How many belts are there in six sigma certification?

Today we’re going to break down the different belts in Six Sigma and discuss exactly what each belt is designed to do and the holder should understand.

Six Sigma uses a ranking system like martial arts to designate what “level” someone is in Six Sigma.  Unfortunately, the comparison isn’t really appropriate because in Six Sigma, the belts represent someone’s job role within the project, not necessarily their role within the company.

The different belt levels that are typically associated with a project are: White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt.  Other common terms you’ll hear include Champion and Lean.

Six Sigma White Belt

Let’s start with the most basic, White Belt level.  When an organization is about to launch a Six Sigma project they will typically certify everyone as a White Belt.  The White belt level is an information-only belt.  White Belts will not be participating in the Six Sigma project, however, since it is important for everyone in the organization to have an understanding of what a Six Sigma project is project leaders will generally send all members through a short White Belt program.  The White Belt explains very basic information on the DMAIC process and what a Six Sigma project is designed to do.

Six Sigma Yellow Belt

The next belt level is a Yellow Belt.  The role of a Six Sigma Yellow Belt is typically one of a subject matter expert (SME) in a specific task within the organization.  A good example could be someone who works a specific machine on an assembly line.  Someone who works the same machine on a daily basic for many years will naturally become an expert on that piece of equipment.  A Six Sigma project is designed to look for, and remove “waste” from a process.  So if the process involves this specific machine, that operator will be certified as a Yellow Belt so they can help look for process improvement techniques within that specific area.  This person will have no other involvement within the project, other than his or her specialty.

Some organizations also decide to skip the White Belt and certify all members as Yellow Belts so that they have a deeper understanding of the process and can assist at any point if called upon.

Six Sigma Green Belt

The Six Sigma Green Belt is one of the primary belts in Six Sigma.  Green belts play an important role within a process improvement project and should have a good understanding of six sigma processes.  Green Belts are often higher-skilled or management-level employees who temporarily stop their usual job function to work on the project full time.  They will follow the direction of the Black belt and work on assigned tasks to streamline processes within the organization.

Six Sigma Black Belt

The Six Sigma Black Belt is typically the project manager of a six sigma project.  Black Belts must have strong project management skills, as well as an understanding of six sigma processes.  This is why many Black Belts get certified in both Project Management and Six Sigma before attempting to lead a project.  Because Six Sigma improvements are data driven, Black belts should have a good understanding of statistical controls and how to measure improvement processes.  Even when someone is certified as a Black Belt initially, they may serve in a Green Belt capacity until they have significant experience to lead a project.

Additional Six Sigma Belts and Roles

The difference between the Black Belt and Master Black Belt is usually experience.  Master Black Belts usually serve two functions.  They are usually the trainer, training all belt levels on what is expected.  They may also lead multiple projects at once, of the organization is large enough.  Master Black Belts typically have either years of experience or multiple lower-belt certifications and projects under they belt.

As mentioned earlier, there are also terms like “Champion” and “Lean” that you’ll hear discussed.  A Champion is the go-between for a six sigma Black Belt and the company stakeholders.  It is their job to “translate” what the Black Belt is doing into a presentation that the companies board of directors can understand.
Lean is a separate process improvement methodology from Six Sigma.  It is almost always used in conjunction however.  Lean is used primarily in manufacturing and logistics; however it is also used heavily in Healthcare and Government.