Six Sigma–The Origin of Black Belts


In the eleventh chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder shift their focus from the various players in the strategy, which they discussed in the previous chapter, to a focus on Black Belts, the people who actually choose the Six SIgma projects and then are responsible for running them.

This first post covers the origin of Black Belts.   Mike (“Mike”) Harry coined the term “Black Belts” in the mid-1980s, when he was consulting to the printed circuit board operation at Unisys Corporation.   The term was used to designate project leaders who were trained in statistical problem solving.  He thought that the connection with Black Belts in karate was apt, not just in the fact that the black belt is a master of the art of self-defense, but also because it requires a certain mental agility in addition to the physical skills required.    Just like Black Belts in karate who have to recenter themselves as they move from position to position, Black Belts in Six Sigma have to be able to “recenter” themselves as they move from project to project.

But Black Belts are not just skilled users, they are like martial artists who go on to become senseii or teachers to the Green Belts, and they must also demonstrate to those who run the company that the cost of their efforts, although not inconsiderable, pales in comparison to the money that the results of their efforts are saving the company.

That is the subject of the next post.

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