“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind.” Seneca (4BC – AD65)
Many people have heard of Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. Perhaps fewer have actually worked with Lean Six Sigma methods and tools such as DMAIC and DMADV, worked to identify and eliminate leans 7 wastes. Even fewer will have achieved some fantastic project successes for their organisations, and a small number of the above will have become certified Green, Black or Master Black Belts.
But very few will have worked on developing a sustainable approach to improvement within an organization, taking several years to put in place the building blocks needed to develop the required competences and achieve the culture required.
So, how does one go about achieving sustainable performance improvement? At SigmaPro we have studied this topic for many years, both first hand as practitioners ourselves, working with organisations directly to help them improve and change, and researching the topic in partnership with a leading business school. We see 6 key areas that need consideration when planning a Lean Six Sigma deployment.
Work out why
The first phase is to work out why. Why do you want to do achieve sustainable performance improvement? If you can’t answer this question, if you don’t know what harbour you are making for, then like Seneca’s quote, no wind is the right wind. In other words the direction you go in won’t matter, it makes no difference.
If we consider a conceptual model of organisation improvement, it has 3 components, where you are now, where you want to be, and the direction you must go in to get from where you are to where you want to be.
This simple model is at the heart of most strategic approaches.
From a performance improvement perspective, the SigmaPro research has identified 4 organisational competences required to create a sustainable approach to improvement. These are strategic thinking, operational excellence, data driven decision making and continual improvement. The current and future level of competence can be defined, the culture mapped, and in conceptual terms a plan can be built to move from current state to future state, in the same way as Lean teaches us to model the future state of our operation. A plan can then be created of the who, what, where and how, with milestones along the way.
If organisations develop these competences, and have suitable culture and values, sustainable performance improvement is achievable.
Establish fit to strategy
So, having done this work it should be straightforward to move easily along the chosen path, developing the competences, creating the culture and achieving a sustainable approach to performance improvement? Well, actually no. Like any voyage, it is not just a question of having a map, a destination, a compass and setting sail.
Before setting sail there a number of factors to consider.
Firstly, what is the overall strategy for the business? If this is to build the business up over the next 3 years and then sell it to a competitor then a long term plan to develop an improvement culture may not be a sensible option, and is unlikely to get a great deal of support. Better to focus on building value in the short term. On the other hand, if the business is well established, and the strategy is to improve market share through satisfying customers then continuous improvement is a very sensible and indeed necessary approach. It is likely to get good support. Any initiative to create a sustainable improvement approach must alignment with existing business objectives.
If considering using Lean Six Sigma approaches, then there are two ways of looking at things, the approaches can either be used strategically or tactically. A tactical approach means using lean six sigma approaches to solve a particular problem, for example high scrap, long lead times or poor customer service. A strategic approach means developing people in the organisation whilst at the same time improving important areas of performance, and building the required culture over time.
It is also important con consider how Lean Six Sigma integrates with any other initiatives within the organisation if these exist. Human Resources may already be working on developing the required culture, and if this is being done successfully then Lean Six Sigma approaches can be integrated to become part of the overall culture change programme.
Decide on the resources
When considering Belts, there are two basic options, to have them full time or part time. Larger organisations may decide to have full time Black Belts, but for smaller organisations this may provide difficult to justify. Bear in mind the resource in results out equation, research proves that full time belts will get better results faster. It is also important to consider whether to recruit people with the right skills (Green or Black Belt), or develop them internally.
The original Six Sigma approach was a strategic development programme, take the best people and train them in advanced tools and methods, and get them to work on important improvement projects. Of course there is also a case for bringing in new people with fresh ideas and new skills.
Decide deployment approach
The final choice revolves around how the deployment is to be started. There are two basic choices, “Big Bang”, or “Pilot”.
The Big Bang approach is for Lean Six Sigma to be rolled out across the whole organisation at once, with Black Belts and Green belts trained all at once, and a significant number of projects started in various different areas. This is more risky, but allows early benefits to be more widespread, and ensures that no areas are considered favourites.
Using a “Pilot” approach means the deployment is contained within one area of the business, for example one site, one department. This approach is less risky short term, and allows the results, strengths and weaknesses to be evaluated prior to roll out. The danger is that as it is contained within a smaller area that it may not get support from all areas, and therefore not be sustainable.
There is in fact a third option, stealth! If an individual believes in the Lean Six Sigma approaches, but cannot get real support for either a big bang or a pilot, then they can just start using the approaches without explaining what is happening, doing small projects in their own area. Once some success has been achieved then the approaches can be explained and spread to other areas. Takes a lot of effort from an individual and not a recommended approach unless there is no alternative!
Create the plan
Having decided on the big questions, it is then time to get into the details and create the plan.
Our first recommendation is to involve people within the organisation, and do not try and do it alone. It is easier to sell if more people are behind it, and the workload can be spread.
Remember that the organisation needs to build maturity over time; it will be hard to promote some of the more advanced methods such as Design for Six Sigma or Design of Experiments if the basics such as performance measurement are not in place. The plan should have a series of milestones over time that reflect progression through different stages of maturity.
Do not forget the business case, there has to be a return for the organisation in doing the work involved to train, coach people and run projects. Fundamentally these initiatives are about making the organisation more competitive, and driving better financial performance, if you can’t work out how what is being proposed will contribute to this, don’t be surprised when people question it.
When planning out the actions required to start implementing new methods and tools, if there are already processes in place to do some of the things required, for example communication within the organisation, then use these processes, do not throw them away and start again. Don’t “throw the baby out with the bath water”.
When setting targets for improvement do aim high, provide a challenge for the organisation. Six Sigma in particular was always about breakthrough improvement, not about making small changes.
Lean Six Sigma promotes a structured, data driven approach, so the approach to implementation should be structured and data driven, it must use the behaviours being promoted. Plan the approach with this in mind.
Remember it’s about people
The last piece of advice however, is to never forget it’s about people. People at all levels of the organisation will be required to make the initiative work, select the projects, run the projects, approve the spend, sign off the benefits.
The Q x A= E equation tells us that overall effectiveness will be a function of the technical quality of the programme we put together, and the cultural acceptance for the programme from the people in the organisation. So take as much time on the people aspects as on the technical aspects. Communication, seeking support, involving people in key decisions will take time but pay back enormously in the long term.
If your deployment planning considers the six key areas above then it will stand a great deal more chance of succeeding.
Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community