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Things a Six Sigma Black Belt Holder Should Know

by Louise W. Rice

Six Sigma training teaches about the many tools and techniques necessary to improve the quality of any business process.

However, what broader principles should Six Sigma black belts understand to help organizations apply these tools effectively? This article will explore seven essential principles for Lean Six Sigma master black belt holders.

The Triple Constraint- Explained

The traditional model for project management is the triple constraint – cost, time, and scope. While most Six Sigma black belts are familiar with this concept, they often misunderstand it to mean that success is ensured once a Six Sigma improvement project has dealt with a particular constraint.

In reality, no process or system can be improved in a way that ignores any one of the three key variables. For example, if a project neglected time, it would never be able to deliver its customer benefit – regardless of how well it reduced cost or increased quality.

For a large-scale project to meet its objectives and stay within budget, on schedule, and within scope, each improvement initiative must simultaneously work on all three constraints. 

Understanding Variation and Its Relationship to Process Performance

Successful Six Sigma projects improve a process using data-driven decisions. The goal of any project is to create a process that performs strictly as required – every time.

It can only be achieved if the variation is adequately understood and managed, as variation causes a process to deviate from the targets that define its performance.

Variation is caused by many factors, including natural or inherent variation in a process, errors made by employees using the process, and external changes that affect the environment or materials used in the process.

The Relationship Between Lean Tools and Six Sigma Projects

Since many black belts are introduced to the Lean methodology through training for Six Sigma, there can be a tendency to see them as being linked or related in some way.

The assumption isn’t always correct since both methodologies have principles and objectives. While they can be used together in a single project, it is vital for Lean Six Sigma master black belts to understand when each one should be applied and their limitations when combined.

Understanding the Risks Associated with Using Constraints to Drive Change

Many Six Sigma master black belt projects are inspired or driven by a single, significant business issue. If correctly identified, this issue can become an essential lever for driving change within an organization.

There are risks associated with using a constraint to lead a Lean Six Sigma improvement project, as the discipline of identifying and working on that one issue can quickly become an end in itself.

It can sometimes result in disruption within areas of the business that were previously stable and successful – without any guarantee that performance will improve.

The Role of Data in a Lean Six Sigma Project

Data is the backbone of any successful improvement project, but it takes skill to use that data properly. Many people can collect or observe data, but only trained statisticians and data analysts genuinely understand how to analyze it to determine what actions should be taken as a result.

In addition, the presentation of the data should be carefully considered – what seems like good data to one person could be dismissed as useless by someone else.

Successful Six Sigma projects use data throughout the DMAIC (define-measure-analyze-improve-control) process. Still, it is essential to understand that sometimes no data is better than imperfect or flawed data.

The Role of Stakeholders During a Lean Six Sigma Project

Black belts typically lead six Sigma projects, but the support and engagement of key stakeholders are critical to their success.

It is essential to understand who these people are – including employees, managers, supervisors, and even customers – and how best to engage them during a project.

How to Integrate Lean and Six Sigma into the Business as a Whole

The ultimate goal of any successful improvement initiative is to embed those practices permanently within an organization to become part of its culture and business strategy.

It can sometimes be achieved using a top-down approach – i.e., involving senior management or even appointing a Six Sigma executive – but it’s also essential for employees to feel empowered to contribute their suggestions.


A black belt holder in Six Sigma is a highly-trained and skilled professional who can bring both methodologies together within an organization.

While that is an important job, it also requires a wide range of knowledge and expertise to ensure successful results. By understanding the points above, black belts can be even more effective within their organization and help them achieve lasting success.

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