As most leaders can attest, implementation of the Lean Six Sigma methodology within an organization is a complex and multifaceted undertaking. Although there are multiple factors that directly affect its success, training is one of the most critical, followed closely by being able to lean on the expertise of people who are well-versed in this methodology and implementation. Taking an informal approach such as reading a book or referring to a website won’t do the trick. As is the case with any large strategic cultural change, organizations should consider a more thoughtful and formalized training that includes the following six keys for success before starting any Lean Six Sigma implementation:

1. Champion Training

Lean Six Sigma implementation needs to be driven from the top of the organization, and so does training. As such, senior management must be trained first. Lean Six Sigma Champion Training is high-level and focuses on what senior managers need to know to successfully lead the Lean Six Sigma implementation.

Once senior management has been trained, the organization can develop a training plan — a critical component of the overall Lean Six Sigma implementation plan. There are many questions to answer about training, depending on the implementation plan.

2. Training Scope

Will the implementation be enterprise-wide or within functional areas? Enterprise-wide implementation and training is typically best, since many improvement initiatives are cross-functional and not limited to individual departments. Functional implementation will usually be less effective.

3. Training Focus and Content

What will be the specific focus of the training? Will the implementation be Lean, Six Sigma or the combination — Lean Six Sigma? This decision is key, but its importance is often underestimated. The training content will heavily depend on this key decision.

4. Training Leadership and Training Delivery

There should be one person responsible for ensuring that the Lean Six Sigma training happens efficiently and effectively. Training delivery options include using internal or external resources. If internal resources are not already available, the organization will need to select and train them, which will lengthen the implementation horizon. If the organization is using outside resources, on the other hand, it’s important to vet and assess potential partners to ensure that they are compatible with the organization and the implementation plan.

5. Training Population

How many people need to be trained and at what level of training? In Lean Six Sigma, proficiency is described using the martial arts language of colored belts. From lower to higher proficiency, there are white belts, yellow belts, green belts, black belts and master black belts. The typical amount of training for each proficiency level is eight hours for white belts, 16 to 24 hours for yellow belts, 80 hours for green belts, 160 hours for black belts and 200 hours for master black belts.

In an organization-wide implementation, all employees would be trained as white belts and a smaller number as Yellow Belts, about 5% of employees would be trained as green belts to lead improvement project teams, and about 1% of employees would be trained as black belts to lead larger projects and mentor green belts. Typically, one master black belt leads the overall implementation.

6. Training Modality

When it comes to the training modality, there are many to choose from, but it is important to consider the pros and cons of public and customized training options:

    • Face-to-face public courses.
    • Face-to-face dedicated, tailored or customized on-site courses.
    • Online synchronous or asynchronous public courses.
    • Online synchronous or asynchronous dedicated, tailored or customized courses.

One disadvantage of public courses is that they are not tailored or customized to the specific needs of the organization. An advantage is that they are typically less expensive.

The biggest advantage of the dedicated options is that they can be tailored or customized to the organization. Although the on-site customized option seems to be most expensive, organizations can mitigate the cost by doing the training, especially green belt training, in the context of company projects. The savings from the projects can actually cover the costs of the green belt training.

Assuredly, if training is done poorly, the implementation may fail, but if training is done with a thoughtful and well-planned approach, the probability of Lean Six Sigma implementation success is great.