Selecting a Six Sigma or a Lean Six Sigma Certification Program

Add bookmark

Considering a certification in Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma, but not quite sure where to begin? Contributor Michelle Gabriel helps to make sense of the wide variety of certification programs out there.

The nature of today’s job market is that for certain types of jobs many employers require some level of Six Sigma certification as a minimum for consideration. Although having a certification is no guarantee that the holder is actually competent or is the right fit for achieving an organization’s goals, it is a starting point for many companies. Even if you already have a job, in some organizations Six Sigma certifications are a plus for consideration of higher level positions.

Unlike many other certifications such as Project Management (PMI), there is no one authorizing agency which lists a body of knowledge (BOK) and a set of requirements for Six Sigma certification. Although the American Society for Quality (ASQ) BOK is nearly universal, there are still many variations to the Six Sigma body of knowledge that are very comprehensive but have a different emphasis – adding to and deleting parts of the ASQ BOK. The requirements for certification vary widely. This leads to a confusing number of methods and options for certification with many attributes to be considered and compared before embarking on the path to certification.


With such a wide range of training programs out there - how do you decide which one is right for you?

This article will hope to inform certification seekers on the general landscape of Six Sigma Certification and provide information on some programs commonly recommended by members of pertinent LinkedIn groups. Certification methods are classified as first-party, second-party, and third-party. First party is simple self-declaration, second -party is when an organization that provides training sets up their own criteria for certification. Third-party certification verifies that a product, process or service meets defined, industry-independent criteria or standards as reviewed by an impartial party. The bulk of Six Sigma certification is currently second-party, such as company provided training and certification.

What are the belts?

The generally accepted Six Sigma Belts are Green, Black and Master Black(although some organizations also have white or yellow belts). Unless required by an internal policy, a Green Belt is not required in order to get a Black Belt. There is a wide variation in job duties of the various belts. In general, Green Belts work on Six Sigma projects as a part of their job. Black Belts are the project managers and may only work on Six Sigma projects. The Master Black Belt is the highest level of Six Sigma - they mentor and train others, consult on projects, and can be involved in strategic level work. Black Belts and Master Black Belts can move to different industries and do more soft skill and change management type work in addition to using deeper technical skills.

Coursework for the Six Sigma Belts may be offered with an emphasis in a particular industry. Some popular ones are manufacturing, production, services and healthcare. The examples and cases used in the course come from the particular industry while the curriculum is industry independent and thus widely applicable. The test and the certification are not industry specific. For example, there is no separate test for Six Sigma Healthcare.

Lean Six Sigma (LSS) covers the basics of Six Sigma and is augmented by a set of industry proven philosophies, methodologies and tools for driving a cultural transformation focused on reducing and eliminating waste. Outside third-party experts – "Lean Senseis" - can provide companies with unbiased advice and coaching on Lean. Industry specific courses are offered for LSS certifications.

Some programs provide just Six Sigma, others just LSS, and others provide certification for both. The ASQ provides coursework for LSS but does not have any exam or certification for Lean. ASQ points you to Lean certification that is provided separately by SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) which grants bronze, silver and gold levels. The International Association of Six Sigma Certification ((IASSC) provides only LSS Certification. As just one example, Villanova University provides certification for both Six Sigma and Lean Sensei.

Belt Requirements

As there is no standard for the BOK there is also not a standard for the requirements to receive these belts. Depending on the organization, certification can be received with training and a project, or just an exam, or training, or training and an exam and a project. When projects are required, it is often at least one project for a green belt and two projects for a black belt. Some certifiers require the black belt projects to be of a significant monetary value or have a significant effect on an organization. Requirements for green belt projects are generally more lenient ranging from a work project to something done for an organization as a volunteer to an on-line guided project. ASQ’s certification requires a three years of work experience- full time and paid - in one or more areas of the Green Belt BOK and an application to be filled out prior to being allowed to take their exam.

To give a specific example of the range of requirements from organizations, the Department of the Navy (DoN) requires more for a green belt than many organizations require for a black belt! The DoN requires a LSS Green Belt candidate to complete a 40 hour academic course with a certified LSS instructor; be a team member in at least one real-world project; lead at least two real-world /projects; create a project portfolio and sometimes present in-person to a Board for certification. Given these stringent requirements it’s easy to see that not all LSS belts are created equal. Savvy employers will know this so it is important to choose a program where your certification is meaningful.


Belt Providers

There are four main providers of Six Sigma Belt certification: employers, professional associations, colleges and universities, and certification service provider institutes.

Many companies provide the training to their employees and grant the second-party certification based on standards that the company determines. The company is paying for your education and it is targeted to your success in your job. The downside is that the program may not be as thorough as a more independent program. Other than inside the company, no one will know what you have been trained on. The coursework may have too narrow a focus for your skills to be completely transferable. For these reasons some people may complete their company training but still apply for a certification from ASQ because of its reputation and depth of coverage of the material.

The ASQ is a professional association third party certifier that requires a candidate to submit an application package that shows your qualifications just to take the exam. You do not need to take their coursework in order to take the exam-you can self study.While ASQ does provide training, they do not guarantee that it will cover the material to pass the exam. ASQ also has work history and project requirements.

The IASSC is a third party certifier for LSS that requires passing their exam and no project. Their website is very explicit about their philosophy and reasoning on their requirements. The IASSC certifies not just individuals but also the training programs of other entities to the IASSC BOK.

Some universities and colleges offer Six Sigma training often as part of their extended education or certificate programs. There are no entrance requirements or degrees granted by the school. The advantage is that you are face to face with the instructor and students and you have excellent networking opportunities to connect with your classmates who will be from a variety of industries and perspectives. The length of time and costs vary quite a bit and can sometimes be a drawback. Some universities also offer on-line, self-paced courses.

The final route to certification is via certification service providers which are often companies owned and run by Six Sigma gurus or high level consultants. These companies provide training to groups and also have offerings for individuals. Some companies give classes that rotate in various cities and give an intensive training over a period of days or a few weeks. Others provide training that is self-paced on- line program, usually limited to 365 days to complete the course. They provide a "package" of coursework, exam, project guidance and sometimes software and textbooks. Some of these programs tout their IASSC certification but it should be noted that the IASSC BOK is Lean Six Sigma, not Six Sigma. It is important to carefully compare the curriculums before choosing a program. Smarter Solutions provides an excellent video: A Mini Kaizen Event - Selecting a Provider: Not All Black Belt Training is Created Equal.

On request, they will send you excel spreadsheets with information from the video. They bring out excellent points on what to look for in content, materials and teaching style. Also, they are the first to admit that finding this information is difficult – it is not readily available on the provider websites.

Did you know PEX Network offers Lean Six Sigma Training?

Our Certificates are taught online and offer a flexible way to become adept in Lean Six Sigma Tools like DMAIC, Eight Wastes, Value Stream Mapping, Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA), and ROI Maximization.

Both the Green and Black Belt courses are taught through blended learning which consists of a combination of self-paced online modules, guides and instructor-led virtual sessions all focused on execution. You can find out more and review the class agenda's from the PEX Institute learning portal.

Final Analysis

The following table provides comparison information of some of the programs:

It compares a variety of attributes, including the cost, of representative second and third party certifiers for on-line or self study SS Green Belt and LSS Green Belt. The comparison of the BOKs and detailed course offerings of these certifiers is not covered in this paper. Although providing some measure of reputation would be very useful, this was not studied and is not included. Also no information was researched, or was found to be available, as to the "success" of recipients of the certification. Analysis of which program to choose is left to the reader as their backgrounds, finances, circumstances, abilities and motivations are as variable as the paths to choose from.

The following is important to point out from the masses of data reviewed:

If you wish to self study(i.e. not pay for a course), pass an exam, and use work experience or a project outside of work to qualify for certification, your options are severely limited. For a Six Sigma Green Belt, ASQ is the only route. There is no project completion requirement but you must have three years of experience in one or more of the areas of the SS Green Belt BOK. While some companies will allow a project outside of a work situation, their requirement before taking the exam is to first take, and pay for, their coursework. For Six Sigma Black Belt, there is no option that fits these criteria. For the Lean Six Sigma Green and Black Belt, the IASSC provides such a route since you do not need to submit a project and as part of their charter they do not offer or require coursework.

This blog is intended to serve as an initial guide to gain a more complete perspective on the routes to Six Sigma and LSS certification. It is my hope that Six Sigma and LSS practitioners, as well as those delivering the certification programs and those looking for them, will add objective and subjective information to this post to help everyone who is looking for Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma Certification. What are your thoughts?

Author's note: I would like to thank Senior Chief Robert Reid of the Department of the Navy for his input and encouragement.

Download a PDF comparison of some of the different programs:

Which Six Sigma Training course is right for you?

Click here to download the easy to digest course by course analysis.