Black Belt Certification Part 3: How to Train and Certify

BB certification blog titles-3

In Part 1 I recommended that organizations develop their internal Process Excellence (PE) training and Black Belt certification capability. Part 2 discussed that the role of external experts was to help organizations to act as a bootstrap to help organizations get started to build their internal capabilities.

Part 3the training and certification of PE professionals is best done by these internal PE experts mainly through face-to-face coaching and less through training programs.

Although I have spent a great deal of my professional career creating and delivering PE training my perspective on the value of training is that although it is important to get it right, organizations overly rely on it. A few thoughts:

  • It is naive at best, dangerous at its worst, to think that one can create a training system that will adequately equip Black Belts/PE professionals with the know-how and skills to tackle problems in the field without ongoing coaching support by PE Expert. It is not just that every process presents a unique combination of environment, history, and modifications both seen and unseen, but every process is embedded in a matrix of people, politics and policies that makes the diagnosis of issues, prescription of actions, and cat-herding of change unique to each situation.
  • Training, whether in-person or online, is at best only 25% of the skill that a Black Belt/PE professional needs to develop; the majority of what makes for a good PE professional is dependent on the availability and quality of the coaching by Master Black Belts/PE Experts and the nature of the process challenges the PE professional gets to sink their teeth into.
  • Management of change, the “people stuff,” is the most important aspect of PE work and yet poorly suited to course instruction. The ability to “read” people and situations, to size-up change obstacles, to filter real from bulls**t political issues and many other situational factors, these are the important things that formal training can only address conceptually. Even clever change simulations and exercises, while useful, are not a substitute for hands-on experience in live situations with feedback and coaching from a PE Expert. “Change management” is a horribly over-used phrase and misunderstood mega-competence, yet it is far more important than any technical tool. Unfortunately, classroom or online training, by their limitations, can barely scratch the surface of the realities of the politics of change.
  • The prime value of formal training, whether in class or online, is as a vehicle to communicate and instill the organization’s vision for PE :
    • In-person training is a critical opportunity for senior leadership imprinting. There is nothing as effective as a senior leader of an organization personally interacting with participants in PE training to ensure they understand the importance and purpose of the organization’s PE effort in fulfilling its vision. Canned videos and other tools are poor substitutes for the personal touch. People will register the importance of PE in the organization based, in part, on symbolic gestures such as the time and effort taken by senior leaders to interact with them personally as a group in these sessions.
    • In-person training is useful to build esprit d’corp. When participants of an organization get together for training it is not just an opportunity to impart information and to work on exercises together, but perhaps most importantly to reinforce a team spirit so that PE professionals see themselves as part of a larger group rather than a lone wolf working for their own career benefit. This collaborative ethic is important as organizations tackle large processes that requires many PE professionals to work together.
    • (Good) online training is useful to impart technical knowledge. Many tools and concepts are well-suited to videos that allow people to learn at their own pace and enable. I add the qualifier “good” because quite a bit of online training I have sampled is poorly structured (segments that are too long) or fail to take advantage of using the various methods open to online training (e.g. combine live action with graphics etc.). For example, some online training consists solely of hour-long videos of someone delivering a lecture.
    • Online resources serves as an aid to refresh and remind. In PE work the 80-20 rule applies: 80% of the work involves only 20% of the toolkit (or even less). Good online resources help to provide a consistent reference point for an organization in terminology, approach, and format. This greatly aids in building a common PE culture in an organization.

One of the misconceptions of lean is that because it is not very quantitative that it is relatively easy to impart the fundamentals of lean in the classroom with some PowerPoint slides and perhaps a few exercises. While it is true that one can get a conceptual understanding of some lean principles in a classroom, the only way to understand and develop the ability to use these principles is to work with others on a process and to actually use tools like a kaizen workshop under the coaching of an experienced PE expert.

Because many of the statistical tools in the Six Sigma toolkit lend themselves to computer work using programs like Excel, Minitab, or Crystal Ball. there is similarly the notion that the ability to use these tools can be taught through course instruction. While one can learn a great deal online or in the classroom about something like, for example, control charts, it is not until a PE professional has to figure out how to practically apply these concepts in the messy world of an actual process in an organization that the majority of learning happens, again, with the guidance and coaching of a PE Expert.

Consequently, when we talk about the certification of PE professionals we should focus not on the use of exams but on the direct observations and assessment of a PE Expert who has been able to see the candidate in action over a period of time sufficiently long enough that they can satisfy themselves that the PE certification candidate has these characteristics:

1. The PE professional has learned how to learn. I don’t think “certification” should signify an end point of learning but rather is a symbol of having the skill to

a. continually develop one’s own skills by constantly seeking new knowledge and experience as a PE professional. A person who thinks they’ve “mastered” PE and can check it off the list is, in my view, not someone you would want to associate with the trust-mark of a Certified Black Belt/PE professional.

b. engage in creative problem solving by being able to genuinely ask “why” questions. A person who has a powerful curiosity to delve into things will have far greater impact than someone who has memorized tools but is too easily satisfied by a surface-level understanding.

2. They have an acceptable level of balance of “hard” and “soft” skills. Process Excellence is an art and a science. It requires abilities in the domains of analytics (IQ) and behavior (EQ). Although no one is ever going to have a perfect balance of EQ and IQ, a certified PE professional, I contend, should demonstrate a reasonable mix of both characteristics e.g. 60-40 split.

3. They have demonstrated a grasp of a vital few Process Excellence principles and concepts in their work. There are hundreds of tools and concepts in the PE toolkit. We need to assess the specific requirements of a particular process and organization at given time and space and then reach into the toolkit. Unfortunately, cookbook PE instruction fosters the idea that there is a set of tools that a PE professional must use in order to receive certification. There perhaps a handful of tools and concepts that are useful in most every situation, for example a basic process map. But to predetermine the tools and concepts PE certification candidate must demonstrate forces PR professionals into a hammer searching for a nail situation. Some tools and concepts that I think we could consider placing onto a short list (just food for thought):

(i) SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customer)

(ii) Voice of the Customer (VOC) and Critical to Performance (CTP)

(iii) Signal vs noise

(iv) Small group dynamics (e.g. GRPI – Goals, Roles, Process, Interpersonal)

(v) Defects

(vi) Lead time, Cycle Time, Wait time

(vii) Muda (8 Kinds of Waste)

(viii) Little’s Law

(ix) 1-Piece Flow by Pull

(x) Problem vs Opportunity