In order to evaluate and compare Lean Six Sigma course offerings it is important to understand the various certification options associated with them. Whilst course curriculums may appear similar, the requirements for certification can often vary dramatically.
CLASSIFICATION OF CERTIFICATION
There are three general classifications of programmes in terms of certification:
- Non-Certified Courses
- Academically Certified Courses
- Professionally Certified Courses
- Non-Certified Courses
Non-certified courses do not carry national recognition, however, there are advantages if gaining a qualification is not a key motivation for completing the training programme. For example:
- The course can be tailored around a client’s specific training needs which may result in the removal of certain elements of a prescribed curriculum or body of knowledge (BOK) related to a specific belt
- There is no assessment requirement. However, if a learner is motivated to complete additional self-study they could achieve professional certification by successfully completing relevant examination(s) from one of the professional accreditation bodies such as the ASQ (American Society for Quality) or IASSC (International Association for Six Sigma Certification).
- Another advantage of non-certified training is that team based projects may be used as a means of assessment, this is generally not acceptable in academically or professionally certified training courses.
- Academically Certified Training Courses
Many academic institutions such as technical colleges and universities provide certified Lean Six Sigma programmes within their post-graduate or life-long learning course offerings. The advantage of pursuing such programmes is that they have been validated against prescribed award standards and have undergone a significant element of peer review and oversight by the external awarding body.
The Bologna Process has ensured comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications across European countries. For example, in Ireland, the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) has been designed for the development, recognition and award of qualifications based on standards of knowledge, skill and competence acquired by learners. The Framework consists of 10 levels, from basic learning (level 1) to Doctoral awards (level 10). SQT have agreed Quality Assurance Procedures with QQI, the national agency responsible for the external quality assurance of further and higher education and training and validates programmes and makes awards for certain providers in these sectors. SQT Offers QQI Certified Special Purpose Awards at Levels 6, 7 and 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications.
Another major advantage of perusing an academically certified programme (particularly those utilising real projects in the learner assessment) is that there is a deadline for project completion. Sponsoring companies can therefore expect significant benefits to be accrued by the learners in the short term during the course of the delivery and assessment period alone.
There are two main arguments against academic certifications. The first is that academic training providers may be far removed from industry and may tend to focus too much on theory rather than giving practical insight and guidance to learners. Against this argument there are some academically certified training courses which are delivered by private training organisations, such as SQT Training, which have trainers that are in fact current industry Lean Six Sigma experts. The other argument often used against academic certification is that the assessment is purely based on the learners’ knowledge of the theory rather than competency in its application. In reality this argument doesn’t hold true in many cases as many QQI (formerly HETAC) accredited programmes use real project submissions in the assessment of the leaners. Project management, leadership and change management skills are also assessed. For example, the assessment of SQT’s QQI Certified Green Belt programme is based on the successful delivery of a real work project through all stages of the DMAIC methodology while correctly selecting and applying tools appropriate to the project. Therefore, while academically certified, the actual course delivery has a very practical focus.
A Word of Caution…..
If you are considering perusing academic certification be sure to do the following:
- Compare the training curriculum against the ASQ body of knowledge to ensure that no shortcuts have been taken
- Check to see what level of recent practical experience the tutor(s) have
- Establish if there is a project requirement as part of the assessment
- Understand what level the programme has been validated at and the number of credits allocated (Further information relating to levels and credits are available here)
- Professionally Certified Training Courses
Prior to 2010 there was only one accepted source of professional certification for Lean Six Sigma practitioners, namely ASQ (American Society for Quality). The ASQ has been at the forefront of professional certification for quality practitioners for over 65 years. It has worldwide recognition and charters all over the globe. Former chairs of the ASQ include some of the who’s who of quality gurus of the past century, including Armand Feigenbaum and Philip Crosby. Since the emergence of Six Sigma as a global phenomenon in the late nineties, ASQ has been to the forefront in identifying a standardised body of knowledge (BOK) for Six Sigma belts. In 2010 a new organisation, namely IASSC (International Association of Six Sigma Certification) emerged as an independent third-party certification body. Both the ASQ and the IASSC rely on knowledge assessments (exams) to determine if learners demonstrate the capacity to be professionally certified.
The two main ASQ exams are the CSSGB (Green Belt) and the CSSBB (Black Belt) exams. While project based assessment is not included in either of these certifications, the CSSBB does require that a project has been successfully completed, with an affidavit to that effect. It is widely held that the CSSBB is a very challenging exam due to the statistical requirements of Six Sigma. IASSC on the other hand do not require the submission of any project or affidavits, and while the exam format and BOK are almost identical to the ASQ, the IASSC exam is likely to have less statistical and more lean content.
Both the ASQ and IASSC offer certification options to suitable training providers on a fee basis. The ASQ do so in a partnership model to ensure the training is consistent across providers (there are a small number of ASQ partners). IASSC remain an independent certification body and therefore do not provide training. Both the ASQ and IASSC exams are open to any applicant regardless of the source of training.
When evaluating a Lean Six Sigma Programme it is wise to remember the following:
- Academically certified programmes have undergone a significant level of independent review and oversight by an external awarding body, however, there is still much variance in courses offered. It is vitally important to examine the curriculum, understand the level of the qualification and associated credits, establish the practical experience held by the tutor(s), and finally whether the practical work (in most cases a project) actually forms part of the assessment.
- There may be valid reasons to opt for an uncertified programme, this is particularly the case where team based projects and significant customisation is required by the company seeking the training. Large corporations such as Honeywell and GE self-certify according to their own requirements.
- Professional bodies such as the ASQ provide the best source for what a ‘belt’ should know (body of knowledge), the exams are open to all learners but a successful result will not verify if the learner has the ability to be a good Green or Black Belt, as no practical work is examined. The professional body IASSC is relatively new and is therefore a little too early to compare with ASQ. Certification for both bodies is exam based only.
Having delivered all three types of programmes described here it is SQT’s experience that the best option both for personal development and company delivery is to choose an academic certification which assesses learner capability via project delivery. This will ensure a win/win for the learner and his/her organisation.