What does Lean Six Sigma offer MBA students?

by Scott Luton, Partner, Riverwood Associates

I have been involved in the Association for Operations Management (APICS) since 2006, most recently as President of the 600-member Atlanta Chapter. APICS is a not-for-profit industry association that focuses on Operations and Supply Chain Management. One of the big reasons for my involvement is my passion for bringing professionals together to share best practices, exchange perspective and learn.

That same passion led me and my partner Peter Sherman to establish Riverwood Associates, an Operational Excellence training & consulting firm. One of the key products that Riverwood Associates provides the Southeast market is Lean Six Sigma certification training.

Through APICS Atlanta Board of Directors volunteerism, Kelli Crickey, director of the Mike Cottrell College of Business’ Cottrell MBA program, and I connected and worked on several initiatives together, including student plant tours and a dedicated dinner meeting session where a supply chain executive with a large food distribution company shared his experiences with a MBA class from UNG. Kelli was always looking for ways to add value to the MBA experience for her students.

Those shared experiences led Kelli and I to discuss a collaborative Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification workshop, delivered by Riverwood Associates and hosted by the University of North Georgia. This one-day workshop delivers a fundamental, practical overview of Lean Six Sigma methodology to its participants. Key concepts and tools are reinforced with individual and group exercises.

What does Lean Six Sigma offer students that are already experienced in the professional world? Before that question can be accurately answered, let’s define Lean and Six Sigma:

Lean focuses on value through the relentless elimination of waste and acceleration in the velocity of processes. Value is defined in terms of what is important to the customer.

Six Sigma is a well-defined, customer-focused management system that strives for the delivery of near-perfect products or services. Six Sigma’s goals are to reduce defects and variation so that processes are more consistent and predictable. Originated by Motorola in the 1980s, Six Sigma translates into 99.9997 percent quality or yield.

When we combine Lean and Six Sigma, we get something powerful — a business improvement methodology that maximizes shareholder value by achieving the fastest rate of improvement in Cost, Quality and Customer Satisfaction. It focuses on reducing waste by streamlining operations and reducing defects.

Back to the original question: what does Lean Six Sigma offer professional, experienced MBA students? From a tactical perspective, the methodology gives these students a new array of proven tools, such as the DMAIC framework, Visual Management, Standard Work, Process Mapping, Root Cause Analysis, data analysis tools, and much more. Some or all of these tools have been utilized across all industries to drive improvement, from manufacturing to healthcare to professional services.

But more importantly, in a more strategic sense, Lean Six Sigma training will teach students how to make better data-driven decisions, solve problems more effectively and look at their organizations through a different lens. Furthermore, through a public workshop at UNG, students will be a part of intriguing cross-industry discourse and networking, as professionals from various industry come together for a day of learning and best practice-sharing. The conversation is just as powerful as the content!

A one-day Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification workshop comes with no guarantees of results. But for those that engage themselves and genuinely look to apply the tools to drive positive change, this workshop will be an incredible first step in a lifelong Continuous Improvement journey.

On August 15, Riverwood Associates, in partnership with the Center for the Future of North Georgia in the Mike Cottrell College of Business, will be hosting Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certification on UNG’s Gainesville Campus. Click here for more information.

Incoming MBA Students Prepare for Retreat

Starting August 19, the Cottrell MBA program will begin its next cohort of business leaders seeking a Master of Business Administration degree.  However, before the fun begins this fall, students are invited to the Cumming campus to be introduced to one another and receive their first experiences as future graduates of the Cottrell MBA program.

“The MBA retreat provides an opportunity for students to get to know each other,” said Kelli Crickey, Cottrell MBA Director for the Mike Cottrell College of Business. “By allowing students to meet each other and participate in teambuilding activities before starting the semester, students have the opportunity to learn more about themselves regarding experiences, leadership styles and teamwork skills.”

On July 26, incoming MBA students are required to attend the Cottrell MBA Retreat, a two-day event that allows students to become acquainted and become familiar with their strengths and weaknesses regarding leadership and teamwork.  Starting at 4 PM on that Friday, students are introduced to each other and receive information regarding the program including an overview, program structure, expectations for each student and graduate of the Cottrell MBA and opportunities to meet with administrators from the Mike Cottrell College of Business.  Following the initial meeting, students attend a dinner where they have additional time to socialize and engage with their soon-to-be classmates.

After an overnight stay on Saturday, students participate in leadership assessments and team building activities throughout the day.  Both the assessment and activities provide each student with guidance on where their strengths and weaknesses as business leaders lie and opportunities for improvement to prepare for the upcoming academic year.  In the afternoon, students break and are then encouraged to invite a guest to dinner that evening near the Cumming campus.  During dinner, students will be encouraged by a guest speaker (TBA) on the expectations of MBA graduates in the market place.

German Business Researcher to Talk with MBA Students

Late last year, our dean, Dr. Donna Mayo, and Dr. Ruben Boling visited Germany to foster our on-going relationships with companies and universities in the region.

While at Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, they met with Susanne Fleischhacker, a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Management. Susanne’s teaching focus covers problem solving and communication, business strategy, change management, and case study seminar.

We are honored to have Susanne as a guest lecturer in Dr. Boling’s strategic management in a global environment course for the 2013 cohort on Monday, March 4. We welcome students from the 2014 cohort to join the session. Additionally, we have invited the Mike Cottrell College of Business faculty and guests from the local business community.

Susanne will discuss her experiences and research related to international business strategy. Specifically, she will address biases and encourage an engaging and interactive discussion. She will sketch out some of the research involving narcissism and discontinuous change.

Dr. Jim Crupi Talks with MBA Students

One of the ways our MBA students learn to become more effective in their careers is to talk with accomplished executives. Our Dinner & Dialogue sessions allow students an opportunity to dine informally with an executive, listen to a presentation on a specific topic, and then engage in and Q&A session with classmates and the executive.

Last week, Dr. Jim Crupi came to visit with our MBA students. Dr. Crupi is the founder and President on Strategic Leadership Solutions and also a North Georgia graduate. He has served as an instructor at the elite Army Ranger School and also as a consultant to the Office of the President of the United States along with work for many Fortune 1000 corporations, including Coca Cola, Turner Broadcasting Corporation, AT&T, HP, Siemens, Intel, Phelps Dodge, Motorola, and IBM.

Everything Changes

In the business world, change keeps coming more and more quickly. Dr. Crupi opened his conversation with students with a striking video about social media.

Dr. Crupi explained that our reactions to the concepts in the video indicate how we’ll handle change, and then he went on to explain ways that stagnant thinking can prevent businesses and individuals from achieving higher levels of success. He summed it up with a simple statement:

“Change is hard because people OVERESTIMATE the value of what they are giving up and UNDERESTIMATE the value of what they may gain by giving it up.”

Leadership Matters

Continuing on the topic of how social media and technology has changed business, Dr. Crupi explained how technology changes us as individuals. Even waiting 15 seconds to receive our order in the drive thru, we are so averse to being disconnected that we’re checking our iPhones, texting, checking Facebook, tweeting, anything to fill up the wait time, no matter how short it is.

Keeping our attention divided this away also impacts our effectiveness as leaders. Dr. Crupi explained that when we’re overwhelmed with information we begin to “substitute belief for knowledge and hope for expectation.” The people we lead will also make this substitution, but rather than micro managing to compensate, we should be giving greater freedom.

“Freedom produces responsibility,” Crupi explained. Then, he went on to detail how he and a few other dedicated business leaders launched the Middle East Leadership Academy by not allowing perceptions to discourage them from their goal. Today, the organization is thriving.

Dr. Crupi took questions after the presentation and talked with students and faculty.


What Will I Learn While Earning an MBA?

As we host Information Sessions for North Georgia’s MBA program at the University Center, we find that prospective students ask one question most often: What will I learn in the program?

The answer to that question requires far more than just a list of classes and study topics. Instead, think about what you’ll learn (and, more importantly, how you’ll use it) in terms of three over-arching concepts: Leadership, Teamwork and Global Perspective.

We’re not just teaching concepts. We’re teaching you how to learn new skills and continue to develop yourself as a business leader throughout your career, not just the 20 short months you’re at the University Center.


You don’t become a great leader just by reading a book. You need practice. You need to see first-hand how your actions impact others. You need to learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. You need to witness leadership that works and adapt those ideas into your own personal leadership style.

Our curriculum provides constant opportunities to explore and practice leadership. You’ll participate in dinner-and-dialogue sessions with seasoned executives to learn what has (and hasn’t) worked in their career, their company and their industry. You’ll participate in mentoring sessions and coaching seminars to learn new techniques and receive feedback on your leadership performance.


No one person can achieve success all by themselves. Everyone has a team – whether it’s employees, volunteers, or something as simple as a friend supporting your efforts and encouraging you.

At North Georgia, you’ll learn first-hand how to be a good team member, as well as a good team leader. You’ll practice teamwork in physical activities such as high- and low-ropes courses. You’ll also participate in simulations. Most importantly, you’ll work on projects throughout the curriculum that must be completed and delivered as a team.

Global Perspective

Even small companies operate globally these days. Whether they import raw materials from suppliers or export finished products overseas, or even compete in local markets with global firms, businesses need to understand global concepts in order to succeed.

Our MBA program includes opportunities to study business abroad – particularly in China. For those students that choose to stay close to home, our curriculum also includes global business cases and challenges to analyze. Several courses in the program also include global simulation exercises.

What Do You Want to Learn?

You also have an opportunity to tailor your own curriculum through a variety of electives offered in the summer semesters. So, if your focus is on becoming a CPA, you’ll have a selection of accounting courses that will qualify you to sit for the CPA exam. If you’re focusing on leadership to advance your career, you can choose courses that strengthen your expertise in organizational behavior, creativity, and management.

So, what will you learn when you earn a North Georgia MBA?

Only you can decide, but we can help you get started. Register for an upcoming Information Session at NorthGeorgia.edu/mba.