Do you enjoy problem-solving? And do you want to learn a structured problem-solving methodology to do that? Then, Six Sigma area might be an option to explore.
Sigma (σ) by itself is a statistical phrase that is used as a measure of the variability in a process. Six Sigma means that a process is capable of producing only 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Historically, many companies utilized this concept and applied a structured problem solving and continuous improvement technique under what is called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control).
Six Sigma is implemented by a team with different roles and responsibilities, so different levels of education and Six Sigma training are needed as I showed in this article before.
There are different ways to get a Six Sigma certificate. Here is a good article that illustrates these options. There is no single institution that provides a Six Sigma certification service like PMP (Project Management Professional) certificate or CMA (Certified Management Accountant) certificate and many others. You can get a Six Sigma certificate from an independent institution like ASQ (American Society for Quality, your company or even an educational institution like a university.
I have three Six Sigma certificates; Lean Six Sigma Green Belt from PepsiCo Company, Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate from ASQ and Six Sigma Black Belt Certificate from ASQ as well. In this article, I will discuss my preparation steps and lesson learned for the three of them, which comes as a part of other articles I started about 10 Reasons to Go for a Professional Certificate.
Before I start, I would like to put the below discussion in a context. Many people believe that you have to be a guru in the statistic in order to understand the Six Sigma topic. While you do not have to love statistics and numbers, you have to learn them. There are many resources that you can use to understand this area in a very simple way. In my case, I took engineering statistics course as a part of my undergraduate degree and I got ‘B’ mark only. I do not like the topic, but I managed to survive using different resources. The most important thing is to appreciate the many qualitative tools and techniques that you will learn from the Six Sigma body of knowledge, not only the quantitative ones, which I believe you can apply in your day to day work and get amazing results.
Additionally, I am an industrial engineer with multiple qualifications in project management and quality management, so I covered many topics under the Six Sigma body of knowledge before. I did not attend a specific training for my ASQ Six Sigma Green Belt and Six Sigma Black Belt certificates. Instead, I collected the preparation materials and studied them by myself. However, there are different training options which will shorten your preparation time.
Finally, I took my Six Sigma Green Belt in 2013, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt in 2015 and Six Sigma Black Belt in 2016, so be careful when you refer to the books and fees that I will mention below. Always check the relevant websites to get the latest updates.
ASQ- Six Sigma Green Belt
The first certificate that I will discuss is CSSGB (Certified Six Sigma Green Belt) from ASQ. In order to determine if this certificate is good for you, you may need to start by reading this page in order to familiarize yourself with the exam requirements, the needed work experience and education. Also, you need to read this document to understand what topics are needed as per the Six Sigma body of knowledge.
The application for this certificate is not very difficult, and only a detailed CV was required when I sat for the exam in 2013.
- The exam has 110 questions over four hours and a half. 100 questions are scored and 10 are not scored and used for statistical purpose only. You will not be able to know what are these 10 questions, so you need to answer the whole exam.
- The exam is open book and you can use a calculator as well.
In 2103, the exam was a paper-based format, but currently, it is a computer based one. I am going to discuss the benefits of this update later on.
A summary for my experience with this certificate is as the following:
- Cost: total cost was 651 USD (the breakdown of this number is: ASQ membership fees: 99 USD as an associate, exam cost: 288 USD, the Certified Six Sigma Green Belt Handbook: 89 USD and finally the preparation materials from the Quality Council of Indiana which includes a book, a solutions’ manual and Exam CD: 175 USD). I suggest that you pay the membership fees because you can pay only 288 USD for the exam instead of 438 USD, and you can get the handbook at 89 USD instead of 130 USD. Moreover, being a member will allow you to receive many helpful tips and resources from the ASQ.
- Time: it took me 5 months to prepare because I chose to study by myself. You can shorten that time by attending a specialized training in Six Sigma and/ or statistics.
My preparation steps and lessons learned:
- I read two general books about Six Sigma to get a general idea about the topic until receiving my handbook from ASQ. The two books were available for free from different website which are: Getting Started in Six Sigma and Six Sigma Memory Jogger II. The later one is a handful a pocket guide that you can even use after getting the certificate
- I studied the Certified Six Sigma Green Belt Handbook by the ASQ. The book is good and well organized. Sometimes you will feel that they have concentrated on a certain topic over another, however, you need to make sure that you really understand everything in the book. I studied this book twice.
- Additionally, I studied the preparation materials by Quality Council of Indiana. Honestly, I did a mistake where I bought the Exam CD only to practice on the questions, but I suggest that you buy the whole package.
- I reviewed a couple of resources and books from my undergraduate degree especially form my Quality Control, Engineering Statistics and Total Quality Management courses.
You cannot find a lot of questions for this exam, so the preparation materials by the quality council of Indiana will be a great resource to time yourself and be familiar with the testing format.
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt
My second Six Sigma certificate was provided by my ex-employer (PepsiCo Jordan Company). The company decided to train and certify the first batch of Six Sigma Green Belts, so a group of employees was trained for one week on the different concepts under Lean and Six Sigma in general and the DMAIC process in specific. Then, each one of us implemented a Six Sigma project on a certain area to improve it according to a project charter that was developed for this purpose. The whole certification process was led by a Six Sigma Champion who was also a Six Sigma Master Black Belt. The projects lasted for seven months were each stage of the DMAIC was implemented and reviewed by the Champion before moving to the next stage.
Let me compare this type of certification process versus the one that I did from the ASQ. On the first hand, getting the certificate from a company was more joyful and one of the best learning experiences I ever had. The great mentorship that we had from our Champion helped us to proceed with our projects even when we were engaged with other work to do. The value of discussing the different Lean and Six Sigma topics with our Champion, our colleagues and our management helped us to develop a real hand- on experience, especially when dealing with topics such as communication, management of change and using a statistical software; Minitab. On the other hand, I cannot neglect the great value that I had by following the structured body of knowledge by ASQ when I prepared for my first Green Belt certificate. I believe that the two methods needed for me in order to better understand the of Six Sigma, which eventually helped me a lot when preparing for my Six Sigma Black Belt certificate.
As a summary for the time and cost:
- Cost: zero! The training was provided by the company itself.
- Time: seven months between training, and applying the DMAIC process.
- Resources and preparation materials: the training was provided by the company itself including the Minitab license. I had to review parts of the books that I used when I studied for my ASQ Green Belt certificate because I was preparing for my Six Sigma Black Belt in the same period.
ASQ- Six Sigma Black Belt
My last Six Sigma certificate is CSSBB (Certified Six Sigma Black Belt) from ASQ. After the long journey of studying and applying the different Lean and Six Sigma tools and techniques, I decided to set for the Black Belt exam.
The application for this certificate is different from the Green Belt certificate because you have to fill and sign this affidavit/ verification form. The idea is that you need to demonstrate your experience in managing Six Sigma projects either by providing evidence that you have completed two Six Sigma projects, completed a DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) project or evidence that you have completed one Six Sigma project with three years of experience in this area. Personally, I submitted the last option where I submitted the project that I did under my Green Belt certificate.
- The exam has 165-questions over four hours and a half. 150 questions are scored and 15 are not scored and used for statistical purpose only.
- The exam is open book and you can use a calculator as well.
A summary of my experience with this certificate is as the following:
- Cost: total cost was 771 USD (the breakdown of this number is: ASQ membership fees: 99 USD as an associate, exam cost: 388 USD, the Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook (but I managed to get it from a friend: 99 USD and finally the preparation materials from the Quality Council of Indiana which included a book, a solutions’ manual and Exam CD: 185 USD).Again I suggest registering for the exam as ASQ member to get the benefits and discounts as I discussed before.
- Time: it took me 3 months to prepare taking into consideration that I was not employed during these three months so you may need more time. Additionally, I sat for the exam right after finishing my master degree so I was already in the mode of studying and finally I spent a lot of time in preparing for my previous Six Sigma Green Belt certificates and other project management certificates as well.
My preparation steps and lessons learned:
- The Black Belt certificate needs a higher appreciation for the statistics and the mathematical formulas. So, in order to get a better understanding, I studied Head First Statistics: A Brain-Friendly Guide. I found the book online for free and It was a very interesting book with many examples and images that made me feel that I am reading a magazine, not a boring book.
- I read two nice handbooks on Six Sigma; the first one was The Six Sigma Handbook and the second one was The Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook. Both were provided from friends and Linkedin contacts.
- Additionally, I studied in details The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook.
- I bought and reviewed carefully the preparation materials by Quality Council of Indiana. The book is very big; however, it was very organized with lots of examples and exam questions.
- I used YouTube to get quick information about certain areas such as Design for Environment, Test of Hypothesis and other difficult topics.
I studied the ASQ handbook and the materials by the Quality Council of Indiana twice. Again, you cannot find a lot of mock exams on ASQ Six Sigma certificates, so the preparation materials by Quality Council of Indiana are great resources for preparing for the testing environment.
The exam was very difficult in terms of the questions. I had no problem with the time, where I managed to finish 45 minutes earlier, but I had questions where I literally cannot find or expect the answers.
As a summary for my experience with the ASQ, I believe it was a great journey where the handbooks are very structures and helpful. The customer service by ASQ is very good and very responsive. ASQ has changed the exam format which is a very good point as well. In the past, the exam was paper- based where you can sit for the exam at two times per year only, and you will receive the results after five business days of your exam. Currently, the good news is that ASQ moved to a computer-based format where you can take the exam through a Prometric testing facility, select the exam date out of 102 options per year and most importantly, getting your results immediately after the exam which can save you a lot of stress.
Six Sigma is not only about numbers. It is a great area with lots of qualitative tools that you can use, so I urge any manager to go through the mentioned books in this article, and other resources as well, even without setting for the exam.