Six Sigma Training

A common question from personnel just being introduced to the concepts of Six Sigma is: “How do I get trained?” or “How do I get certified?”  It is a simple enough request, but often leads to a long discussion about what Six Sigma is all about.  I will assume you have a fair grounding in what Six Sigma is and stick strictly to a base DMAIC certification processes.  These, while varied, have been used across a number of organizations to success and impart a good grounding in the fundamentals of Six Sigma in order to get personnel certified and moving into effective projects quickly.

A typical Six Sigma certification process includes two major pieces.  Classroom or self study focuses on the process and tools utilized in a project and constitutes the first major hurdle.  The second stage of Six Sigma certification entails conducting actual projects from start to finish under the tutelage of someone already certified.  Each of these steps can vary depending upon the level of detail and the amount of expense and time the organization is willing to invest.  This article will go into more detail on the classroom portion of training activities.

The classroom or self-study portion of the process can be handled a number of ways.  One is not necessarily better than another, and often the way the student best learns (visually, aurally, or physically) can have significant impact on how quickly they can grasp the concepts presented.  Some courses are weeks long, with examples and exercises that include pre-designed mini-projects built into them.  Other courses are presented on line and may provide for a less hands-on, controlled mini-project experience – if any.

General Electric, with whom I was certified, used an ongoing project in their training material involving a catapult.  The class was able to manipulate a number of variables including: number of rubber bands, placement of rubber bands on the arms and base, ball type, pivot points, etc.  As we moved through each step of the material we utilized the data collected from experimenting with the variables to conduct Gage R&R studies, generate regression equations, and setup designs of experiment until we were able to produce the necessary equations to predict and optimize “shot-placement”.  We then competed with the other teams in the classroom to determine who was most accurate or could achieve the greatest distance.  I still talk with people about this training today, nearly 10 years later, as one of the best examples of training reinforcement that I have seen outside the military.  The retention of the conceptual material and process knowledge among participants was outstanding and issues in later projects often found “belts” discussing how the project was similar or dissimilar to the catapults.

The longer, classroom courses can be expensive, and may have drawbacks.  In the case of the General Electric training it was a full-day, multi-week course.  As a result personnel were taken away from their daily tasks for extended time periods with the resulting impact to projects and daily activities.  In the classroom setting I have also seen in-class discussions that devolved into esoteric statistical nuance and missed the broader point of the topic matter.  On a positive side, I have watched the exercises generate a large number of “ah” and “ah-ha” moments when students have fully grasped a concept or combined previous concepts to better understand interrelationships. In addition, the speed and responsiveness to questions in a classroom setting are more immediate than outside of one.  It’s important to note that both sides of the give and take for a classroom situation can occur within a given instruction period.

This highlights a key aspect of in-class instruction.  The instructor is as important as the material itself in this format, if not more so.  As in any classroom setting the wrong instructor can create an atmosphere of rigid dryness or one of overly open dialogue.  The answer lies between the two when presenting the material.  Presentation of concepts through more than one means is typically the best approach, but time limitations may constrain the availability of additional discussion time or in-depth exercises.

On the other side of the spectrum from an in-class setting is the online or remote course.  These are available from many organizations and institutions.  Depending upon their source, their quality can vary as much as the classroom lecturer.  In this case, however, it is the presentation material itself that often determines effectiveness.  A range of materials can be utilized including slides, books, worksheets, and/or audio and video files.  Even in a case where the presentation is via video presentation there is a distinct inability for the student to receive immediate answers to clarify questions on a topic.  There may be a method of contact provided to answer these questions, normally with a period of delay in the response, or the material may stand on its own.  There are positive sides for the remote courses.  The student, for example, is able to move at their own pace with minimal impact to other activities of which they are a part.  Typically the only expenses are related to registration, testing, and materials resulting in a significantly lower cost when compared to in-class instruction.

Trade-offs can be made between the in-class and remote opportunities and each organization must decide what level of expense and support they require.  Fully developed, in-house instruction is often more costly than purchasing a program from outside.  However, once a few personnel have been certified they can be leveraged internally to reduce the cost basis as well.  The key is to develop the conceptual understanding so that the tools can be quickly and effectively applied.  This then leads to projects from which the real solutions, improvements, and savings come.

The two step process for Six Sigma certification: Classroom and Project is the most common method utilized.  The classroom portion can be presented and combined in a number of ways.

The amount of time and money the organization is willing to expend is a major factor in the training developed.  In the end the process is about ensuring the tools are understood and that projects can be completed to help the organization achieve improved results.  The more people properly trained and working on projects, the more improved results can be obtained.  Our next article will step through the final step in Six Sigma certification – monitored projects.

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