of these qualifications. A person may end up with an understanding of Lean Six Sigma and its tools through engaging in a small amount of online learning in the key concepts and a few days of face-to-face training on how to use the tools. That does not set them up to be a qualified practitioner. Learning the tools does not make the Black Belt or Green Belt.
Competent Black or Green Belts are people who can describe and use the tools relevant to their level of qualification in the context of the processes that are core to their business. They can also effectively facilitate an improvement project within the challenges of working with a project team, generate and analyse data using advanced statistical methods appropriate to the outcome they are seeking, facilitate the generation of creative solutions from those who work with the process, and manage the challenges of building sustainable commitment to change in a dynamic environment.
To be able to demonstrate this type of competency requires hands on training in an environment where they have to work with other people. It requires a good deal of coaching, mentoring and application of the tools and concepts under the constraints and limitations of day-to-day business. The goal of any Lean Six Sigma Training must be genuine competency and the achievement of results. The best providers of Lean Six Sigma Training today require a clear demonstration of competency before they will issue certificates or qualifications. Be cautious of the all too common claims that qualifications in Lean Six Sigma can be delivered in very short time frames. They may be teaching people some tools, but if you are considering buying their product take the time to assess whether or not they are teaching people to become competent practitioners.