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Lean Six Sigma Belt Levels Explained: Roles and Responsibilities

The martial art of Karate is a lifelong process. One that guides practitioners to overcome challenges, achieve goals, continually improve, and to do so with humility and courtesy within a supportive environment.

Sound familiar?

It should, because these are some of the same ambitions of the Lean Six Sigma process. With simple terminology and belt colors, you can understand each individual’s role in Process Improvement. Rather than a hierarchy, the levels and roles fill different niches in the ecosystem.

If you’re adopting LSS in your organization, what levels do you need filled?

Originally published on June 27th, 2016, this post was updated and republished on January 18th, 2024.

Lean six sigma belt levels & roles

Roles of Six Sigma Belts

Like Karate, each color belt signifies a change or advancement in ability and responsibility. Each belt has its own specialized knowledge, training, and skill sets. And by “ranking up” (moving to the next belt), the previous belt’s knowledge base is built upon with additional capabilities.

Higher-ranked belts don’t denote a person is “better” than someone at a lower belt, only that they’ve trained further. Each LSS project has different objectives and requirements, and the comprehension of a Green Belt may be as suitable for a project as a Master Black Belt.

With that said, many proponents of LSS strive toward the highest belt they can achieve, which carries with it greater knowledge and program experience.

A Master Black Belt oversees and supports projects managed by Black Belts, who in turn oversee and support projects managed by Green Belts, and so on. Each rank strengthens the one below it, and those with more experience may look at projects from a higher overview rather than being engaged in generalized tasks that are necessary at the earlier ranks.

Remember that each rank’s achievement is its own important and meritorious accomplishment!

Certification for each Belt is provided through training solutions like GoLeanSixSigma.com (GLSS). Our online training helps standardize knowledge and guides team members as they work through belt levels while completing real projects that drive business results.

Let’s explore the roles below to determine which belt levels will make your LSS program a success.

White Belt

White Belts are the introductory role into LSS. Achieving the rank of White Belt means that an individual understands the basic LSS concepts, can speak confidently about the methodology, and knows when and how to report process issues to the higher ranks.

Users new to the LSS program do NOT have to start at the White Belt level. Yellow Belt training is generally the recommendation for new LSS candidates, which includes all of the training originally provided at the White Belt level.

Yellow Belt

Yellow Belts are generally recommended for the preliminary role that new LSS practitioners strive for. Like White Belts, Yellow Belts learn the basic LSS concepts and the reporting process to higher ranks. Additionally, Yellow Belts participate on project teams and receive just-in-time training while carrying out smaller projects independently.

Green Belt

Green Belts are the next level up from Yellow Belts, meaning they’ve accomplished further training and have had greater exposure and involvement in LSS projects.

Green Belts are responsible for initiating and managing Green Belt projects generally associated with positions like department manager, process owner, or other administrative functions. They provide just-in-time training to others while also working closely and reporting to their Black Belt mentors.

Black Belt

Black Belts have advanced LSS expertise—achieved through training and practical experience—and function in roles like coach, mentor, teacher, and leader for project teams.

Being a Black Belt is often a full-time job. Not only do Black Belts lead complex assignments and provide expert help to others, they also support Green Belts in the successful completion of their own LSS projects.

Master Black Belt

For the most part, Master Black Belts are considered full-time professional LSS experts and often have at least two years’ experience at the Black Belt level. This role works with senior management to select projects, align with company strategy, assist with the removal of barriers to success, and identify development gaps.

Additionally, Master Black Belts mentor, monitor, and lead a team of Black Belts who are, in turn, support Green Belts. Master Black Belts are responsible for LSS implementation and long-term culture change within an organization.

You can earn your Master Black Belt through GLSS by demonstrating your results and impact through:

  • Leading 5 Black Belt projects that deliver measurable results
  • Coaching 10 Green Belts to complete projects
  • Receiving 3 letters of recommendation from stakeholders
  • Conducting written and oral interviews with GoLeanSixSigma.com

Champion

Champions (also known as sponsors) are executive leaders who drive a project initiative within an organization (rather than being an LSS-certified belt).

They work with Master Black Belts to select projects aligned with organizational strategy and provide financial and other resources necessary for success. Champions support change, remove barriers, and help to develop an LSS culture of Continuous Improvement. Essentially, they act as the “Voice of the Business” in terms of priorities and profitability.

Which Six Sigma Belt Should I Start With?

Understanding these roles is crucial to determining what belt is best for you. It’s not necessary for an individual to achieve the ranks in order. Anyone who has the knowledge and experience necessary can begin in a higher role.

However, most LSS practitioners start at the Yellow Belt level (formerly White Belt) and work upward to Green Belt, Black Belt, and beyond. Most LSS practitioners are Yellow (or White) Belts.

Educational Background

The education needed for Lean Six Sigma isn’t dependent on a college degree but on the knowledge and skill sets to be effective within the role.

Some institutions may provide recommendations as follows: a Bachelor’s degree for the level of Green Belt, Black Belt, or higher, and often, a Master’s Degree is suggested for the level of Master Black Belt.

But again, anyone can become certified in LSS so long as they complete the training. Providers such as GoLeanSixSigma gear training toward practical application rather than a theoretical or academic approach.

“Having a Lean Six Sigma Belt and being Certified is about being able to deliver improvement results. At GLSS, our Project-Based Learning approach makes it easy for people to complete real projects alongside their training—so everyone can improve their companies and communities together.” – Karlo Tanjuakio

Professional Background

LSS practitioners come from all levels of professional backgrounds. What’s most vital is that an individual has the necessary work experience to succeed in their role.

To get certified with your Yellow Belt, candidates don’t need to be employed. If you are, in terms of minimal workplace suitability, you can have an entry-level position as long as you understand the organization’s processes so you can implement improvements.

Black Belt candidates and higher are required to complete a live project that must be business-related. If this level of candidate isn’t employed, they must find a sponsor organization.

Recency

There are no universal rules governing how long an individual must wait between advancing ranks.

At GLSS, we don’t require you to wait to complete a project or move to the next level. Our optimized approach makes it easy to continuously learn, apply, and advance.

For Lean Six Sigma practitioners to fully understand the nuances of what they’re learning and see its application, there are some suggested milestones.

For each advancement, it’s important to note that the focus is on understanding LSS principles rather than the speed of progression.

Benefits of Six Sigma Training

The benefits of using Lean Six Sigma are seen across nearly every type of industry around the globe, including manufacturing, finance, healthcare, utilities, and services. With its proven systematic approach, organizations discover improvements in efficiency, customer satisfaction, quality, and Operational Performance!

Sign up for the highest-rated LSS training available — introduce individuals and teams to the basic skills, techniques, and elements of problem-solving using LSS to quickly deliver results.

Get a free trial of GLSS training for you or your team to start your Process Improvement journey today!

Mochi is the AI Master Black Belt at GLSS. He helps everyone understand Lean Six Sigma in our online courses and provides real-time guidance on how to use Lean Six Sigma tools via live chat. He's supported by our team of Master Black Belts who have 40+ experience.
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