You just became the proud owner of the title “Lean (Six Sigma) Black Belt” (or any other color for that matter)? Congratulations! But what, in fact, does this exactly mean? In any case, it means you invest in yourself or the organization you work for invests in its people. Good for you. But a lot of side notes can be made about the recent, totally uncontrolled proliferation in belt colors, titles, certificates and certifying organizations related to Lean and/or Six Sigma. Does such type of Lean certification actually imply a certain competence, or is it a fool’s bargain?
No External Certification of Your Lean System
Certification implies that the certifying organization attests that the certified person meets certain, predetermined requirements regarding their knowledge and skill in a certain competency. This has quite some implications. First, it means that there is an agreement about these requirements. This immediately makes it tricky. Then doesn’t Toyota call it the Toyota Production System, Danaher the Danaher Business System and Michelin the Michelin Way? Every organization develops its own production or business system resulting in their own ways of working, based upon the more general Lean principles and concepts. This system should support the organization’s specific purpose, agree with its vision and be aligned to its strategy.
This means that external, third party certification can only be applicable to general knowledge. The applied knowledge of how Lean is used at your company, and the real competency and skill of one of your associates in this application, cannot be certified externally. To put it differently: who, other than your organization yourself, can in fact define the final attainment targets if you want your associates to properly contribute to your organization’s vision and be aligned to your strategy? How would you know whether an external trainer correctly conveys the right messages regarding the themes that are important to you? Particularly if they don’t know your business, your processes and your shop floor and never actually worked in such an environment?
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Lean
Following on from this, it is interesting to ask why organizations often choose for an external training for such important topics. Or is it? When it truly is part of my organization’s vision and strategy it would be important to me to have my teams trained by our own people. People that thoroughly know our mission, vision and strategy. Because of this I am very wary of companies that want me to train their people, if it isn’t part of a train-the-trainer strategy and an effort to develop the company’s own system in parallel.
An external trainer can even be harmful to the proper positioning of internal trainers, coaches and leaders. This can be crucial in the role that these people need to play in the change process that is unavoidable when properly integrating Lean in the company’s vision and strategy. And since we are now talking about credibility: why, in fact, do organizations even shamelessly accept such silly titles such as Black Belt or Change Agent when the whole idea is that they need to intensively and continuously engage with and involve shop floor associates in making the strategy work? Ever thought about what the operators at the machine or line will think and say?
Lean Certification: a Fool’s Bargain?
Finally, certification also implies that there is such thing as a commonly accepted, independent institution that determines and manages the Lean body-of-knowledge and its certification requirements. And additionally, that there is an independent, separate organization authorized and accepted to actually certify people and organizations. But this is not the case. There is no generally accepted and agreed body-of-knowledge or minimum curriculum. There is (at least in the Netherlands) no independent certification body.
The consequence of all this is an uncontrolled proliferation of “certificates” and “certifying” organizations. In fact, it mostly concerns consultants that both train and certify. Interestingly, typically everyone also passes the test… For me, the whole thing just undermines the value of whatever certificate people show me. I’d rather ask them where they worked and what their system was. And what their specific role was with regards to this system.
So whenever you think of sending your people to these type of trainings, request such certificates, or introducing the titles going with them, think again. You might be looking at a fool’s bargain in the end…