Six Sigma Belts – What is the Difference?

Confused about the different Six Sigma Certification Belts, and the roles of each within a business environment?

Although Six Sigma training is a popular term throughout the business world, not that many people know the difference between the Six Sigma belts. Understanding the belt system of Six Sigma is not difficult when you think of it in terms of tiers. The top level is a Black Belt, much the same as in martial arts. There is also a Master Black Belt who holds the highest level of Six Sigma Training and is responsible for training and mentoring the other color levels. The Green Belt is next in line after the black, followed by the Yellow Belt and, finally, the White Belt rounds off the list at the lowest level of training and experience. The six sigma belt system, with each color denoting certified levels of expertise, is one of the popular ways to further the learning, training, and quality improvement knowledge of employees in the workplace.

Professionals trained and certified in a specific category can undertake specified projects and responsibilities, and also have the opportunity to progress and achieve a higher ranking. It has to be understood that the individuals trained at different levels in the organization work in teams within the specified parameters denoted by the color or level of their belt training.  Each individual has a specified and important set of responsibilities to contribute to improvement in the system, and therefore, also the organization as a whole.

Yellow Belts

A Yellow Belt is the lowest recognized level of Six Sigma Training when it comes to training, knowledge, and experience. The Yellow Belts will work as team members and will carry out tasks they are given by their superiors. The green and black belts will depend on these qualified team members to perform tasks using the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, and verify) models. They will review, analyze and suggest improvements for the projects they work on. They have no authority to lead but will have the knowledge and skills the leaders need to successfully perform whatever is needed from them for the project to be successful as a whole.  They are essential to the success of a Six Sigma Project team, and are indispensable to the company as a whole.

Many people that achieve this level usually continue to a higher level not only for their own knowledge, but for increased value in terms of skills to list on a resume. However, if you do want to go for the yellow belt, you will have to have a strong understanding of the Six Sigma style. Yellow Belts learn the very basics of the Six Sigma Methodology so that they can act as support staff members to Green, Black, and Master Black Belts.  They are vital team members who will carry out the tasks assigned to them by the team leaders, although they only are support level individuals in terms of the Six Sigma hierarchy.

Green Belts

The next level of certification is the Green Belt, who will work either independently as a team leader.  The Green Belts are assistants to the Black Belts, executives and champions on large scale projects. When qualified, Green Belts, guided by Black Belts, will generally work on smaller projects within their area of knowledge. They are a group of professionals who will help to collect data, analyze it, and gather results.  They will make decisions based on the level of their authority for that particular project. They use proven and well-researched statistical results to suggest possible changes and improvements to the way the organization is run.

The Green Belts are the individuals who do most of the actual ‘six sigma work’ within a company.  They are often in charge of mentoring Yellow Belts.  Green Belt training includes schooling in the basic elements and principles of the system, as well as becoming familiar with relevant statistical tools and methods. People with this certification are often referred to as worker bees because they do the majority of the work during projects. They also do a majority of the experiments and tests throughout the project. The main goals of a green belt are to ensure the success of the training techniques and lead smaller improvement projects. Just like the yellow belts below them, people with green belts must have a strong understanding of what the Six Sigma training is all about.

Black Belts

At the top, the Black Belts, who are considered to be the project leaders, will have the most experience and the most knowledge as far as the Six Sigma Methodology goes. Black Belts have undergone more extensive training in which they have achieved a considerable degree of mastery in the Six Sigma tools and methods.  These employees take on leadership roles and responsibilities which are appropriate to their higher level of expertise, experience, and knowledge gained. Most of the time, Black Belts are the people who are asked to take on the project leadership and management tasks on a full time basis. 

Black Belts will lead groups on projects, delegating and ensuring that all necessary tasks are completed efficiently and on time.  Black Belts are responsible for the smooth functioning of projects and plans under their watch. They will also help Green Belts run their own small teams and projects by acting as mentors. They are responsible for the majority of work that will be done. Black Belts will make the decisions on who works on what and when.  They will set deadlines and goals, and will work with the team members to meet deadlines.

Along with heading the project, Certified Black Belts also are expected to coach, develop and advise other managers so the entire company can achieve this goal. They are in charge of the teams and training others to be leaders of teams. In addition to their thorough understanding of the Six Sigma Methodology, Black Belts benefit from having an excellent knowledge of human behavior and how teams work in order to lead them effectively. Black Belts should be intuitive and able to work well with the members of the team. Spotting talent and skill strengths in their team members is valuable so that they can correctly assign duties to those who will most successfully accomplish the project goals.

Originally developed by Bill Smith at Motorola in 1986, the Six Sigma Training program was created using some of the most innovative quality improvement methods from the preceding six decades. The term "Six Sigma" is derived from a field of statistics known as process capability. The term 6 Sigma refers to the ability of manufacturing processes to produce a very high proportion of output within specification. Processes that operate with "six sigma quality" over the short term are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma's goal is to improve overall processes to that level of quality or better.