Interview with Greg Abbott – How I got my Black Belt

SSCE is excited to interview Greg Abbott, a certified Six Sigma Black belt who works as a freelance project coordinator for companies in the Northeast.
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SSCE – Greg, tell us how you learned about Six Sigma and got started with process improvement.

Greg – I first heard about Six Sigma in the late ’90s when I worked as a floor manager for an auto manufacturer.  The company wanted to try and replicate elements of the Toyota manufacturing process.  I was asked to go through Yellow Belt training, although they just called it Quality Lean training at the time.  I’ve always enjoyed statistical analysis, so I found the training interesting.

SSCE – Who provided your training?

Greg – At the time, I just thought the trainer was another employee but later realized they brought in an outside consulting firm to conduct the training.  There was no internet training at the time; everything was in person.  I was certified by the trainer as a Yellow Belt, not a training company.

SSCE – Was the project successful at the company?

Greg – I honestly don’t know.  I was pretty low on the totem pole at the time and didn’t talk with executives at the company.  I do know the company made some changes to production at that time, they started using more inventory pull methods, but other than that, the employees didn’t see much change in operations.

SSCE – So how did you end up being a certified Black Belt and operating as a freelance consultant?

Greg – I left that job and moved to the Northeast, where I ended up at another company that was big on Six Sigma.  I’m pretty sure the only reason I got the job was that I had prior Six Sigma experience.  That company allowed me to work on quite a few projects, and I learned a lot about process analysis, Minitab, and project management.  I never got any new certifications there; it was all real-world learning. I stayed with that company for about 5 years.  Towards the end of my employment there, I got multiple Six Sigma certifications from several different training company’s because I enjoyed it and saw a need for professionals who had training.  It was really expensive to get certifications at that time, several thousand dollars at a minimum.  It was worth it for me however, because I knew I could get clients.

SSCE – Was launching your own Six Sigma consulting firm hard?

Greg – From a customer acquisition standpoint, no.  I had a lot of contacts and was able to find companies that needed consulting help quickly.  There was still a learning curve however, and I did make some mistakes in the beginning.  Running your own business can be challenging for anyone.

SSCE – How many companies have you consulted for?

Greg – Quite a few, at least 25.  A lot of companies I run into now do smaller Kaizen projects.  Sometimes I’ll consult for a few days to help them get started.  I’ve seen large projects last at least a year.

SSCE – Is the popularity of Six Sigma still growing, or waning?

Greg – It’s definitely still popular.  Anyone who understands process improvement is going to have an advantage over someone who doesn’t.  Company’s need to cut out inefficiencies now more than ever.  I still get calls every week from companies that are looking for process improvement help.  It doesn’t matter if they are using Six Sigma, TQM, or some other quality process, everyone wants statistical analysis of their processes.

SSCE – How often do you see Six Sigma projects fail?

Greg – Honestly, you don’t see it that often anymore.  Six Sigma has kind of evolved in a way that the “control” phase is implemented sooner.  It’s almost like you have 30 micro-projects going at once instead of one company-wide system update.

SSCE – What processes do you focus on the most when consulting.

Greg – Voice of the Customer is a big one.  Most company’s struggle to understand VOC and its importance.  Push/Pull inventory management is also a big one.  The global supply chain is kind of broken at the moment because of Covid, so inventory management is one of the most critical elements to any project.  Keeping the project simple and not overloading executives with new technical jargon is really important.

SSCE – Do manufacturers get overwhelmed when you discuss process variances?

Greg – Sometimes, but this is where my years of experience come in handy.  I know how to explain it to executives.  My role is usually 1/3 Black Belt, 1/3 Champion, 1/3 consultant.

SSCE – How should a company decide if a Six Sigma process improvement project is right for them?

Greg - Six Sigma is a top-down methodology.  If the executives buy into the idea, then it will be successful.  If a company can’t look at its processes in a systematic, organized manner, then a Six Sigma project is probably right for them.

SSCE – What type of training do you recommend?

Greg – Training is just about learning the fundamentals.  Get your team trained and certified in the most effective manner for your organization.  If that’s online, do it.  Online programs are nice because they are more cost-effective than in-person training and can be completed faster.  What you really need is experience.  Get your people working on small projects.  Give them experience, and room to fail at first.  Once you have a team with experience, your processes will start to improve.
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