Article Revised: April 26, 2019
Over the years the bodies of knowledge used to certify Six Sigma Black Belts and Six Sigma Green Belts has become relatively standardized and stable. To be sure, there is still a good deal of variability, but it is decreasing. The same can not be said for Master Black Belts. There is nothing even close to a standard definition of this important position. This isn’t necessarily a criticism. It could well be that the very nature of the Master Black Belt’s job requires some ambiguity.
Six Sigma is a discipline where many other disciplines are sampled. The idea is to provide a skill set to a cadre of change agents that can be used to complete practical projects in a relatively short period of time. These change agents are usually in this role for a limited time, after which they return to their “day jobs.” It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that this yields amazing results in terms of successful change. But the Black Belt or Green Belt is, to a large extent, a Jack-of-all-Trades and the master of none. From time to time they will encounter the need for a true master of some particular skill. Enter the Master Black Belt. This person is first a successful Black Belt, but they are also masters of some specialized skill beyond the level normally acquired in Black Belt training.
My opinion is that Six Sigma Master Black Belts are “Six Sigma Black Belts, Plus.” That is to say, all good Master Black Belts first need to be experienced, successful Six Sigma Black Belts, usually for a period of two or more years. They must love the field and show a real knack for the Six Sigma Black Belt job. The plus is some additional area of expertise or skill set that is useful to the entire Six Sigma activity. Here’s a partial list of these skills, all of which I’ve seen used successfully by Master Black Belts at one or more client organizations.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt-Statistics. This person is an expert in statistics well above and beyond the statistical tools normally taught to Black Belts. Many have majored in statistics before becoming Black Belts and some are bona fide statisticians with Master’s Degrees. These are the folks Black Belts go to when those regression equations have the wrong signs on the coefficients or the problem has a mix of continuous and discrete independent variables and multiple dependent variables. They thrive on challenges involving the proper handling of complex analytical problems.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt-Project Management. Project management, like statistics, is something all Black Belts learn in their training. However, the project management body of knowledge is large and most Black Belts learn only pieces of it. The Master Black Belt specializing in project management may also be a certified project manager. Or he or she may simply be adept at managing large projects, multi-generational projects, or meta-projects that are portfolios of related projects. Since the Master Black Belt position is not temporary, they can supervise projects that have a time frame that extends beyond the normal tenure of a Black Belt, thus assuring a smooth transition between project Black Belts.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt-Trainer. Some people simply love to teach others and are gifted educators. Organizations who recognize this passion in a Black Belt will often take advantage of their good fortune to promote such individuals into a teaching role. As people with experience “in the trenches” these trainers are often well received by students because they can relate the subject matter to hands-on work as a Belt.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt-Coach. Between the classroom and the successful delivery of results lies an immense chasm. Nearly all new Green Belts and Black Belts need the assistance of an understanding coach and mentor to help them bridge the gap. The coaching skill set is tough to find. Successful coaches are, of course, successful Black Belts. They must also possess a keen people sense, the patience of a monk, great teaching skills, and an intimate knowledge of the organization and how to get around obstacles. Their knowledge of statistics and project management, while not as developed as Masters specializing in these areas, must be well above that of the average Black Belt. If such a rare person can be found, the results can be amazing. A Master Black Belt Coach at one of my client companies coached a group of roughly two dozen Green Belts who delivered an average project benefit greater than that of the company’s Black Belts.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt-Finance. Let’s face it, in many organizations the financial benefits reported for the Six Sigma activities are about as realistic as Harry Potter. Sooner or later the illusion will be shattered and the entire Six Sigma program will be in jeopardy. The importance of accurate accounting of Six Sigma results cannot be overemphasized. But often the attention given to this by the accounting and finance people is less than it should be. And it is often very challenging bringing a finance person with no Six Sigma background up to speed on a project. The Black Belt with finance and accounting skill can be a godsend in these situations.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt-DfSS. Black Belts are taught the define-measure-analyze-improve-control (DMAIC) approach to improvement. DMAIC is used to improve and enhance existing products and processes. This is certainly useful considering that most organizations have massive opportunity in every aspect of their current operations. However, the future will always be where the very survival of the organization is determined. Brand new processes and products need to be developed if continued success is to be assured. Design for Six Sigma (DfSS) is the approach of choice for these opportunities. DfSS is a unique set of tools and techniques that are especially useful in the R&D process. Although Black Belts are taught a significant subset of these tools, the Master Black Belt-DfSS will learn many additional tools and a new framework for applying these tools. Sometimes the framework is very similar to DMAIC, such as DMADV (DMA are the same terms as in DMAIC, DV stands for Design and Verify.) But there are numerous DfSS approaches that bear little resemblance to DMAIC.
Of course, the list could go on and on. However, this should be enough to give you an idea about my view of what Master Black Belts are, namely Black Belts with additional skills. These skills are often mixed and matched. For example, the Pyzdek Institute trains Master Black Belt-Trainer/Coaches to teach Six Sigma Belts our unique approach in addition to the complete Black Belt or Green Belt body of knowledge. But whether the Master Black Belt is the master of one or many specialized skill sets, they fill an important and often vital role in assuring the success of Six Sigma in their organization.