Six Sigma is a technical, data-driven and statistical quality improvement program primarily for the manufacturing sector, though in recent years it has been applied elsewhere, including the service sector.

Six Sigma certifications are: Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt and Master Black Belt. Black Belts tend to be senior managers and usually mentor Green Belts. Six Sigma Black Celts are expected to have sound working knowledge of Six Sigma methodologies. Besides the technical knowledge, Six Sigma Black Belts are expected to lead a change within an organization and play a strong leadership role. (For related reading, see: What's the Difference Between Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma?) If the admittedly-biased Go Lean Six Sigma training program is to be believed, Six Sigma belts can significantly increase your salary. The average Black Belt makes $98,000 a year; the level one below that makes $72,000--a full 36% increase.

At the Black Belt level, students are expected to already have a Green Belt certificate or at least three years of work experience in the field or they must have completed two Six Sigma projects, according to the American Society for Quality. Experience must be paid full-time work. Co-ops, internships and part-time jobs don’t apply.

Depending on the organization, the format of the exam and training might differ. Training could be on-site, online or in a formal classroom setting along with mentoring and workshop sessions. The certification mandates the completion of two successful Six Sigma Black Belt projects. A project is considered financially successful once approved by a company's accounting department and the sponsor. (For related reading, see: Lean Six Sigma.)

Black Belt certificate courses build on the Green Belt certificate and tend to have an organization-wide perspective. On top of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control), it adds the following (based on ASQ’s Black Belt certificate).

  • Enterprise wide deployment;
  • Integration of Lean and Six Sigma;
  • Enterprise leadership responsibilities & Team Management;
  • Six Sigma projects and Kaizen events;
  • Critical to X requirements, i.e. Critical to Quality, cost, process, safety, delivery;
  • Benchmarking;
  • Business performance measures;
  • Customer feedback;
  • Financial measures, i.e. market shares, profit margins, NPV, ROI.

Differences Between Black and Green Belt Certificates

The Exam

-The Green Belt certificate has an exam of 3-4 hours with 60 questions.

-The Black Belt certificate has an exam with duration of 5 hours and 120 questions.

-The passing score for both the levels is 80%

The Project

-Only one simple limited-scope project is required for the Green Belt certificate, which should generate at least 15% improvement in primary project metrics.

-The Black Belt requires two complex strategic projects, resulting in about 50% improvement in primary project metrics.

The Bottom Line

A Black Belt certificate is appropriate for more senior technical roles, such as project managers, quality managers, operations managers and new product engineers or managers. For junior roles in technical industries, a Green Belt certificate will probably suffice. (For more, see: Kaizen: An American Idea Gets a Japanese Makeover.)

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