A Not-So-Free Resource for Lean Six Sigma Certification

No image here.

In October 2020, I successfully passed the American Society for Quality's (ASQ) six sigma green belt exam. One the whole, it wasn't too complicated to pass. I was glad that I spent time preparing and studying because there are were quality concepts (i.e., control charts) that I wasn't familiar with.

To prepare, I ended up paying for a self-paced review course ($90), ASQ's green belt hand book and study guide ($60), and additional reference material/textbooks ($135). Not including the $438 exam fee, I ended up spending $285 in prep material. Knowing that there are green belt training programs close to $2,200 and black belt programs over $7,000, you can spend quite a bit of money prepping for your lean six sigma exam.

Clearly, I didn't spend over $2,000 to prepare for the green belt exam. On the opposite end of the cost spectrum is free, right? Well, after checking out a supposedly "free" resource, there's truth to the adage: "There's no such thing as a free lunch."

The Council for Six Sigma Certification

Here is the resources page for the free self-study training guides and manuals from The Council for Six Sigma Certification. On it's face, this seems great. There are plenty of PDF files to download which cover different belt colors in either six sigma or lean six sigma. On clicking, the links take you to the file without asking for any payment or personal information. Sounds great, right? Completely free.

The Council for Six Sigma Certification bills themselves as a training program accreditor meaning that they review lean and six sigma training programs and give their approval as proof that these programs meet some minimum set of standards. Their stated mission is to ensure these training programs cover the fundamentals of lean and six sigma.

As part of their mission, they provide free training material. The link above takes you to a a page with a series of files grouped as  either six sigma or lean six sigma preparation material. When you click on each file, you'll see that the content in each manual builds on the previous. The white belt manual makes up the first part of the yellow belt manual, which is the first part of the green belt manual, and the first part of the black belt manual, all the way up to the 650+ page master black belt manual.

Here's the first problem

The files across the six sigma and lean six sigma categories are the same. If you're not sure which program to choose (six sigma or lean six sigma), the Council's website tells you:

Lean Six Sigma simply means a program that includes “lean” principles in the Six Sigma Curriculum. Most (if not all) Six Sigma programs are actually identical to their “Lean” Six Sigma counterparts.

So what this website is saying is that there's no real difference between a six sigma certification and a lean six sigma certification.

And as you compare each of their manuals to each other, you'll find that there is in fact no difference between the white belt lean six sigma manual to the white belt six sigma manual. The same goes for the yellow belt manuals, green belt, and black belt manuals. Other than the cover page, which changes the title to include "Lean" for the lean six sigma manuals, the files are identical. Same chapters, same number of pages, and the same content. Unfortunate.

The Council has an entire page labeled ethical transparency, yet they host a page with misleading content.

Here's the second problem

So maybe the first problem is fine with you. It doesn't matter that the webpage is misleading with its products. Free is free, right?

Well, what if you want a printed product? Many lean six sigma or six sigma certification exams let you bring printed materials into the test. These open book exams might only have the stipulation that the material be bound. ASQ has this requirement wherein the material must have some sort of binding -- no loose papers.

And what seems to be great is that the Council publishes hardcover and paperback options for the complete manual that covers all belts. This option is either $67 for the hardcover or $47 for the paperback. Not exactly free.

Another option is that you can print out the complete manual at over 800 pages. I priced printing this manual out through a UPS store at the cost for printing in black-and-white, coil binding, and front and back covers came to over $90. Again, not exactly free.

So with the second problem, there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Finally, a third problem

I believe the links for the Amazon available text are affiliate links.

What's an affiliate link? Some companies have programs that reward website owners for driving traffic to their website. If a purchase is made on the linked website, then the marketer is rewarded with a fee, usually a percentage of the final purchase. In this case, the marketer is The Council for Six Sigma Certification and the company providing the affiliate rewards is Amazon.

How do I know that the links are affiliate links? This website has a good explanation.

The problem here is that the Federal Trade Commission requires that affiliate marketers disclose they are getting compensated through the internet traffic. Affiliate marketers are supposed to make it clear they are getting paid when you click on their link. This FTC blog explains why we should care about affiliate marketers.

The big problem with the affiliate links and the website not disclosing the link has to do with Amazon's program. When you click on an Amazon affiliate link, the website earns a referral fee for any purchase made on Amazon over the next 24 hours. So you're being tracked, the website makes money off of your purchase, but all the while you're not informed of the business-to-business relationship. This is a form of deception and something that the FTC protects consumers against.

Here's what I think

Although on its face, the website provides free resources ostensibly to help those of us seeking our six sigma or lean six sigma certifications, it's a clever way to advertise for their physical textbooks on Amazon and earn a commission through Amazon's affiliate marketer program.

Aside from several glaring errors in the content (mislabeling of sections, e.g. the "Minitab" section and the "Advanced Control" section), the deceptive practices on this resources page is problematic. They purport to be an organization upholding ethical standards for the quality and process improvement industry, yet they choose to make a "quick buck" through their questionable use of affiliate links and misleading visitors to believe their "free" content is more than it is.

When I first discovered this site, I thought it was a great start towards standardization and ethical practices across six sigma and lean six sigma training providers. Unfortunately, I've soured on this website after a little bit of digging into their "free" offerings.

Bottom line: I recommend staying away from the content that the Council provides.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch.


As always, I like to end my blog posts with helpful resources related to this topic.

  • If you click on this link, it takes you to one of my very first blog posts which lists the materials I used and didn't use in preparation for my green belt exam. These are legitimate reference materials but not free!
  • I recently made this purchase in preparation for my black belt exam. The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook, 3rd Edition
  • Finally, since I'm studying for the ASQ black belt exam, I purchased the print version of the ASQ black belt study guide. You have to go through ASQ's website to make this purchase.

Disclaimer: The links above are not affiliate links!

Did you like this post?

Or find the article useful?

You should sign up for my weekly newsletter, Three Things for Thursday. I write about productivity, lean six sigma, the latest, most interesting books that I'm reading, and any cool internet finds I've come across during the week.

It's one email delivered to your inbox just before the weekend with my latest ideas on productivity, efficiency, and personal effectiveness. Sign up below and enjoy!