Selecting the Right Black Belt Training and Certification Program for You

March 20, 2024

The Black Belt is the heart of the Lean Six Sigma operation. They have expert knowledge and skills in Six Sigma methodology, Lean methods, and team leadership. Black Belts can lead any team across the organization in executing process improvement projects. They may also conduct Lean Six Sigma training and act as coaches and mentors to other Belts-in-training.

By earning a Black Belt certification, you will have the opportunity for increased responsibility and improved earnings, all while positively impacting the health and efficiency of your organization.

eLearning: The Popular Training Option

Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to obtain Black Belt training. Online training, or eLearning, is a popular and affordable option for earning your Black Belt certification. It allows you to study without interrupting your work, family, or social life. This method provides flexibility and convenience for those with busy schedules. With the amount of eLearning programs out there, you now have the luxury of choice – and it's an often complicated one.

As you begin your search, it's important to keep the following questions in mind:

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  1. What defines good eLearning?
  2. What is the difference between Black Belt training and certification, and which is right for you?
  3. What are the features of high-quality online Black Belt training?
  4. Does the training program cover all the material you need to know as a Black Belt?

When you start exploring your options, you'll quickly learn that no two programs are alike, and you'll find substantial variation in content, pricing, and the requirements for certification. So, how do you determine which program is right for you?

The Difference Between Black Belt Training and Certification

What does it really mean to become a Black Belt? Does that mean a 'trained' Black Belt or a 'certified' Black Belt?

Black Belt training and certification are distinctly different objectives. Because training providers have often used the terms interchangeably, many professionals are confused about exactly what they'll earn from an eLearning Black Belt program.

"Training" means exactly what you think: taking one or more courses that give you the knowledge you need for the job. If you just want to learn the basics of process improvement, you can enroll in a training course and earn a "Certificate of Completion." The certificate shows you studied a certain amount of material and suggests you understand the topic. This is no different than taking any other technical or academic coursework. If you're looking for the title "certified Black Belt," you must complete a more rigorous and lengthy program. Black Belt certification commonly involves finishing training, passing a test, and submitting projects for evaluation.

Earning your Black Belt means receiving a certificate recognizing your demonstrated knowledge as a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification does not have a precise definition, so knowing how your eLearning provider interprets it is crucial.

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Why Do I Need to Complete a Project for Black Belt Certification?

Certification recognizes that you have learned the theory and successfully applied it to improve your organization's performance. Some Black Belt training programs only need a few hours of study and don't require real-world projects for certification. And while you might feel tempted to take a "shortcut," remember that these programs prioritize speed over depth.

Some institutions are working to create a standard for Black Belt certification to improve the quality of commercial programs. They are collaborating with industry and academic partners to address inconsistencies in current programs.

Universities like The Ohio State University Center for Operational Excellence (OSU COE) and organizations like the American Society for Quality have established rigorous standards that rely on a combination of knowledge and experience. Each has published their Body of Knowledge (BOK) online for anyone to reference. These two standards represent the knowledge and skills that employers expect in their Black Belts. When looking at different programs, using their BOKs can help ensure the one you pick matches your expectations.

To impress employers with a Black Belt Certification, showcasing successful project experience is better for your resume, as it highlights how you have applied tools in real-life situations. Certification that includes real project work separates you from the inexperienced.

Asking the Right Questions – A Step-by-Step Guide

It's imperative to ask yourself the right questions before you commit your wallet and time to a specific training provider.

Black Belt certification is comprised of three areas of concentration:

  • The training course (gain the knowledge)
  • The examination (confirm the knowledge)
  • The project(s) (apply the knowledge)

Whether you are looking for certification or just training, knowing the requirements for each area will establish a strong foundation for your search and help you narrow down your options as you compare programs.

The Training Course (Gain the Knowledge) 

First, you need to acquire the knowledge. You may be starting from scratch, or you may already have had exposure to Lean Six Sigma. Depending on your status, you'll want to ask the following questions:

  • How many hours of training does the course include? (Note: for Black Belts, 140 hours of online training is considered appropriate to cover the standard Body of Knowledge. Anything less than that will indicate something is missing.)
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  • Does the provider list the BOK required to earn Black Belt certification? (To ascertain what is different, you should compare what they list to the OSU COE and ASQ standards mentioned above.)
  • Are there any prerequisites for the course?
  • Is there instructor support for the course? What form does that support take?
  • Does the course include statistical software, or is that a separate cost?
  • Does the provider offer a video tour or sample lesson so I can see the course structure and quality?
  • How much does the course cost?
  • Is the cost of the course separate from the cost of the certification process?
  • If I have former Black Belt training, does it align with the providers' certification BOK?

The Examination (Confirm the Knowledge) 

In the next certification step, you must prove you understand the Lean Six Sigma tools and framework. Most providers offer an online or live exam to test your experience. Here are some questions you should ask about the examination:

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  • How long am I given to complete the exam?
  • What topics does the exam cover?
  • When can I take the exam (at any time or on predetermined dates)?
  • Is the exam "open book" (i.e., I can use materials like books, software, and notes to help me during the test)?
  • Does the provider offer a practice exam or practice materials? If yes, are they included or an extra cost?
  • What is the passing score for the exam?
  • Who grades the exam?
  • If I fail, can I retake the exam?
  • Once complete, can I see which answers I had correct and incorrect (in other words, can I use the exam as a learning tool)?

The Projects (Apply the Knowledge)

Finally, you must show you can apply the knowledge you've learned to receive your Black Belt certification. Providers will show the most variation here, so it’s best to get clarity on the following questions:

  • Is a project required for certification? If yes:
  • How many projects are required?
  • How is each project evaluated?
  • How much time am I given to complete each project?
  • Will I have coaching support during my project, and how much support can I expect?
  • Does the provider provide a project template?
  • What is the definition of a successful project?
  • What tools and techniques do I need to use in each project to show I understand the LSS BOK?
  • If a project is not required for certification, how do I prove I can successfully apply the LSS BOK?
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Understanding the Value of Your Black Belt Certification

Once you've worked through the lists above, you'll feel more confident knowing what you're getting when you enroll. Here are a few final questions to consider now that your research is complete:

  • Is the provider's Black Belt training program broadly recognized?
  • Will it be easy to contact the provider on an ongoing basis?
  • What is their preferred means of contact?
  • What will be the total cost of the entire certification (including whatever optional components I feel are necessary) or training program?
  • How long will the entire process take?
  • Are the order and deliverables of the entire process clear to me?
  • Does the certification adhere to the highest standards in the field?
  • How confident will I be in applying my certification to solve real-world problems?

We know that while this is an exciting decision, it can also be a nerve-wracking one. You want to ensure that the program you land on won't waste your time. This is why we also have a white paper on the same topic that goes even more in-depth on the search process. It outlines cost considerations, provides many more questions, and even includes a printable cost/benefit worksheet to help compare different courses.

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