My Journey To a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

My Journey To a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt

Lean Six Sigma is a set of quality-control tools that businesses can use to eliminate defects and improve processes to help boost their profits. It was developed by Bill Smith, a quality engineer in the 1980s while he was working at Motorola. Certification for Lean Six Sigma is categorized by a belt system, similar to that used for the Judo martial arts system. The ranks are categorized by belts: white, yellow, green, black, master black and champion. Each level of certification requires passing a written exam within two hours. Additionally, certain certification programs also may require a signed affidavit from a completed project in a full-time position.

Over the past few weeks, many coworkers and friends have been curious to know what inspired me to obtain my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification. My journey began in March, 2020 shortly after the pandemic shut down the world which also included the food service establishment that I managed at a local University. As the University prepared to open for the Spring semester, my boss informed me that due to the reduced student population returning to campus, the unit I managed would be closed for the remainder of the year. Although I would remain on site to work at another facility, my twenty staff members would need to be transferred or terminated. After already terminating sixty percent of my staff in the Fall semester for the same reasons, I became inspired to create a plan for our food unit to remain open and profitable. I decided to become versed in Lean Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma concepts are complex and impossible to learn within forty-eight hours which was exactly how much time I had to create a business plan to present to the administration. Over the past year, I had been working on my MBA at Framingham State University and had some elementary knowledge of Lean Six Sigma concepts and decided to implement the system to keep the business afloat. With the approval of administration, we implemented an online ordering system that allowed the unit to be 100% online. Students ordered food through an app and picked up their orders. This system allowed us to control the amount of food that was given to each student, maintain a workable labor budget and easily source data to determine any inefficiencies within the system. Not only was this system efficient, but it was also profitable. Most importantly, we were able to provide services for the students and retain the employment of twenty food service workers.

Although I left my career in food service over six months ago, it was on my bucket list to take the formal exam to obtain Lean Six Sigma Black Belt status. After a few months of rigorous study and determination, I was awarded my Black Belt on January 15th, 2022. However, this Black Belt is not just my accomplishment, it is also my former team’s accomplishment. Many are resistant to new technology and systems, but after presenting this new model to my team they made it clear that they were 100% on board. Together we made it happen and together we were successful. This is their Black Belt, too.

Despite all the challenges and heartbreaks that occurred over the pandemic, the situation forced me to explore possibilities that I may not have considered before. During pre-shift meetings with my staff, I would always kick off the meeting with a quote. Often, the quotes would focus on comfort zones, which can be a very dangerous thing. Nothing great was ever accomplished in a comfort zone; only when you challenge yourself can truly amazing things be accomplished. If you are reading this, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be professionally focused or a major project. Maybe it’s attempting to cook that delicious dish that you saw on the Food Network or learning how to sew by finally signing up for that class at your local community center. Maybe it’s calling that friend or relative that you haven’t spoken to in a while over a trivial disagreement that you can’t seem to remember. Once you accomplish that small task or large project it will be much more difficult to be inhibited by your doubts or insecurities. It will be the beginning of your path to great accomplishments.

If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

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