Difference between Six Sigma Yellow Belt, Green Belt, and Black Belt

The Six Sigma professionals exist at all levels in the organization, but play different roles at each level. We often hear six sigma professionals entitled to specific color belts. Yellow belt, Greenbelt, Black belt are some common notations among these professionals. This is because; the genesis for these notations comes from Japanese martial art. Popularly known as Judo – Karate. This Japanese technique has specific levels of practitioners as per their skills & expertise. In Japan, the specific colored belts distinguish them. A similar concept is adopted in Six Sigma. At the project level, a six sigma role varies from yellow belt & green belt to black belt & Master Black belt. The referencing of “belts” by color is a simple and effective way of quickly understanding the skill set and experience level. Hence, a six sigma professional with a “belt color” is able to differentiate his role as well as expertise in the team. Getting hands-on, any of the six sigma belts brings both short-term & long-term benefits for the organization.

What is Six Sigma?

Now, let's understand the concept of Six Sigma.

ASQ (American Society for Quality) states:

  • Six Sigma is a method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes.

  • This increase in performance and decrease in process variation lead to

  • defect reduction and 

  • improvement in profits, 

  • employee morale and 

  • quality of products and services.

Hence, the ultimate goal of Six Sigma is to “Reduce the variation in Process”. And the focus of Six Sigma is to “Improve processes and increase customer satisfaction”.

Any process is bound to have some inherent variation, naturally. When this variation is out of permissible limits, the process generates defects. The customer of process outcome generally defines this permissible limit. As a six sigma professional, our aim is to reduce this process variation to a maximum possible extent.

Different stakeholders and their roles in a Six Sigma projects:

Six Sigma Project key stakeholders:

Following are the key stakeholders is six sigma project:

  1. Executive Sponsor

  2. Project Champion

  3. Process Owner

  4. Master Black Belt

  5. Black Belt

  6. Green Belt

Figure1: Six Sigma Roles And Responsibilities

1. Executive Sponsor or Leader:

They include the CEO and other members of top management. They are responsible for setting up a vision for Six Sigma implementation.

2. Champion:

A champion takes responsibility for Six Sigma implementation across the organization in an integrated manner.

3. Process Owner:

Is an individual, who is expert in his or her process domain. He or she is accountable for the process. Process owner coordinates Process improvement activities. He or she works with Master black belt or

Black belt to improve the processes. 

4. Master Black Belts:

They are identified by champions, act as in-house coaches on Six Sigma. They devote 100% of their time to Six Sigma. They assist champions and guide Black Belts and Green Belts.

5. Black Belts:

They generally operate under Master Black Belts to apply Six Sigma methodology to specific projects.

6. Green Belts:

Works on an ad-hoc basis in a six sigma project. They are the employees who take up Six Sigma implementation along with their other job responsibilities. They operate under the guidance of Black Belts in a six sigma project.

We’ll discuss more about these stakeholders and their roles in upcoming paragraphs.

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Different six sigma belt roles - Yellow belt, Green belt, Black belt and Master Black belt:

Yellow Belt:

A Yellow Belt possesses a basic understanding of Six Sigma. However, unlike green belts or Black belts, yellow belts don’t lead six sigma projects by themselves. These professionals are responsible to support six sigma team in creating process maps. They may act as subject experts or take part as a core team member in six sigma projects. They can also carry out small projects on ad hoc basis with the guidance of Green belts or Black belts. They may also actively participate in less complex process improvement projects using Kaizen or PDCA. PDCA is an acronym for PLAN-DO–CHECK-ACT technique for Continuous Improvement attributed to Dr. Deming. It allows Yellow Belts to identify process improvement opportunities. And make a process more & more efficient. These Yellow Belt projects can be graduated to the GB or BB level, where a DMAIC methodology is used to maximize bottom-line savings to an exceptional level. 

Green Belt:

A Green Belt possesses a good understanding of all aspects of the phases of DMAIC. These professionals operate under the supervision and guidance of the Black Belts. They analyze and solve the quality related issues. And participate in quality improvement projects. Unlike BBs, who lead cross-functional projects, GBs usually work on projects within their own functional area. They should expect to schedule regular meetings with their Black Belt coach to review project progress and seek advice. Green Belts are employees of an organization who have been trained on the Six Sigma improvement methods. They lead process improvement projects in their work area and assist Black Belts in finding process gaps.

Black Belt:

A Black Belt professional has a high level of understanding of Six Sigma principles, including supporting systems and tools & techniques. They exhibit team leadership as a problem solver, maintain team dynamics. Allocate team members’ roles and responsibilities. Black Belts understand all aspects of the DMAIC methodology aligned to Six Sigma principles. They have good knowledge of Lean concepts. BB professionals are able to figure out non-value-added activities and can use specific tools to reduce them. They act as a change agent in transformational six sigma projects. They are good in stakeholder management and earning their buy-in & support. They mentor the GB professionals on organizational improvement projects. They lead and coach a cross-functional team comprising of GB and YB professionals in six sigma projects. They train and share their experiences with the yellow belts & green belts.

Master Black Belt:

These individuals are responsible for translating the high-level business goals into a Six Sigma strategy for the division and the supporting tactics. They work with the deployment leader to achieve the former. They also lead the development of the Six Sigma skills in the organization, for Black Belts, Green Belts, and the general associate base. MBB’s have the ultimate responsibility to ensure the quality, value, and sustainability of Six Sigma projects under their guidance. Below are the responsibilities of a Master Black Belt in an organization:

  • Six Sigma strategy and roll-out plan in the organization/function

  • Manage Project of the function

  • Mentor Teams

  • Achieve Lean Six Sigma Results

  • Cross-Functional Leadership

  • Project Execution and Removing Roadblocks

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Other six sigma stakeholders’ roles and expectations:

Sponsors & Champions:

In some organizations, Sponsors and champions are different. Sponsors are Executive leaders, who set the overall organizational direction and priorities. Champions typically are top-level managers, who allocate project resources & promote process improvements. On the contrary, in other organizations, one role spills over another. Hence, the single top executive takes both the roles.

However, considering the very thin line between these two roles, combined responsibilities are discussed-

  • Participation in training: Get trained on six sigma awareness & concept overview. Also, ensure employees participation in relevant Six Sigma training. 

  • Define Project Scope: Define clear scope for Six Sigma projects. Ensure that the project aim is clearly defined. A project is being carried out within scope boundaries. It can be managed within stipulated deadlines and obtains high likelihood of success. Review the project progress to ensure that the scope remains exactly within the boundaries as defined initially.

  • Provide resources: Provide necessary resources in Six Sigma projects. Ensure full support for six sigma team to meet project objectives.

  • Set Expectations: Set clear expectations for the project results & quality. Make sure that project goals are not sub-optimized. As a matter of fact, less-than-aggressive objectives yield less-than-aggressive outcomes.

  • Facts based decision: Encourage bringing results based on facts and data.

  • Personal engagement: Sponsors engage themselves with project teams about progress. Interact with the team on a regular basis to support them in problem-solving, decision making, and allocating resources. They can schedule dedicated weekly or fortnightly meetings with the team.

Process Owners:

Process owners are accountable for their key processes. Typically, in an organization, all the key processes have process owners. Process owners have high interest in their key process improvements. They, hence, coordinate with six sigma belts to improve processes. And track the process improvements. They are the experts in understanding their processes. Their expertise and influence are essential for successful six sigma process improvement projects. It is advisable that all process owners should undergo a basic six sigma orientation training. In some organizations, process owners play the role of champions as well.

Interaction of different roles in a project: 

Below figure summarizes the interaction of different Six Sigma roles in a project:

key six sigma roles
Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/34269647143168477/

Figure 2: Six Sigma roles – hierarchy

Upper block of Executive leader, champion & sponsor forms a six sigma strategic group. Here, strategic decisions are taken with respect to six sigma improvement projects. Mid-block comprising MBB and BB serves as coaches for six sigma projects. This block receives support and direction from top block. The lower block includes green belt and yellow belt, engaged in project execution under the guidance from & along with mid-block.

However, the actual responsibilities of these roles are laid down by the organization as per its structure and governance.

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Different levels of certifications to pursue these six sigma belts:

Typically, when you plan to step up the six-sigma ladder, following are the certifications in order:

  1. Yellow Belt certification

  2. Green belt certification

  3. Black belt certification

  4. Master Black belt certification

How to choose which belt certification is best suited for you?

1. Yellow belt certification:

Give the general view of six sigma approach. A kind of six sigma certification related to awareness of the concept. This is a foundational certificate, which every employee should undergo in a six sigma oriented organization.

2. Green belt certification:

It’s a second level certification, which focuses on developing Six Sigma green belts. Green belts in most of the organizations, work on ad hoc basis in a six sigma project. But, this certification paves your way to six sigma journey. You can master the basics of six sigma after going through green belt certification.

3. Black Belt certification:

This is an advanced level Six Sigma certification. Here, you get the exposure to high level six sigma approach. It is always advisable, yet not mandatory, to obtain green belt before going for black belt certification. Black belt certification equips you to exercise Black belt roles. You’ll be able to lead six sigma projects independently after obtaining BB certification.

4. Master Black Belt certification:

This is a top-level Six Sigma certification. It is oriented for the six sigma mentor and coach roles. After obtaining BB certificate and leading some six sigma projects as BB, you can pursue for MBB certification. MBB certification not only certifies you as a master of six sigma methodology but also, develops your coaching and facilitation skills.

In addition, if you are taking a project sponsor or champion role, you should pursue yellow belt certification. For a process owner, green belt certification is advisable. 


Refer to above figure 2, “Six sigma roles – hierarchy” and assess yourself. Wherever you fit yourself in hierarchy, choose the relevant certification.

To summarize, six sigma levels are gaining popularity in different industries, be it manufacturing or service. All the mentioned belts are important for any company to have a breakthrough improvements and cost reduction. Each belt plays a significant role in the organization, irrespective of the size of the organization. Also, various other key stakeholders have their influence and interest in six sigma projects. They take their respective roles and responsibilities during six sigma improvement projects.

So, go ahead and choose the best-suited certification for you. 

Build your career in Six Sigma journey of excellence!

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Ankit Rastogi