Certification justification

Q: My company trained a boatload of people in lean Six Sigma during the past three to five years. Guidelines for obtaining internal certification were established a couple of years ago, but they never gained any traction, and to the best of my knowledge, no one ever completed the process. A small group got certified on their own through ASQ, but that’s about it.

Some people within our leadership question whether the administrative effort will be more significant than the benefits of certification. Having a huge training program without the carrot of closing the loop with a meaningful certification is a foreign concept to me.

In my opinion, our deployment isn’t as robust as it could be, and that’s partially because of this deficiency. With that in mind, I’ve set out to evaluate a case for promoting the idea of getting certified within our company.

Do you have any references you could suggest as I collect pro and con data? I’ve found a few articles on deployment strategies but would appreciate tapping into other sources or files. What personal opinions or reflections do you have on this issue?

A: The pros and cons for certification in this case, and in general, should be systematically listed and analyzed. My analysis is going to come out on the pro-certification side, and this response is intended to help justify how and why to top management. But you should keep in mind there are also cons and costs to consider.

The certification benefits for the participating employees can be significant. Setting a certification goal and achieving it provides a sense of accomplishment and finality that is motivational by nature. Of course, there is also the sense of satisfaction that comes from recognition—from peers and from management.

Ultimately, any good program can be justified by its financial benefits to the organization. If certification increases employee satisfaction, employee turnover and the costs associated with filling vacant positions will decrease.

Certification also puts a cap on training, providing an official, defendable record that is available for external audits to International Organization for Standardization standards or by organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The improved regulatory compliance position will also help avoid costs required to address audit nonconformances or, worse yet, sanctions.

Lean Six Sigma project efficiency improvement is another area of cost savings. Employees who survive the rigors of certification have proven they can provide the highest quality work, meaning their projects are most likely to result in the highest benefit-to-cost ratios. Conversely, without some type of certification program, there is a higher risk that marginally qualified candidates will be put in charge of important projects but will not be able to produce optimal results.

There are also investment and maintenance costs for certification that must be considered. First, there is the establishment of the requirements for certification, which may include a combination of project portfolio review and a written test. Early on, there may be a need for someone outside of the organization to develop an exam and review projects.

In addition, there needs to be an infrastructure set up to determine and enforce requirements for recertification or for decertification if performance levels are not maintained. As was mentioned in your question, consideration should be given to using ASQ’s exam development and maintenance systems for certification.

Also, before embarking on an internal certification program, understand the philosophical links between such a program and the organization’s values or policies. If your company values the training, development and involvement of employees, then certification can be easily tied to those values.

But links can also be created among certification, traditional business philosophies and buzzwords such as continuous improvement, customer satisfaction and commitment to quality. The best projects, when completed by the most qualified and motivated project managers, will inevitably result in all of those values being supported and the bottom line being improved.

Figure 1 is a force field analysis for lean Six Sigma certification. The reasons for certification are listed as driving forces; the reasons against are restraining forces. Weights could be assigned to the various forces to make the analysis more technical.

Figure 1

If management is convinced the driving forces outweigh the restraining forces, lean Six Sigma certification should have the required support for implementation. If more precise data are needed, you can perform a return-on-investment (ROI) calculation, as long as reasonable estimates of all costs can be obtained. A demonstration that the program’s implementation meets the company’s minimum criteria for ROI would be an impressive selling point to management.

Scott A. Laman
Senior manager
Teleflex Medical Inc.
Reading, PA


  • Munro, R.A., "Six Sigma Certification: What’s It Worth?" Quality Digest, October 2005, pp. 49–52.

For more information

  • Laman, Scott, "Value of Certification," Quality Progress, March 2008, p. 51.
  • Ramu, Govind, "Test Run," Quality Progress, January 2010, pp. 40–48.

Get it in writing

Q: How do you know when you need to document a procedure or work instruction? Is there a method for how to determine this?

Syed N. Hassan
Irving, TX

A: There isn’t a set method for determining when you need to document a procedure or work instruction. But, by following a few simple guidelines, you should be able to determine whether documentation is required:

  1. If management wants a certain task done a specific way or a particular procedure accomplished precisely, then management owes it to employees to provide them with a written procedure.
  2. If you need a procedure accomplished in the same manner each and every time, it would help if it was written down so anyone tasked with performing it can do so in the same way as the person who preceded them. A written procedure—when it’s followed to the letter—will provide consistency in the outcome of that procedure.
  3. If you have high employee turnover and find yourself frequently training new employees to perform a certain procedure or task, it will help if you have that procedure in writing so you can use it as a training tool and a reference. A written procedure or work instruction will ensure new employees perform their work in the same manner as the previous employees.

In a nutshell, any work or procedure that is important when it comes to maintaining effective operational control should be in writing.

Pradip Mehta
Mehta Consulting LLC
Coppell, TX

For more information

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