Do we need an ISO standard for Lean and Six Sigma?

QW June - Opinion - Tony BendellTony Bendell introduces the new ISO 18404:2015 International Standard for Lean Six Sigma certification.

I have been doing a tour of CQI branches in central England over the past few weeks, talking about the new international ISO standard for Lean and Six Sigma ISO 18404:2015, which was published on 1 December.

So far, I have spoken on this at the Milton Keynes, Leicester and Coventry, and Peterborough and Cambridge branches. There has been a lot of interest in the new opportunity for internationally recognised certification of both organisations and individuals as competent practitioners of both Six Sigma and/or Lean, including Green, Black and Master Black Belts.

I am currently working with a group of accredited certification bodies, including three of the largest in the world, to run the pilot for accredited certification. Such certification can be implemented alongside ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certification with common audits and infrastructure, and even an integrated management system.

Certification of organisations is based on their management system for managing Lean and/or Six Sigma implementation, while certification of individuals is based on verification that they have the appropriate competences and experience, rather than on the older body of knowledge approach.

Why we need an ISO standard for Lean and Six Sigma

The standard was created on an international basis to stamp out bad practices and misuse of the approaches. Six Sigma and Lean are lucrative implementation, training, consultancy and certification markets and interest is growing, not declining.

But there has been a lot of misuse, with deficient training, out of date syllabi, training by rote, serious over claiming and certification or accreditation by varied, and varying quality, providers – all without a valid international mandate. That is why ISO has now stepped in. The purpose of international certification is to support the market and prevent such misuse.

Finally, the Six Sigma and Lean approaches have an unambiguous well thought through basis for practice and certification, as everyone recognises the rigour and value of ISO standards.

Certification arrangements

There is a lot of interest in ISO 18404:2015 and a number of organisations and practitioners are currently doing a gap analysis against it. It is expected that the first certification visits by the accredited certification bodies participating in the scheme will take place in the autumn.

It has been agreed that individuals applying for certification under the ISO 18404 standard as Six Sigma Green, Black or Master Black Belts – or the Lean equivalents – will be assessed by the Royal Statistical Society through Assessment Centres that will also commence in the autumn.

Supporting documentary requirements will not just be to provide copies of certificates, but may involve submission of a portfolio of evidence, project accounts, etc, as well as attendance at the assessment centre with interviews and tests.

Professor Tony Bendell is the chair of the BSI Technical Committee MS6 that prepared the ISO 18404 standard, and project manager for the sector scheme owned by the Royal Statistical Society to bring forward the standard with UKAS for accredited certification.