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Yellow Belts – Worth a Fresh Look?

November 8th, 2012

Is Yellow Belt training a good foundation process skillset?I’m going to start this little article off by opining that the need for basic process management and improvement skills in an organization is getting more acute every day.

Why?  Well, I really don’t think the need ever waned, but   there are a lot of new things happening, specifically with technology, that have the potential to put business process management and formal improvement at the top of both business and IT leaders’ priorities.  While beyond the scope of this article, spend a little time looking at the new generation of BPM software (BPMS), the interest and investment in BigData, and software trends like SOA and I bet you’ll come to the same conclusion I have … process skills are becoming more and more critical to the success of enterprise.

Based on what’s happened over the last few years, many companies are finding that those skills are simply not there, or have gone dormant.  So, how do you develop or re-energize the capability?  Now, here is where we have to stay real.

The way companies are willing to build out organizational capability has clearly changed, based on my experience.  Big, top-heavy initiatives that push broad knowledge into the enterprise (the firehose approach) have been largely replaced with agile, practical thinking that says you pull right-fit capability into the organization, at the right-time.  Deliver exactly what’s needed, exactly when it’s needed, and execute in a way that delivers immediate ROI in the form of quantifiable business performance results.  That’s the new reality.

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I whole-heartedly agree with the agile, pull-based approach to organizational learning.  That being said, when building anything, you still have to start with a foundation … a base that you can continue to build upon as needed.  So, what should that foundation business process capability be?

Do you really need a large segment of people to be certified Black Belts, or even Green Belts, that specialize in deep statistical analysis?   Does everyone need to be a Lean Expert?  Does everyone need to have process design and DFSS skills?  I think not.

This caused me to go back and took a hard look at our trusty old Yellow Belt skillset and, you know what … it just might serve as that nice foundation. Yellow Belts, in the not-so-old days, were thought of as supporters of Black Belts and Green Belts. But I think that skillset can stand and deliver on its own.

(As a disclaimer, there is really no standard out there for yellow belt.  I’m talking about our (Qualtec’s) definition of a yellow belt skillset.)

So, what should well-trained Yellow Belts be able to do?

  • Map out and validate as-is processes, from a variety of perspectives
  • Identify waste and excess complexity in the process
  • Understand VOC and how a process delivers (or doesn’t deliver) value from the customers perspective
  • Evaluate and quantify what a problem is really costing, the cost of poor quality (COPQ)
  • Define and scope projects
  • Use a structured, data-driven approach for problem solving
  • Recognize different types of data, plan for collection
  • Analyze a variety of data to get to root causes of problems
  • Support identification of right-fit solutions, and support implementation
  • Put in the proper process control mechanisms to monitor performance and sustain improvements over time
  • Etc, etc

Not bad.  It’s something that’s broadly applicable in the organization, in any process or area, and immediately usable for just about anyone in the enterprise.  It also establishes that nice, solid foundation that advanced capabilities can be built upon when needed.

So, you may want to give Yellow Belt a new look, if you’re looking to establish process capability in your organization.  Contact me if you want more info or would like to discuss in more detail ….

  1. Lisa Cobble
    November 12th, 2012 at 01:26 | #1

    I agree that the organisation should have yellow belts, but for a slightly different reason. They should be the people that recognise the need to improve and can drive the improvement at their level (guided by a green or black belt). More and more employees should be empowered to understand that they can make a difference. The real problem lies in the balance of tasks. Often the ‘real work’ is seen to be more important. A mechanism for recording ideas could be one step forward, but allowing for off line working, to step back and think, must also figure in the job description of every employee.

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