What Can Yellow Belts Do … Really?
As a followup to my recent post titled Trained Yellow Belts Think Differently, I thought I would spend a little time talking about what yellow belts can actually DO.
In a traditional six sigma deployment, yellow belts play a critical role in supporting higher level black belt and green belt projects. They are trained in the foundation of the DMAIC problem solving process and can speak the language of Six Sigma. They can handle some of the lower level tasks of process mapping, data collection, setting up measurement systems, establishing and maintaining control systems , and may actually be subject matter experts. Basically, they allow the black belts and green belts to focus on the more complex analytical aspects of the project. If yellow belts are used effectively, they can improve the productivity of black belts and green belts in a BIG way.
BUT, what can they do outside of supporting higher level belts? What if you don’t even have higher level belts? What can a yellow belt trained employee do for the organization?
Six Sigma purists might argue that Yellow Belts should not be trained, without Black Belts and Green Belts, and that their role is to support higher level belts. I don’t agree with this at all. Again, I have to hedge by saying that I’m talking about the level of capability that yellow belts trained by SSQ have (i.e. 4-5 days of training). So, what can Mr. Yellow Belt do?
- Characterize Processes. Process mapping and characterization is a skill that should not be taken lightly. All too often, improvements are made to processes when we don’t know how the current process really operates, the current state. These so-called improvements, in many cases, add unnecessary complexity and create more problems than they fixed. We call this tampering and it is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. A great example of where process characterization is an invaluable skill is with large-scale enterprise software implementations. It seems common sense that we should understand exactly how a process works before we try to systemize/automate with software, right? How often is there really a focused effort to characterize and optimize processes? I would argue not enough of the time and this is readily apparent in the big $’s spent on configuration, customization, tweaks, etc.
- Establish/validate measurement systems. Yellow belts learn the basics of Six Sigma and its focus on using data to understand problems and get to the root cause. The learn the basics of what makes a good measurement system, and what does not. The can certainly help establish measurement and data collection systems that are actionable, and validate (or invalidate) existing ones.
- Establish Process Control Systems. This is a key yellow belt skillset and its importance should not be overlooked. Yellow belts learn how to set up process control systems to assure that processes function as expected by the customer. Spec limits are establish, as are response plans when an indicator goes out of control
- Execute small scale improvement projects in their own areas. Will they have the deep statistical analysis skills that well-trained green belts or black belts have? No, they will not. But they will have a solid problem solving foundation around DMAIC and they will have a working knowledge of the basic tools in D-M-A-I-C. They know what a well scoped project looks like, they know the basic measure and analyze graphical tools, they know how to use a structured approach to select improvements, and they definitely know about process control systems. Let’s not lose site of the fact that these basic tools will likely be sufficient to address a significant portion of the process problems you’ll face.
Some may think of Yellow Belts as team members, data collectors, or assistants to Black Belts. I strongly question this view and think, in reality, a Yellow Belt’s role should be much deeper than that. Yellow Belts practice a Process Management approach (control and manage processes using metrics and data) and can solve real business problems using basic, but proven, quality tools and a systematic approach.
Yellow belt skills are valuable at any level of the organization, from managers to the lowest level process operators, and the processes they improve are usually the ones they work in day in and day out. Many years back the term daily process management was in vogue. The term has certainly faded a bit, but it’s hard to argue against the value of actively managing and improving processes on a daily basis.
Contact me if you’d like to talk about how yellow belts might be able to help your organization. And, if you haven’t already, download our yellow belt training manual to see for yourself the rich skillset a yellow belt acquires.