You Need More Than Just an Analytical Mind

How do you identify people who will make good six sigma green belt or black belt training candidates?  This is a great question and one that has been discussed time and again.  As a president of a consulting firm that educates and certifies many talented young men and women and a fellow practicing certified black belt since 1998, I will explore this question and provide some insight as to how one should go about identifying these special individuals.

First let’s explore the origin of Six Sigma and describe the method. Introduced within the Motorola organization by Bill Smith, a process engineer during the 1980’s Six Sigma became a system wide practice by 1989.  At this time, it was determined that the traditional quality level – measuring defects in thousands of different opportunities – did not provide enough “granularity” (breaking down into smaller, more manageable parts), so “defects per million opportunities” was created.  This allowed a deeper examination into the root-cause or contributing factors of defects and errors.

A new quality standard was adopted and the methodology of Six Sigma was developed as the corrective process known as DMAIC.  This acronym broken out is a five step process; Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control is designed to improve any process through the stabilization and prediction of results, thus leading to the elimination of defects.  Defects are characterized as anything that could lead to customer dissatisfaction.  Six Sigma is a smarter way to manage a business or a department.  Six Sigma puts the customer first and uses facts and data to drive better solutions.[1]

These steps are very effective at improving the process and creating customer value, the caveat is the DMAIC process must be applied correctly, using the right resources, with strong leadership and communication.  Improvements usually represent dramatic cost savings to businesses, as well as opportunities to retain customers, capture new markets, and build a reputation for top performing products and services. The real message of Six Sigma goes beyond statistics.  Six Sigma is a total management commitment and philosophy of excellence, customer focus, process improvement, and the rule of measurement rather than gut feel.[2] With this in mind let’s explore critical characteristics that make up a successful Six Sigma candidate.

Following this mindset that the real message of Six Sigma goes beyond statistics, one must look to other factors of success.  Six Sigma is a process that needs the human element to exercise.  To bridge the gap between mediocrity and excellence there are four (4) critical characteristics to look for in  potential candidates who will take the process and execute to a level of performance that will drive dramatic, sustainable results. They are Learning Ability, Leadership, Desire, and Determination.  Let’s break each of these characteristics down and provide some factors to consider.


This particular characteristic has been the primary focus, and at times the only one considered for many organizations choosing their six sigma candidates.  To compound this issue, the focus is generally geared to only those having prior experience with statistics.   While this quality is important it is not the determining factor.   A candidate must be able to understand instructions and underlying principles with the ability to reason and make sound decisions possessing an analytical mindset.  The ability to gather, analyze, and summarize data in order to draw rational, fact based conclusions is needed.  A candidate will be placed in a learning environment where mathematical science is discussed and instructed.  Statistical reasoning is needed for proper understanding and execution of the Six Sigma DMAIC method.


A candidate must have demonstrated leadership in a team environment with the ability to mentor team members to achieve a level of knowledge that fosters cultural growth and individual project success.  The candidate usually knows what must be done, how to get it done, but genuinely involves others, listening to their concerns and ideas and is willing to change course as a result in order to achieve greater results.  This person can convince others to follow his/her lead despite skepticism, and is generally able to win the hearts and minds of others to achieve breakthrough objectives.   The candidate works collaboratively with fellow employees at all levels of the organization, and is able to maintain a blameless environment by focusing on issues and facts rather than seeking who is at fault.  This quality to lead and inspire others to achieve a common goal is paramount for six sigma success.


Strong intention or aim for excellence is another characteristic to be considered.  A candidate must possess the trait of motivation which has been demonstrated in past performance.  The ability to be proactive with foresight to undertake strategic actions aligned with organizational goals is important.  The ability to plan and execute work that is accurate, complete, timely, and reliable while never compromising integrity shows that a candidate takes pride in all that they do.  This personal desire for excellence is a good indicator that a candidate will apply the same for anything he or she undertakes.    As a company, searching for the right six sigma candidate it is necessary to communicate the positive education in this continual improvement methodology and the personal growth experience that the candidate will receive.  This understanding will help to stimulate the already existing desire and help facilitate the continuing aim for excellence.


Once a candidate has been selected and embarking on this six sigma journey it is crucial that they are devoting full strength and concentrated attention to achieving results in the short and long term.   This focused results orientation will keep the candidate moving toward breakthrough objectives while potentially undergoing immense pressure from outside influences to forego the six sigma process and fall back into the traditional methods of operation.  The ability to adapt effectively in an environment of change, uncertainty, and ambiguity is required.   The candidate will implement creative solutions that fall outside of the current paradigm, thus challenging the current standard.  This will prompt a strong reaction within the status quo and steadfast determination from the six sigma candidate is needed to ensure successful implementation and sustainable results.

Each of these characteristics discussed are crucial for choosing a candidate that will be successful in completing the rigorous training and certification process.  The more important aspect is the continued return that a company receives from this individual as a change agent within their continual improvement journey.  To ensure that this takes place the candidate must possess all four described characteristics.   Six Sigma is a commitment to a management philosophy that drives for total customer value creation.  This commitment is not guaranteed by focusing only on the attribute of possessing an analytical mind. The combined characteristics of Learning Ability, Leadership, Desire, and Determination are paramount for selecting a successful Six Sigma candidate.


[1],[2]  Pete Pande and Larry Holpp (2002);  What is Six Sigma?, New York: McGraw-Hill


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