When Lean Six Sigma (LSS) initiatives fail they often leave behind a wake of damage. Over the years, we have seen several common characteristics of a Lean Six Sigma failure. Below we offer solutions to those most common findings.
1. Think bigger.
Although precise workflow modeling is fundamental to Lean Six Sigma, the narrow scope of LSS can create partially-defined workflows that do not account for all business systems and processes across an organization. Lean Six Sigma efforts tend to focus on specific, often narrow projects that attempt to solve a single troublesome problem. We suggest that leadership instead think in terms of solving workflow problems, as defined by business systems linked through business processes.
2. Reach broader.
Rather than commissioning a small team of subject matter experts with LSS experts, think instead of broad engagement and distribution of authority and accountability. This philosophy is consistent with the business system, business process improvement scope. Project improvement is good, process improvement is better, business system improvement is best.
3. Demystify the tools.
We often see LSS efforts get caught up in the use of tools and their lack of accessibility to the typical user community. We find sophisticated tools are rarely necessary. Using the 80/20 principle, put basic problem-solving tools in the hands of the people doing the work, because they know best what is wrong with the work. Finding problems isn’t that hard, fixing them through those who do the work is what matters.
4. Teach employees to fish.
Which is why giving employees the tools and support they need is so powerful. Focusing on equipping the many with basic tools to improve performance is a far better investment than equipping a few with more sophisticated tools.
5. Adopt a common language.
Lasting improvement, of course, includes a change in culture to systematically search for answers and test different solutions. This change includes adopting a common improvement language that all employees understand and utilize.
6. Solve the puzzle.
Organization workflow is effectively a large puzzle, where each piece represents a task. For most businesses, these pieces are jumbled high into departmental piles, lacking connectivity, continuity, and alignment. These artificially created organizational silos cause dropped balls, missed handoffs and disrupted workflows, while performance suffers. Begin any performance improvement by solving the puzzle first, that is, organize tasks into logical and connected workflows identified in business processes and business systems.
7. Abandon projects.
Instead of projects commissioned to solve problems, move to continual process improvement, where improving work is integrated into every employee’s day. This approach looks at the bigger picture in a way that forces organizations to rethink workflow, address communication silos, and proactively measure the most important cross-boundary indicators.
8. Connect the dots.
Workflow is a series of organizational SIPOC models (supplier, input, process, output, customer) with a host of internal suppliers and customers. We believe best practice for serving external customers is to first understand and align with internal customers. Every process must have a purpose that includes delighting its customer, both internal and external.
9. Align the metrics
The measurement of meaningful performance, while very straightforward conceptually, is typically missed in most organizations. Successful measurement involves understanding purpose, expressing a goal, and determining what measure will communicate whether that goal is achieved or not. Measure what matters, not what’s easy.
10. Integrate management.
Truly adopting the recommendations above means integrating the organization’s performance management system through business process structure.
Overcoming a Lean Six Sigma Failure.
Sustainability may be the most important consideration for the long-term success of performance improvement. Many improvement projects begin with great momentum, do a good job getting process definitions in place, identify problems that need to be solved, implement measures and analytics to solve those problems, and then fall down during implementation. Sustainability requires engagement, ownership, and monitoring.
At the end of the day, it is the work that delivers an organization’s value proposition to create profits. It sometimes appears that leaders miss that work must consistently be improved for the organization to thrive. A Lean Six Sigma failure occurs when missing this critical element. By focusing on a more holistic workflow based performance improvement model, leaders can overcome the shortcomings of LSS to create substantial and sustainable improvement.
Challenge the way you think about work.
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- How to map business processes
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