What is a Green Belt project?

In the 80’s and 90’s I worked in the Financial Services and IT sectors and it was common to hear leaders say “don’t come to me with problems… come to me with solutions!” It was never accompanied by the offer of a means or method to find the solution, as if simply saying it was enough, a miracle would happen and we would be able to produce the perfect solution!

Eventually, this phrase became a leadership cliché.

If you are familiar with this leadership style, it doesn’t have to be an issue, this is exactly what an improvement project, using Green Belt methodology, is designed to accomplish.

The PMI Improvement Cycle

The means and method of a Green Belt project will lead you through the Improvement Cycle from the beginning, where you don’t really any have idea what the answer will be, to developing the solution.

  1.   Take a problem
  2.   Learn about it
  3.   Analyse it
  4.   Develop theories
  5.   Test and study the results of your theories
  6.   When you think you’ve got something, recommend solutions that the organisation can implement to improve the process performance.

Is it a Green Belt project, or an implementation project?

We are regularly asked by potential customers for our opinion on what makes an ideal Green Belt project, in preparation for them working on their improvement projects, and developing their own capability through our Green Belt programme.

In many cases, customers are confused because they have been given a project to ‘do’ and they are not sure if it qualifies as a Green Belt project;  they often do not know the difference between a Green Belt project and an implementation project, and how would they?  If they work in an environment where they are traditionally given projects to ‘manage’ i.e. implement, then the temptation is to assume their Improvement project is the same.

A project that is focused on working on a problem where the solution is not known, identifying the root causes of the problem, and then developing and testing solutions to address them before implementation, is alien to them.

When clients have this same dilemma, I use the PMI Improvement Cycle to illustrate the thinking and decision making process they need to go through.  Looking at the Improvement Cycle, you need to decide if the project you are thinking about is suitable for an improvement project.

Here are some questions to ask yourself

    • Are you currently at the stage where you know there is a problem, but you don’t yet know all the root causes?
    • Do you have some ideas on which processes are causing the problem but you need to investigate further?
    • Do you have enough data to be confident about the current performance of the processes, or do you need to gather data so that you can be sure on what is actually happening?
  • If any of these sound familiar, represent where you are, and what you are being asked to do, then you will benefit from starting at ‘select priorities’ on our Improvement Cycle.  This stage helps you to diagnose which processes are causing the results you and your organisation would like to improve.

This means you will be leading a Green Belt improvement project.

If the work has already been done to understand the problem and identify solutions, and therefore your job is to implement the defined solution, you are starting at the ‘implement’ part of PMI’s Improvement Cycle, which is the project management element of implementing a known solution.

Things to consider when selecting a Green Belt improvement project

Of course, there are always exceptions to rules, but here are some helpful guidelines and suggestions to steer you in the right direction.

Learn more about our Lean Six Sigma Green Belt course here.

Written by Susannah Clarke
Managing Partner
Process Management International

Follow Susannah on LinkedIn.

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