A number of people have asked me whether pursuing Black Belt Certification has provided me with anything of value. Often the question is something along the lines of, “What has this provided for you in practical terms? A better paying job? More fulfillment in your work? A raise?”
Despite the issues I have encountered with Six Sigma and its implementation at my company, I believe that there is significant value in certification. In some cases, however, the value may not take the form that most people assume it takes. And, there may be some drawbacks. Again, this is from the perspective of a Black Belt working in the service industry, not manufacturing. I gather that things may be very different in manufacturing.
First, I received a job offer with a significant pay increase within my company shortly before I completed my certification requirements. To put things in context, my certification was provided by the training organization I attended and not by ASQ. I understand that the ASQ certification exam requires in-depth knowledge of not only Six Sigma tools and methods but also a fairly extensive understanding of the math underlying much of the statistical methods. I don’t have time in this installment to address the question of whether there is additional value to an understanding at that detail.
I gladly accepted the position and went to work putting the skills I had learned into action. Sadly, at least at first, I was not able to conduct any full-fledged Six Sigma projects because my company does not typically operate that carefully and demanded that I produce analytical answers to specific business questions. For example, one of the first questions I was asked to address was, “Why is the average handle time of our technical support group so much higher these last two months than earlier in the year?”
Because of my understanding of several statistical tools, I was able to develop a decomposition analysis that attributed the increases to various factors affecting our support process. I made several pointed, specific recommendations which executives responded to with more questions. For example, one asked, “Well, yes, in a perfect world we would just add staff to handle these types of situations but given the expense, what is the impact to our customers when service degrades like this?”
With questions like this, my job became very focused on answering complex questions such as these. I enjoy this type of work but after a time became a little disillusioned that I spent all my time answering questions that led to more questions and little to nothing changed in our operations as a result of my answers and recommendations. Regardless, the management appreciated my work and awarded me with another handsome raise the next year along with another promotion.
That brings us to the present. My company is in the process of shedding a significant number of staff in an effort to “right-size” for the implementation of a radically new business strategy. I suspect that my future with the company is at significant risk. The risk is not because the executive and management staff does not appreciate my work, but because my work has added little to the bottom (or top) line. I would not blame them for choosing me for the pink-slip list in that light. However, I would suggest that it is not useful to employ an analyst to attempt to answer “rear-view-mirror” types of questions rather than “looking-forward” strategic questions or significant cost cutting projects.
In sum, here’s what certification has provided for me:
- Promotions–2 in 2 years
- Significant pay raises along with those promotions
- Marketable skills with wide ranging business application
- Satisfaction in using more sophisticated tools to answer complex business questions
- Respect, in some cases
- Assignments that may not provide high-impact results in the long run and ultimately places me at risk of losing my employment
Is certification right for you? I would not pass up the opportunity if your employer offers to pay for your certification. Would I pay for it myself? I’m not so sure…