Leading the way with Lean Six Sigma: WMU students earn certification

The ability to get certified in continuous improvement methodologies and Lean Six Sigma (LSS) techniques all before graduation is just one way students in the Haworth College of Business are preparing to become business leaders. A group of 13 graduate and 20 undergraduate students across the college’s academic programs had the opportunity to earn their LSS Yellow Belt Certifications this spring semester.

Students in one of Professor Tom Kelly's process management courses stand holding their Yellow Belt Certifications.The LSS training, which focuses on continuous improvement (CI) techniques, is offered by the Center for Integrated Supply Management. The center intends to make the tools and skills for the methodology accessible to all. To receive the LSS Yellow Belt Certification, students had to meet training requirements and take a qualifying exam—which is the same exam that certifies industry professionals. Tom Kelly, faculty specialist and associate director of the Center for Integrated Supply Management, and Dr. Tom Scannell, professor of marketing, are LSS Black Belt-certified. They provide LSS training and certification for industry professionals, and incorporate that training into their WMU courses.

Students in process management courses who met specific criteria were eligible to take the certification test. Coursework for those classes cover topics on the exam such as:

  • Understanding the philosophy, principles and strategy of Lean and Six Sigma.
  • Evaluating the voice of the customer to develop key performance and behavioral indicators.
  • Identifying improvement opportunities and creating effective problem and goal statements.
  • Using a scientific approach such as Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) or Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) to conduct root cause analysis and problem solving.
  • Developing and interpreting continuous improvement tools such as process mapping, Pareto diagrams, run charts, scatter diagrams, histograms and box plots.
  • Eliminating or minimizing the sources and impacts of waste and variances in processes.
  • Understanding the importance of culture, leadership and change management to drive continuous improvement throughout the organization.

“When we developed the content for our graduate and undergraduate courses, we noticed that there was a significant overlap with Lean Six Sigma principles and the training we provide to industry clients through the center,” remarks Scannell, “We always want to put students in a position where they can take advantage of the information they learn in our courses—ensuring there is a value-add to the material that will benefit them in their upcoming careers.”

The certification is not only a proactive accomplishment on the part of these students but is also in high demand by employers.

“Students were being asked by potential employers what they knew about Lean Six Sigma. One of the key principles of LSS is the customer drives what is valuable for the business. In this scenario, our students are our customers, so we owe it to them,” says Kelly, “We know of no other institution that includes this certification in its undergraduate program. Giving students this experience to speak about in an interview will drive future opportunities for them.”

While LSS methodologies are commonly related to a manufacturing setting, these students are proof that a solid education in process improvement goes beyond an application in a single industry. Students who now have their Yellow Belt Certifications can apply the information gleaned to many environments.  

Courtney Farrish, a student who received a Yellow Belt Certification, stands in her graduation cap and gown.Courtney Farrish is one of the students who chose to get her Yellow Belt Certification in spring 2022. “Throughout the semester, I was challenged to think outside my normal ‘box’ and expand my critical thinking skills. I was also taught to look at a business from a managerial perspective,” says Farrish. “As soon as Professor Kelly talked to my class about the opportunity to earn a Yellow Belt, I knew I wanted to get it and that it would set me up for success in my career with the necessary credentials.”

Farrish is currently a sourcing intern with GAST Manufacturing, where she will get to apply LSS methods beyond her coursework. “I’m excited to use lean methods for projects I’m working on. From brainstorming techniques to using charts to performing a GEMBA walk, I feel that my Yellow Belt will be put to good use.”

The Center for Integrated Supply Management holds Lean Six Sigma certification training year-round for business professionals—offering customizable, onsite sessions for companies. Learn more about the expert instructors and upcoming workshops on their website.