The article: A dynamic approach to teaching lean six sigma at universities is written by Francisco S. Ramires, Hugo M. Costa, José R. Cruz, Miguel J. Carvalho, Paulo A. Sampaio. This magazine article is published in the magazine of the Lean Enterprise Division of the American Society of Quality in June 2020.
Magazine Article - A dynamic approach to teaching lean six sigma at universities
A dynamic approach to teaching Lean Six Sigma at
Authors: Francisco S. Ramires, Hugo M. Costa, José R. Cruz, Miguel J. Carvalho,
Paulo A. Sampaio
The world is changing every single day. Earth’s population is growing, our economy is
changing, technology is evolving and most importantly we, as human beings, are changing.
This means our behavior, our beliefs, and our necessities are changing. So, how can we adapt
and prosper in such uncertainty? Considering what Universities have been doing to prepare
the future workforce and leaders of the incumbent industries and the new sectors yet to arise,
engineering graduates still seem to be limiting themselves to using the old classic tools from
the mass production days of Ford - learning how to answer, but not how to question the
context around them. This is the reason that the first free certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt
course at the University of Minho was developed. Designed by students for students.
This article captures the voice of the students who participated in the structuring of this
course, with the involvement of ESTIEM (European Students of Industrial Engineering and
Management Association) as an educational partner - giving support and feedback on our
first trial edition at the University of Minho in Portugal, and further developments. Here
Herein the motivation, the sequence of activities, successes, and obstacles felt over two years
are described from the initial concept through the development of a fully deployed model
involving a symbiosis between companies, the university, and the students of Industrial
Engineering and Management from the University of Minho.
Throughout this article, it will become clear how important it is for companies to be
involved in University initiatives related to Lean Six Sigma and the subsequent positive
impact of hiring graduates capable of stimulating change in their organizations. Secondly,
we will go through the importance of creating free and easy access to Lean Six Sigma
knowledge with the objective of providing a higher quality of education in Universities.
The idea is to share our vision to provide a scalable Lean Six Sigma Green Belt course
structure integrated into the Industrial Engineering and Management educational curriculum,
given by students (Green Belts) to their peers. By joining the course and using the knowledge
gained in an internship, students have the chance of being certified before the time they
Course and Teaching Methodology
We are eager to present the process of developing and implementing a Lean Six Sigma
course designed by students, at the University of Minho, telling the whole experience of the
authors as students of this course and, later, as instructors. Therefore, this article is a result
of their perception. It starts with a background, explaining how the idea was conceived and
then how it was implemented. Next, the hypothesis of this course and the actual results are
shared, as well as some testimonials. Lastly, some conclusions are presented. To do this, we
gathered not only our opinion, but also the opinion of teachers, students, alumni, and
companies. This was made by promoting questionnaires and interviews with parties
One aspect of the project that was always considered from the beginning was the
sustainability of the course. Considering students are leaving every year and new students
arrive, it was crucial to guarantee that new students were available to lead the course.
Therefore, between the two editions of the course, 3 to 5 students were selected to attend the
course and to step up and play the role of the instructor in the following year. These students
were selected by their instructors (which were already certified practitioners), considering
their motivation, potentially shown throughout the challenges presented during the Lean Six
Sigma course, with emphasis on the final case study at the partner company’s site. Additional
training on presentation and facilitation skills was provided if needed. This way, the
continuity is guaranteed.
Regarding the preparation of the classes, the instructors, being handed the materials by
ESTIEM, have adapted them with their knowledge on the subject, but also in addition to a
strong practical component and real-life applications. This was done by researching real case
studies of the application of Lean Six Sigma to diverse problems, from healthcare to
operations, or software development. The goal of this tactic was to address a problem pointed
very often by students regarding their education: the lack of real-life situations where
techniques can be applied. During every class, a real Lean Six Sigma project was brought to
students to demonstrate the content taught in the previous classes. This was done throughout
the entire course. It is important to note that the authors, being students, are aware of the
flaws pointed out by their peers concerning their previous teachers, and thus, have tried to
avoid and improve upon those flaws.
Our aim here is to present the benefits of encouraging and promoting such courses in the
preparation of students for their future challenges, but also in a closer connection between
students and teachers that is believed to lead to better education and understanding of the
ESTIEM Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Course
It all began with ESTIEM - European Association for Students of Industrial Engineering
and Management, along with Gregory H. Watson.
Dr.Watson - together with Jukkis Turtiainen (student member of ESTIEM) began thinking
about how they could start building a Green Belt course, by focusing on a gap never worked
on in the Lean Six Sigma education industry - students. They had the vision to make a high-
quality Green Belt training course easily accessible to Industrial Engineering and
Management students from around Europe and equip them with tools to solve even more
complex problems in companies before they have even graduated. The idea was for
Dr.Watson to build the course content and the students to deploy and expand it in Europe
through ESTIEM’s network. To do so, the course’s content was to be presented to
participants through videos where Dr.Watson would explain all the concepts necessary. The
team developing the course, and along with Dr.Watson, filmed and edited 80 videos, with
durations of 4 to 20 minutes, depending on the complexity of the content (Jarrett, Matti &
The first ESTIEM Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Course took place at Aalto University, in
Finland, between November and December 2016. After that, the expansion began with full
The result of this thinking process was to develop a full week course with a blended
approach between theory and practical lessons, including multiple videos and practical
sessions facilitated by student Instructors (Turtiainen, Rajala & Jarrett, 2017).
After that week, the participants must have to complete a Green Belt Project on a company
to get the final certificate of Green Belt in Lean Six Sigma.
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt 10-Week Course at the University of Minho
Two years ago, after realizing the potential of these courses and seeing how many people
from our university were interested in taking the Green Belt Course and analyzing the
industry recruitment needs, the authors decided to design our own Green Belt course,
leveraging the existing ESTIEM’s structure, adapting it to the Portuguese educational
context. The resources needed were already available: 5 ESTIEM Instructors, support from
our local student Association and our University department and a corporate partner
interested in being involved in training future quality professionals. With the help of
ESTIEM, we developed a free 10-Week Green Belt Course where participants had to watch
weekly webinars with the theoretical Green Belt knowledge. Additionally, they had to attend
a weekly 4-hour practical session, where they would put into practice the tools they learned
in the webinars. The course finished with a final case study - a real-life Lean Six Sigma
simulation project in which they applied the contents they learned throughout the 10 weeks.
Creating an implementation roadmap of the course was crucial for it to be successful. To
reach the best students at our University and make them interested in a 10-week course about
a tool they did not fully understand, we teamed up with two vital partners: The University of
Minho and a Lean Six Sigma-driven company. Regarding the University, we integrated the
training course into the course of “Advanced Quality Engineering and Management”, which
is taught in the fourth year of the Industrial Engineering and Management Integrated Master’s
Program. This meant that the students taking this class had priority to take this course and
their participation was considered in the final evaluation for graduation.
Regarding the partnership with the company, they supported all the costs for materials
needed to do the sessions, promoted company visits, and allowed students to apply their
knowledge in a real work environment, assigning multiple company black belts to facilitate
projects and help in the journey. The partner was chosen based on their internal commitment
to quality and continuous improvement, and a great history of lean six sigma initiatives
already built. Although there were other potential candidates to actively participate in the
Lean Six Sigma course, our goal was to welcome an experienced stakeholder with multiple
black belts leading training courses internally. This indicated the opportunity of an
unprecedented knowledge sharing journey between industry and academia, that the authors
could not miss.
How big is the impact created by the students?
After 2 classes, we ended up with an exceptional number of 63 students with the Green
Belt level of knowledge. By finishing the course, the students could work within a specific
work process, to assure standard-work, to lead correction of non-standard work, and to lead
work process improvement, always project and teamwork-based.
After talking with the students, 96,5% of them said that the course had a significant impact
on their education as engineers and 100% said that they absolutely would use Lean Six Sigma
tools in their professional future.
The implementation of this 10-weeks course, worked as a valuable addition to what was
already being taught in the quality management field at the University of Minho, giving a
globally recognized methodology with no costs to every student in the penultimate year of
master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Management. Having the opportunity of being
certified in a methodology so much valued by the leaders of the industries still in their
academic path is unprecedented in the Portuguese educational context.
In the eyes of the companies, the University is capable of training better graduates, who
will afterward show higher levels of performance in comparison to other students, as they
are more prepared to face different problems in a structured way. Companies are conscious
of the impact of going beyond the normal standards of engineering education has on real-life
Finally, when looking at the figures, ten students successfully completed projects within
a three to six-month span, where they applied the knowledge acquired from the course in five
different companies from different industries (automotive, healthcare, metal related sectors).
Furthermore, the companies were able to have outstanding results such: as €80,000 euros of
savings and 40% reduction in activities necessary to request an ambulance in a public
hospital; €42,000 euros saved a year in a metalworking automotive company; 30% decrease
in defective units in an electronic automotive company; decrease quality costs and increase
customer satisfaction were some of the results driven by the projects our graduates started.
In total, more than 120 000 euros in savings are expected from the completed projects. Some
other projects can be found in ("Case Projects | ESTIEM", 2020).
Testimonials regarding the impact of the course on Universities and Companies
1. How do you value the ESTIEM Lean SS Course?
“This course is a great opportunity for the Industrial Engineering and Management
students for two main reasons: (1) they have the chance to learn one of the most well-known
methodologies for process improvement, thus allowing them to go to the companies with that
knowledge when they graduate; (2) during the course they have the chance to see and study
real-life examples of Lean Six Sigma projects, thus promoting the link between academia
2. How important was to integrate this course into your quality management track?
“I teach a course of “Advanced Topics in Quality Engineering and Management” and
since the first minute that I'm enthusiastic about this “partnership” with ESTIEM by
integrating the LSS course in my track. It was possible to teach LSS without this partnership
as I have done for several years, but it was not the same. Currently, I have students teaching
other students and it is resulting in a great experience.”
Professor Paulo Sampaio, Professor of Quality and Organizational Excellence in the
Department of Production and Systems at the University of Minho
3. How important do you think it is to integrate more of these complementary courses
in University curricula?
“Looking at a large corporation it is nearly an impossible task to train the entire
organization in structured problem-solving. As such, training and theoretical knowledge must
include practical application. It is possible to integrate this into daily work in selective cases.
Therefore, learning and applying the LSS methodology already during university time makes
each graduate of such a course a much more valuable employee for any company. They bring
the knowledge and mindset that every company is looking for. Having such a course is in my
view, is a perfect win-win situation for the student, the university, and the companies.”
Christoph Hagedorn, Head of Quality in Continental – partner of ESTIEM Lean Six
4. What does it mean for students to able to acquire Lean Six Sigma knowledge so early
in their careers?
“Learning Lean Six Sigma methodology has opened doors for students to perform
projects, which they would not be given otherwise at that point in their professional career.
This reflects the importance of training undergraduates in problem-solving frameworks.”
Jukkis Turtiainen, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Founder of the ESTIEM LSS course
5. How do you value projects coming from graduates of the course?
“The graduates from the LSS course employed by Continental have exceeded our
expectations. In a recent project, the student achieved, within four-month, an annual saving
of more than 3 times the cost. So, it was a perfect investment. Continental will continue to
offer projects to LSS graduates.”
Christoph Hagedorn, Head of Quality in Continental – partner of ESTIEM LSS course
What is the impact of this experience?
In the end, this initiative was about the impact of democratizing the access to such a costly
certificate, which is typically acquired when one already has two to three years of experience
and by implementing a teaching model blending theory with practice, having students teach
students. This stimulates change not only in a slow-moving body like universities but also in
companies where, early on, students begin asking why things are working the way they are
working. This is how change is triggered.
However, this project didn’t affect only the students. This Green Belt curriculum, by being
associated with a University course, impacted the way knowledge was being shared and
acquired in our degree, by putting the student at the heart of the learning experience. By the
end, students are not only receiving information, but they were also given the opportunity of
becoming instructors themselves, helping to continue the cycle.
Not only did these projects prove how students can positively change their organizations
but also make the companies understand how impactful Lean Six Sigma can be to their
Now, going back to the question made at the beginning of the article: how can we adapt
and prosper in such uncertainty? By embracing and inciting change! Lean Six Sigma has an
important role in moving along this pathway that companies and institutions must undertake.
Lean Six Sigma, by being a methodology focused on process improvement, excels in finding
new, innovative, and impactful changes to lead organizations to higher levels of quality and
efficiency. Implementing this university project not only introduced more deeply the Lean
Six Sigma topic to engineering students, but also trained students to embrace, incite, and
manage change within the companies in which they will work for in the future.
Jarrett, H., Turtiainen, J., & Rajala, M. (2016). Developing a Lean Six Sigma Course for
ESTIEMers. Retrieved 5 February 2020, from
Turtiainen, J., Rajala, M., & Jarrett, H. (2017). A Blended Learning Approach to Lean Six
Sigma Green Belt Education for European Students. Conference Of The European
Organization For Quality. Retrieved 10 January 2020, from
Case Projects | ESTIEM. (2020). Retrieved 19 April 2020, from