The Difference Between Lean Six Sigma White, Green, and Black Belts

How White, Green, and Black Belt Lean Six Sigma Differ

Central to the goal of nurturing maximum efficiency and ensuring minimum waste within an organization or project is the application of Lean Six Sigma — or LSS. This system is a synthesis of Lean production methodology and the Six Sigma manufacturing management approach. Taken together, Lean Six Sigma is renowned for eliminating wasteful steps and methods while simultaneously improving processes and the outcomes of everything from manufactured products to professional services.

Although LSS traces its origins to manufacturing environments, with Lean coming from the Toyota Production System (TPS) and Six Sigma from Motorola, LSS is now part of every industry.  LSS practitioners can be found in software development and support (DevOps), retail (Walmart), and government (US Department of Defense), and more.

Since LSS offers businesses the opportunity to streamline operations and deliver better end value to their customers, there’s a great deal to learn about the program and the tools its practitioners use. For this reason, the certification of LSS skills is categorized according to colored belts — much like the levels achieved in mastering certain martial arts self-defense disciplines.

White vs. Green vs. Black Lean Six Sigma

In order to describe Lean Six Sigma levels and roles, the following explanation of LSS certification levels helps indicate the differences between white, green, and black belt LSS as well as how the overall program serves as a comprehensive approach to process and productivity improvement.

White Belt

This introductory level to the program indicates that someone is an apprentice or novice in the use of Lean Six Sigma tools. White belts have been introduced to the concepts of LSS and heard about its tools, but they can’t yet use the tools with confidence or expertise. Furthermore, white belts understand the LSS DMAIC — or Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control — problem-solving life cycle, but they don’t yet know how to properly implement it.

Many people obtain white belt certification to understand the basics of working on a Lean Six Sigma project. Numerous individuals who are only interested in improving one particular project don’t progress beyond white belt certification.

Green Belt

The green belt indicates someone who’s a technical journeyman in the tools of Lean Six Sigma. Green belts are able to function on projects under the supervision of a black belt. They’re knowledgeable about and possess the ability to use many — but not all — LSS tools. Typically, green belts know how to use the non-mathematical LSS tools. However, they may need a black belt’s assistance with the more mathematical ones.

Green belts are more likely to work in the context of a single project or part of an organization. They frequently possess specialized knowledge about how their department or a particular project operates, whereas a black belt may be more informed about the organization as a whole. Many green belts will continue on to a black belt certification.

Here the comparison to martial arts is particularly apt, since a green belt can demonstrate many skills but still has much to learn.

Black Belt

The black belt is a technical expert in the tools of Lean Six Sigma — such as statistical hypotheses testing and cause-and-effect analysis. Black belts often move around from one LSS project to another because their job is to help projects succeed. In a large organization, black belts measure their success by how they help projects or parts of the organization succeed at implementing the LSS approach.

One well-established benchmark says that a black belt typically helps an organization save at least $1 million a year in documented results. In this case, the reason black belts exist is to increase efficiency and reduce waste by using their expertise. They are not, therefore, “customer-facing” employees.

Here again, the analogy to a martial arts black belt is appropriate. A martial arts black belt may not win every match, but the black belt should be able to put up a credible fight. Similarly, an LSS black belt might not succeed in every project but should be able to demonstrate technical mastery of the tools needed to perform well.

Contact BTI for LSS Certification

Since 2005, Business Transformation Institute has been serving the business improvement needs of clients across 14 U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia. To learn more about how we can help you become Lean Six Sigma certified, contact us today!

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