In business management, it is ultimately practical experience and performance that make you excellent. However, certifications are a great way to be sure you have the knowledge to take on a certain role. Also, certifications demonstrate to employers that you have the skills they are looking for. Therefore, if you think business management is your calling, it is definitely worth it to meet the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification requirements.
What Is Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma is actually a combination of Lean and Six Sigma – two business management frameworks of Japanese origin that each themselves encompass other management theories and frameworks. However, all of these components come together into an intuitive and well-integrated framework that is highly effective and, in many ways, elegantly simple.
Lean Six Sigma was initially used by the American company Motorola in the 1980s. The Japanese influence came about because Motorola was competing with Japan’s Kaizen business model. (Kaizen translates to “Improvement.” It refers to a holistic approach to business optimization, addressing all aspects of work to create a better company.) In the early 2000s, its American counterpart, the Lean Six Sigma approach, began to be named, defined, and taught.
Lean is essentially a business philosophy to eliminate waste. Here, the term waste is used very generally; however, it always refers to something that causes a loss of productivity. It could be wasted time or stress from an uneven workload among employees, unnecessary steps, excessive products that end up having to be disposed of, unnecessary transfer of items, etc.
An important part of Lean is using data and statistics to determine exactly what elements of a business’s activity yield productivity and focusing on those elements only. From there, practitioners of Lean look at data and change business policy accordingly; then, they give it some time and check the data again. The idea is to make the business evolve to become less and less wasteful (that is, more and more productive).
Six Sigma is a business philosophy with a primary aim of eliminating variation in products – obviously quite important for any manufacturing business. Variation is bad because it means a company does not have full control over the manufacture of their own products and also that the company may struggle to track what they are doing wrong or right in the process. There is also the problem of dissatisfied consumers who have received a defective product.
DMAIC (short for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) is a system applied by (but not exclusive to) Six Sigma. It basically is what it sounds like: First, a managing group has to have a clear definition of their goals; then, they need to establish a method to measure parameters that are truly relevant to their goals.
Next, they have to analyze the results – potentially using data technology and/or appropriate statistics. Next, they have to create and carry out a plan to make policy improvements based on the new information.
Finally, the managers must formally establish the policies that have worked and be sure that everything is set to continue with them. As you can probably imagine, this process could be done repeatedly (iteratively) to create a sort of business evolution – as often happens in Lean, as described above.
All of these ideas come together to create a productivity-oriented evolution leading to more efficient and profitable business practices. These ideas are relevant to any area of business management – whether workplace culture, employee rules, environmental stewardship, manufacturing steps, equipment, locations, marketing strategies, or resource acquisition.
All of this might sound very cold and procedural, and in a way, it is. However, keep in mind that, ironically, streamlining the work process often allows the time and energy for greater creativity. During discussions and brainstorming sessions, rules of engagement that promote respect and openness tend to breed exciting solutions to problems.
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification: Levels of Certification
Perhaps because of the heavy Japanese influence, Lean Six Sigma certification levels are divided into “belts,” much like the levels of mastery in Judo.
First, there is the Yellow Belt. Yellow Belt certification means that you have a functional understanding of Lean Six Sigma concepts. As with all of the Lean Six Sigma belts, there is no official standardized exam to prove that you are at this level. However, there are academic programs – both online and classroom – that give you a Yellow Belt, assuming that you successfully complete all of the included courses.
Usually, there is some sort of final exam at the end, too. If you have been working on a team that uses these techniques but still have no certification, it might be that all you have to do is run through a few online courses, take an exam, and you will have an official Yellow Belt to report on your resume.
If you think some Lean Six Sigma ideas might help your business but you are not sure how far you want to go in terms of certification, consider going ahead and getting a Yellow Belt. If you are a business student looking for a leg up in the world of business management, getting your Yellow Belt is a smart move.
Next in ranking, there is the Green Belt. Green Belts are qualified to lead or have significant roles in Lean Six Sigma-guided projects, though they ultimately work under a Black Belt. A key trait of Green Belts is that they can comfortably apply DMAIC (described above) to their team projects. As you would expect, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification requirements are a little more challenging.
First, you must have reached Yellow Belt level (whether or not officially certified). Generally, it helps greatly to have had full-time work experience in a relevant role. Then, you must pass a Six Sigma Green Belt certification exam; these exams are offered by several organizations, most prominently, the ASQ (American Society for Quality) and the IASSC (International Association for Six Sigma Certification).
Next, there is the Black Belt. Black Belts are qualified to be leaders, and as such, they must show years of job experience and proof of successful business projects they have worked on. Then, they must pass a Black Belt certification exam.
After years of acting as a successful Black Belt, leading projects applying DMAIC and other Lean Six Sigma concepts, one qualifies to take the Master Black Belt exam. A Master Black Belt usually has a strong reputation among his/her peers and has used Lean Six Sigma concepts both thoroughly and creatively.
Specific Steps to Get the Green Belt
According to the IASSC website, the only true Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification requirements are really just taking the exam and passing. The Green Belt Certification exam is offered at about 8,000 testing sites, globally. It is a 100-question exam with multiple choice and true/false questions taken from the IASSC Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Body of Knowledge. A passing grade is 385 out of 500 points.
The ASQ website emphasizes full-time work experience as a requirement. The ASQ exam comes in both computer-based and paper-and-pencil forms. The Computer-based test is 110 multiple choice questions, with 10 being unscored. See the ASQ website for more details and resources.
Variations in requirements between ASQ and IASSC (and possibly other certifying organizations, too) make it difficult to state universal Green Belt requirements. The one thing that is the same, no matter the certifying organization, is the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt concepts themselves: you must be able to look at a business situation and define the problems; you must know how to measure performance.
Also, you must be able to perform relevant data analytics to produce relevant results and find the root causes of problems; you must understand basic statistical methods, such as regression; you need to understand how to design experiments in a business context; and you must be able to create and use control charts. (Control charts are a special approach to determine whether a business is in statistical control.)
Clearly, there are conceptual bonds between Lean Six Sigma and the field of data analytics. Therefore, the rise of Big Data and AI could impact the expertise needed for Lean Six Sigma business management.
Benefits of Reaching the Green Belt Level
The benefits of being a Green Belt are multi-level. On the personal level, you have the gratification of having more knowledge and a more significant role in business operations; you are likely paid more than when you were a Yellow Belt (or were uncertified). On the professional level, aside from the likely rise in pay and rank, you know that you are on your way to being a Black Belt.
On the organization level, businesses definitely need and want more Green Belts. Green Belts have the expertise to understand instructions from Black Belts and to bring good ideas to the table. They are very skilled workers and can function in mid-level leadership positions. Therefore, as a Green Belt, you know that your skills are not only in-demand but also genuinely valuable. Furthermore, if international living or travel is of interest to you, realize that these certifications are internationally recognized and needed.