Black Belt Certification Part 2: How to Bootstrap

BB certification blog titles-2

In Part 1 I shared my perspective that organizations should own and operate the training and certification of Process Excellence (PE) professionals (Black Belts etc.). But how can an organization get started on this journey?

Part 2: The role of external resources is as a bootstrap to organizations to help them reach a critical mass of internal PE experts.

Let’s say that an organization needs to achieve new, breakthrough levels of performance. If the organization and its leaders are fortunate, they will understand “that they don’t know what they don’t know” with respect to process excellence. At the beginning of the PE journey it is unwise for an organization try to figure out PE on its own without the benefit of experienced coaches or “sensei” to guide them.

The primary role of such coaches/sensei is not to put together presentation decks, lead projects, or deliver canned training programs. Such activities, while they might generate 1st generation benefits, generally do not lead to sustainable benefits.

What should these external coaches/sensei do instead? They can play an important role in several ways:

  • Help the senior leaders understand the true nature of PE and its potential for an organization’s future;
  • Help an organization to identify employees with the potential as future PE experts;
  • Work with the initial internal PE resources to develop and deliver PE training and education;
  • Coach the organization in general (such as the owners of business processes);
  • Provide coaching expertise to help the organization to solve specific process performance issues.

In some cases, external PE coaches/sensei join an organization and in that way transfer their knowledge and experience to an organization.

What kind of person makes for a good PE expert? In my experience the best PE coaches/sensei are not the product of a “PE Expert/Sensei certification” program. Although programs like Master Black Belt training and certification exist these programs, in my opinion, are not a very reliable sources of PE expertise. Instead any kind of Master Black Belt/PE expert training is best seen as an optional addition to a long and rich set of experiences at both the front lines of process excellence as well as working with senior executives to understand, invest in, and stick to a PE journey.

Much like finding a good building contractor, an organization needs to do thorough interviews with the other organizations a PE expert has worked at as either an employee or an external advisor and coach. Through this homework they need to understand not only the contributions and impact of the PE expert but also to get a sense of their approach and values. Some of the key things to look for:

  • The prospective PE expert has considerable hands-on experience improving processes. 10-15 years of intensive full-time experience is a guideline as a bare minimum. This experience does not include time spent running training sessions (training is an important skill and activity but distinctly different than hands-on problem solving). Instead this is time spent first as an improvement leader at the frontline and secondly time as a coach/sensei to others.
  • The individual has worked in a PE role as a senior leader in an organization and not just as an external consultant. Consulting is a great way to gain a perspective on different organizations and industries, but consultants, no matter how smart they are, don’t truly understand change issues until they spend a few years on “the client side of the table.”
  • It is best if the person has worked as an employee for two or more organizations in a PE role. Although one can gain valuable experience as a PE expert by remaining in one organization, I’ve found that the perspective of seeing the ups and downs of striving for PE in several cultures and situations is tremendously useful.
  • The individual’s perspective on PE is broad and flexible, as opposed to fixated on a dogmatic view of “lean,” “six sigma,” “theory of constraints,” “TRIZ,” “agile development,” “re-engineering” or any number of schools of thought. In keeping with the need for situation-specific adaptation and ongoing evolution of PE systems, PE experts need to have the ability to flex and evolve their own tool kits and mental models of PE (see the Umbrella concept).

Next: In Part 3 we’ll take a look at the pitfalls of PE training and certification and some recommendations on better ways to proceed.



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