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The Leadership Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt at Oxford University

The Leadership Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt at Oxford University

by Rob Collins on 4th April 2015, 0 comments

How do you design a new, public, open-enrolment Lean Six Sigma course for the world-renowned Oxford University? In this blog post I describe the thought processes and rationale for doing exactly that.


When I sat down to design the new Lean Six Sigma Leadership Yellow Belt for Oxford University I had two key customer groups in my mind. Firstly, managers, leaders and executives who were starting down the road of Business Process Excellence (BPE) in their organisation. Secondly, future practitioners and consultants in BPE.

I identified the first group from my own engagements with clients: Business leaders and managers who had key goals to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their business, who had become aware of Lean Six Sigma and who wanted to develop their understanding and knowledge. This group needed to answer some key questions:

  • Practically speaking, what is Lean Six Sigma and how can it help my business become more effective and more efficient?
  • What are the benefits and corresponding costs of rolling out a Lean Six Sigma program?
  • How could my business implement a Lean Six Sigma program and what are the risks?
  • What would Lean Six Sigma mean for the people in my organisation and their development?

I identified the second customer group through my sponsorship of the Business Process Excellence: Banking, Finance and Operations meetup group. This group is predominantly made up of future business leaders who have shown enthusiasm and energy to develop their own knowledge, skills and experience. through regular meetups with like-minded professionals. During a “Kick Start” meeting, this group identified some key needs for their own development, which resonated with the above list:

  • Learning what Lean Six Sigma is and how it can be used in businesses
  • Understanding the professional development route for practitioners and consultants who aim to work in Lean Six Sigma
  • How to start to develop skills in Lean Six Sigma and how to apply these within their working environment

This list of needs provided an excellent view of the “Voice of the Customer” for the design of a new course.

I designed this initial Yellow Belt course to be a relatively low investment in time and cost for attendees but with the maximum return on that investment.

In addition to these customer facing needs, there were also some requirements that I wanted to bring to the course. You might call these requirements the “Voice of the Process” - they say something about the method of delivery and how the work actually gets done. I wanted this course to help with people's decision making. For business leaders and managers a key decision is whether to invest in Lean Six Sigma or not. Is Lean Six Sigma appropriate to the needs of their company and would it be valuable to roll out a Lean Six Sigma program? The key decision for the second group concerns their personal route into Lean Six Sigma – is it worth the time and effort to learn about this area? All of these questions boil down to the same thing: “Will I see a Return On Investment?”

I designed this initial Yellow Belt course to be a relatively low investment in time and cost for attendees but with the maximum return on that investment.

Thus, the course was designed as a one-day intensive 'starter' module. The course was created to be both practically useful in its own right and also to kick-start a journey down the path to Business Process Excellence. At the end of this course participants should be in the perfect position to make a decision about their future path. They may reasonably decide that Lean Six Sigma is not right for them or their organisation – but in any case will walk away with some useful transferable knowledge.

However, I think that it is much more likely that this will be a first step in the Business Process Excellence journey – in which case this course will provide a great foundation for future Green Belt and even Black Belt studies. The course introduces the key ideas and 'ways of thinking' of Lean Six Sigma as well as an overview of some of its key tools

Considering for a moment those later Green Belt and Black Belt courses. Firstly, I should say that course development in both of those areas is well under way. You will soon be able to travel your complete 'Learning Journey' to Lean Six Sigma at Oxford University – with all of the attention to quality and excellence that entails. Secondly, I should say that my view of the next level, Green Belt stage of Lean Six Sigma is that it needs to be a practical, “learning by doing” design. For sure, Lean Six Sigma does imply a level of rigour, and at the higher black-belt levels, a not-insignificant level of sophistication in measurement, analysis and statistics. But core to Lean Six Sigma is the development of skills in working with cross-functional teams to deliver practical improvement projects.

Thus within our second level Green Belt course attendees will find themselves involved in a whole range of practical exercises intended to mimic their real working environment as closely as possible. People who attend the Green Belt will leave with practical experience and skills that they will be able to immediately apply.

As a manager, leader or executive you will know enough to 'switch on' Lean Six Sigma in your organisation.

And it is here that we come to a compromise in my development of the Leadership Yellow Belt course. The one-day format provides only minimal opportunity for team working and the practical application of tools. This initial course is focussed on knowledge and understanding rather than the development of practical experience in the application of the methods and tools. When you leave this one-day course you will know a lot about Lean Six Sigma. You will be able to decide if it is right for you and your business and you will be decide if you wish to commit further resources to continuing along this path. As a manager, leader or executive you will know enough to 'switch on' Lean Six Sigma in your organisation. You will know what it means to roll out a Lean Six Sigma program and what you will need to do to make it work.

A one-day Leadership Yellow Belt will provide a great foundation, but it will not immediately turn you into a practitioner in Lean Six Sigma. Realistically, to contribute significantly to improvement projects you need a Green Belt. To initiate, coach and implement a Lean Six Sigma program requires a Black Belt and significant hands-on practical experience.

I am looking forward to welcoming a variety of professionals to the Leadership Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt course in July at Oxford University. Attendees will include people from a variety of professions: Banking and Finance, Manufacturing, Health-care management, Operations and IT. I am looking forward to guiding them on the first part of their Learning Journey to Business Process Excellence.

If you want to read more about the course and its content then please do visit: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/N100-29. I would be very happy to see you and your collegues at this exciting and intensive one-day event.

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Rob Collins

Rob is a Principal Consultant for Donox Ltd. He holds a PhD in Software Engineering, Psychology and Training and an MBA from Henley Business School. He gained his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt whilst working as Process Authority for Lockheed Martin IS&S in the UK. As well as presenting courses and running workshops for Donox, Rob also teaches courses for Oxford University on their MSc in Software Engineering. His particular interest is 'coal-face' business process improvement - running workshops, documenting business processes, running improvement project and teaching Lean Six Sigma.

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