Coaching New Belts: Why, When and How

Author: Satya Kudapa

Posted:  October 2016

A common feedback from our Black Belt and Green Belt students is that at the end of the training (4 weeks for BBs and 2 weeks for GBs) they feel overwhelmed with the amount of information and tools provided to them. Many students feel like they were fed from a fire hose. Retaining that much information provided in such a short period of time can be very challenging. Combine that with the idea of using these tools on their projects for the first time in a real world situation (with many eyes on them as Project leaders) can be very daunting for many freshly trained Belts.

On top of this, usually the management team has high expectations from all their Belts to turn in high quality, completed projects within a reasonable timeframe. Faced with such challenges, it is very common to see many Belts falter in their efforts. They often experience project delays or sometimes even fail to complete their projects. In organizations where the Belt is not dedicated to LSS projects, this situation compounds because they have to deal with their regular job duties on top of their LSS project duties.

What can be done to address this challenge? The answer: Coaching. Preferably the coaching is from an experienced LSS practitioner such as a Master Black Belt. Benefits from coaching include improved project success rates, alleviation of pressure for the newly trained Belts, and shortened project timeframes. TMAC feels strongly that every LSS Deployment should have a coaching program. In addition to providing proper guidance on project management, an experienced coach can help new Belts with issues such as change management, disruptive or underperforming team members, application/reinforcement of the DMAIC process, and correct usage of Lean and statistical tools.

The impact of this approach has been evident at a TMAC customer where we have provided regular coaching sessions over the past two years. Starting in 2014, TMAC taught four waves of LSS Green Belt classes for this company. In addition, a handful of individuals completed LSS Black Belt training at TMAC’s open enrollment program. Since the organization does not currently have dedicated BBs or MBBs, they hired TMAC to provide monthly coaching sessions to about 60 of their recently trained Belt candidates. A secondary goal of these sessions was to help develop the coaching skills of the firm’s Black Belts.

Over the course of the two years we have observed the following of Belts who regularly attended these coaching sessions: They have a higher rate of completing their projects within the allocated timeframe, more closely follow the rigor of the DMAIC methodology, and achieve results superior to the Belts who did not regularly attend coaching.

The most common areas where Belts need coaching help include:
– Project selection and scoping
– Leading project teams (Project Management Skills)
– Adherence to LSS methodology and Reinforcement of key concepts
– Proper application of tools for the right situation
– Overcoming project management and change management related obstacles
– Managing expectations and results

To be clear, the primary goal of the regular coaching sessions is to improve the success rate of each Belt’s project. Another goal is to improve the Belt’s confidence in the LSS methodology and ability to use the right tools. Put differently, good coaching can help develop the Belt’s ability to think for themselves. When successful, the Belt’s need for coaching will go down over time.

How to accomplish this goal? TMAC feels the best practice in coaching is to take a Socratic approach. Using this format, the coach does not provide all the answers but instead asks leading questions. This approach forces the Belt to think about the best course of action for their project. Another key to success is scheduling the coaching sessions frequently (at least monthly). But the sessions should be short – from 30 to 60 minutes. This is just long enough to cover progress since the previous coaching session, discuss current issues, reinforce concepts and plan next steps.

Remember: Coaches are not just trying to develop technically savvy problem solvers, but also individuals who will be good present and future leaders.

More about Satya Kudapa:

Satya is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 15+ years of experience working with over 100 firms, from small companies to large enterprises. He has taught dozens of LSS classes and conducted over 500 coaching sessions for Green Belts, Black Belts, and managers. He has also worked with several organizations to develop and maintain their ISO 9001/AS 9100 quality management systems. Satya is a leader in TMAC’s Smart Manufacturing and Cybersecurity Management Programs.


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