Ideally, you have a support infrastructure that takes input from Champions and selects and prioritizes potential projects and delivers these to Black Belts-in-training. Of course, this is not always the case, so here are a few thoughts to help you choose a good Black Belt project.

  • The project needs to have a major impact on your company. Projects that have minimal impact may be easier to achieve, but the benefit of the training is in solving problems that have been previously considered unsolvable. Maximize your return on your investment.
  • Make sure that you have sufficient support by area managers. If you are attempting to solve a problem that you haven't been able to solve before, you will have to do something different than what you have done before. Many people believe that doing what you do now, but more of it, will solve these problems. You will be asking them to go beyond that during the course of your team's work. Without strong management commitment to change, you will find that the closer you get to a solution, the higher the probability that the people in the area resist your team's efforts. It is best if the decision-makers in the area in which you are working have a financial interest in following the DMAIC methodology.
  • Make sure that there is a link between the project you choose and the business' strategic direction. This is part of making a "business case." In the absence of this linkage, it would be difficult, and perhaps inappropriate, to maintain interest in completing the project throughout the project lifetime.
  • Improving quality is not necessarily the best way to increase profit. Although improving product or service quality frequently results in bottom-line savings, there may be other ways to make bigger improvements to your bottom-line. Six Sigma is a business improvement initiative, not a quality improvement initiative. For example, you may find that eliminating a certain product or service results in a much larger contribution to profit than improving its quality.
  • Manufacturing is not always where the money is. Manufacturing has borne the brunt of improvement activities and cost-savings over the years because it is easy to quantify the savings. In many cases however, the non-manufacturing aspects of a business have not been examined and improved as a process. This is frequently where inefficiencies and waste occur, and since most businesses allocate these costs equally across all products and services, the opportunities for improvements are hidden and massive. Bob Galvin estimates that starting out by focusing solely on manufacturing at Motorola may have cost the company tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Customer satisfaction is not necessarily related to profit. People frequently think that businesses always need to improve the satisfaction of their customers. In reality, many businesses have gone out of business doing exactly that. Some customers do not contribute to profit, some product or service improvements incur costs but customers are not willing to pay any more for the improvement, and some customers tell you they want one thing when they really want another. These and many other reasons are why customer satisfaction improvement alone is not a reason to do a project. The project needs to be linked to improvements in profitability, or to the survival of the company.