The workhorse of the Belts, the Black Belt (BB) is the person with boots on the ground, engaged by the Champion, Process Owner, and MBB to analyze a strategically chartered project in order to drive improvements to the process.  While the BB may be familiar with the process being addressed she doesn't have to be.  Often times it is actually much better to bring in someone with "fresh eyes" to drive change, to act as a facilitator of change using data, facts, and objectivity that can be lost to fear of change or being too close to something others have been involved with for a long while.

BB's are chosen for their enthusiasm, drive, communications ability, potential, and leadership abilities.  While having some experience in statistics can be helpful, it is not a requirement for this position as the BB will be provided a month or more of intensive training in a myriad of topics from communications, change management, math, statistics, and computer skills.

Usually the BB is expected to complete a two-year rotation in which he will perform numerous projects and ultimately will attain certification as having mastered the BB's body of knowledge such that he or she can go on to adequately train and coach Green Belts (GB's) and can assimilate back into the organization, poised to continuing using the new-found skills as a natural part of everyday business.

Design for Six Sigma is the follow-on to the original and traditional DMAIC form of Six Sigma.  When Six Sigma was created by Motorola, its initial goal was to improve the quality of existing processes and products.  However, it was soon determined that it wouldn't be enough to sustain an edge in business by launching new products and then fixing them during production while they are already in the marketplace.

DFSS was formulated as a new process to assure that all new product launches would go to product and the market at an initial quality level that would meet the high standards of quality that organizations try to achieve ex post facto using DMAIC.

Unlike DMAIC, DFSS is not an acronym for the process used to achieve high product quality during the design phase.  The actual process used in DFSS is usually named DMADV (pronounced duh-MAD-vee).  DMADV is another 5-step process which stands for:

  • DEFINE: the first step in designing a high quality product (or process) is to design goals that are consistent with customer demands and the enterprise strategy
  • MEASURE: the next step is to identify CTQs (characteristics that are Critical To Quality, Cost, and other things important to customers), measure product capabilities and production process capability, and to measure or assess risks in achieving such levels.
  • ANALYZE: in this step we begin to develop alternative solutions that will meet the CTQ's identified previously.  We begin to test them using modeling, simulation, or in practice or prototype. 
  • DESIGN: this is where the detail starts to emerge.  After testing and analyzing potential solutions, we focus on an improved alternative, best suited per analysis in the previous step and work towards a finished product and process.
  • VERIFY: finally, we focus the product and process on making it to fully marketable production.  Final prototypes are tested and verified to meet the CTQ's, we set up pilot runs, implement the production process and hand it over to the process owner(s).




While Belts are given the task of making process improvements come to fruition, the process owner is the person who owns and is ultimately responsible for the process being changed, the results of the process before, during, and after the change, and therefore the sustainability of the changes made as a result of the project.  

Too often a Belt gets involved in a project and soon becomes the process expert, or subject matter expert (SME), however the process owner is the person who needs to accept the process improvement changes and needs to stand up and say "I accept the changes outlined in the project and will pledge to sustain them."  Thus, the Belt must engage with the process owner early and often, and then formally hand over the updated process to the process owner at the end of the project so the Belt can move on to new opportunities for improvement.



Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement which seeks to improve the quality of processes by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability.  It uses a set of quality management methods, mainly empirical, statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization ("Champions", "Process Owners", "Black Belts", "Green Belts", "Yellow Belts", etc.) who are experts in these methods. Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified value targets.  

The term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with the statistical modeling of processes. The capability of a process can be described by a sigma rating indicating its yield or the percentage of defect-free products it creates. A six sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of all opportunities to produce some feature of a part are statistically expected to be free of defects (3.4 defective features / million opportunities).


Project Champions are critical for project, and therefore, strategic implementation success.  Champions are typically departmental leaders, managers, directors, or executives who have responsibility and accountability for profit and loss or budget within a business unit.  They are the people who need to see real change and improvement in their areas.  What's important to them is important to the Belt (the Six Sigma practitioner)!  

Inevitably there will be roadblocks that are identified when attempting to manage change (improvements).  The Champion is the person who is responsible for making sure that all roadblocks are properly dealt with in a timely manner.  Because they usually are able to control and manipulate resources (time, money, people) they are best kept informed of project progress, which helps with the accountability the Belt has to do the Champion's bidding.


Master Black Belt is the highest role in the Belt hierarchy.  As typical in the martial arts, higher level Belts represent mastery of proficiency, skill, practice, and success of that which is being learned and applied.  The Master Black Belt (MBB) role typically includes responsibility for the overall Belt training program, including Process Owner and Champion training.  MBB's train Black Belts (BB's), and act as mentors and coaches to BB's who are learning how to put into practice the training they received in the form of projects.  The MBB also often is responsible for strategy development and deployment of the BB's to the projects chartered to best meet the needs of the organization.

To achieve this level, the Master Black Belt has typically been previously trained and certified as a Black Belt prior to attaining this level.  He or she has learned advanced knowledge of statistics and problem solving as well as change management.  MBB's are also usually the certifying authority for the BB's learning the art.

If Six Sigma seeks to improve processes by minimizing variability in the processes, then Six Sigma itself must also have a process by which it operates if it is to be a capable process.  Created by Motorola in the 1980's, Six Sigma uses a 5-step process called DMAIC (pronounced duh-MAY-ick).  The 5 steps are:

  • DEFINE: the initial step used to identify the issue at hand, to scope the problem down to a manageable size, and to communicate and garner support for the team working on the problem.  The outcomes of this step are the who, what, when, where, why, and how much of the project. 
  • MEASURE: the second step is where the statistics and analytics start happening.  In order to truly affect change, the process has to be mapped out in detail, inputs and outputs of the process identified, and a baseline understanding of the current state of the process measured, including an understanding of the capability of the measurement system(s) used to determine the capability now and in the future.
  • ANALYZE: typically using more aggressive statistical analysis, we now begin to truly characterize the sources of variation and defects in order to sift through all of the possible sources and allow us to focus on the most probable and significant factors that are causing the problems we want to improve.
  • IMPROVE: upon gaining an understanding of where the problems are occurring, and why, we now focus on how to make improvements in the process such that we can achieve the goals of the project.  Hypothesis testing takes place and we verify that proposed changes resolve the problems to our liking.
  • CONTROL: often cited as the most important phase of the project, we must assure that the work we put into improving the process is sustained in perpetuity.  Embedding the improvements into the systems requires a lot of effort to enact change, something which we know people are not always fond of.

Using an analogy, if the Black Belt could be considered an officer, the Green Belts are enlisted personnel.  The GBs are the organizational masses, people who are trained in the basics of Lean Six Sigma, but stay in their positions, in their "day jobs", helping out on BB projects in their areas, or even leading smaller, more closely scoped projects that affect their work.

GB's are often times, as in the martial arts, a beginning phase of potential further growth and learning at the BB level.  Not all organizations start everyone at the GB level, or require everyone to be a GB over time, but suffice it to say that having a critical mass LSS practitioners in the organization can significantly improve the culture change being sought after.