Master Black Belts Becoming Irrelevant?

21 Nov 2019
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt Education Must Evolve Like Everything Else
Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt – interestingly enough there seems to widespread agreement on what training is required to develop such a person.

Read the following extract from the website of a company offering MBB training.

"....... has developed and delivered Master Black Belt Certification a two week Master Black Belt program focusing on advanced Six Sigma statistical methods used in Six Sigma projects. In addition to typical Black Belt tools, new tools in areas such as study of variation, multi-vari experiments, nonparametric analysis, destructive testing, handling attribute responses (far beyond Freeman-Tukey), practical experimentation, optimization experiments, handling multi-response experiments, distributional analysis, advanced regression methods, advanced SPC methods and have fun while doing all this!"

This is typical of the training offerings that I've observed from the United States. Now my question is this: do you notice where the focus is?

Do you see the shortcomings of this approach and the risk that a Master Black Belt will eventually become irrelevant?

Clearly it's a focus on the technical aspects of process improvement, a focus on statistics, a focus on making a master black belt a much better black belt.

Do you remember when the world was flat and blood letting was the ultimate cure for disease? Remember when the earth was the centre of the solar system?

No, perhaps you remember when technology meant more time and less paper.

You may not remember when a group of intelligent business people agreed that sub-prime mortgages were a good idea, but as sure as the sun is coming up tomorrow we are all still feeling the impact of that agreement aren't we?

Just because people agree on something doesn't make it right. Just because the majority of master black belt education focuses on statistics doesn't make it relevant to the changing needs of the world today.


If you want to know how to develop a master black belt for the modern world, we need to rethink this for a moment and go back to what the role of a master black really is and what technology is doing to widespread capability.


I've thought long and hard about this for many years now. During research for my Lean Six Sigma books I've had conversation with many of the most respected business transformation leaders in the country and I've looked at a myriad of web sites and read the opinions of hundreds of experts in the field.

Today, a lean six sigma master black belt cannot just be a better black belt or a statistician. Training and support software has advanced so much now that advanced statistical techniques, previously only known to MBBs, can and should be learnt by black belts.

A master black belt on the other hand is required to be a change agent, a leader, a trainer, a coach, a mentor; someone who can lead and create a transformation in business through maximising the potential of the internal collaboration of people and processes.

Their principle role today is to change people's behaviour. And it is not limited to just employees for the true master black belt can create positive change all the way to the top of their organisation.


Will more statistical or technical process improvement training give a black belt the skills they need to perform the role of a master black belt? I think not.

The greater challenge today is not in getting better at studying variation or identifying the relationship between process variables. The greater challenge is always in changing people's beliefs and behaviours.

Now in the absence of skill in this area, people generally fall back to the technical merits of a case to try and influence behaviour. We already know how difficult it is to shift behaviour doing that don't we?

The greatest innovations in leadership have occurred in the past decade.

Over the past decade there have been tremendous innovations in what I will call the 'invisibles' of leadership.

Actions and behaviours are the visible elements, the things you can observe, the things you take a picture or movie of, the things that managers try to manage. The invisibles on the other hand are those things you cannot see that underpin all human action and behaviour. The thinking patterns, beliefs and emotions which ultimately drive all human behaviour.

These are the skills I believe separates a master black belt from a black belt in the business world today.

(a) The art of persuasive conversation to lead ones imagination in a way that generates buy in and creates rapid and permanent learning

(b) Reframing how people view certain beliefs they currently hold and beliefs they have to hold in oder for behaviour to change

(c) Rapidly and permanently altering the associations that people have with certain positive behaviours they struggle to engage in

(d) Using existing embedded patterns of the unconscious mind in order to create change and get people to respond positively to requests

(e) Shifting people's focus to new endeavours when everything else is competing for their time and attention

If you possessed these skills, on top of strong capability with the technical aspects of Lean and Six Sigma, how would that change your effectiveness as a leader?

The Modern Day MBB Is A Change Agent

FIRSTLY – the world is changing rapidly. To remain relevant in the business world you need a skill set that is best suited to the existing and emerging context.

SECONDLY – practitioners who continue to only enhance their technical skill will eventually lose credibility and struggle to compete with those who pursue mastery of modern world leadership.

THIRDLY – technology is putting skills that were once the domain of few into the hands of the wider community. Software has simplified statistical analysis to the point where most people with a small bit of knowledge can perform say a hypothesis test, and it will only get easier.

And FOURTHLY – who better to become a master of change but a master black belt, transformation is their entire focus so the modern day skills of change leadership fit like a glove.
Conventional thinking is only 'convenient thinking', conventional MBB education will ultimately make them irrelevant in the modern world.
Author: George Lee Sye
George's lean six sigma training is considered to be second to none in the world of business improvement. Worth checking out if you genuinely want to develop career enhancing skills.
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