Today a friend sent me this article “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong” from the Wall Street Journal. The author seems to feel that most Lean Six Sigma projects fail, but has some very interesting lessons learned.
I agree with your article when it comes to how weight-loss and Six Sigma fail. They both do fail just like a spring, But I disagree with how often they fail. I have seen and read hundreds of successful projects that show Six Sigma successes[i]. I have not read them but I feel there are probably just as many in weight loss success as well. Yes some are successful in several projects before the “fad” wears off, but what really makes them fail. Both Weight Loss and Six Sigma, failure is due to a lack of commitment to a cultural change not just a few projects. I think you found that out too in your lessons learned[ii].
Lets look at your four lessons learned:
- “…the extended involvement of a Six Sigma or other improvement expert is required of teams are to remain motivated.” This is very true. IF the Expert is pulled on any improvement project usually it means failure. Where you have a company that has committed to a Six Sigma cultural change, pulling the expert means closure of the project and an explanation from top management (not a lower level) of the reason it is no longer a viable or priority project. All Six Sigma project should be a high priority project.
- “…performance appraisals need to be tied to successful implementation of improvement projects.” This also is true. Every project, in a company committed to a Six Sigma cultural change, has a sponsor who insures that the project is aligned to company goals and objectives that directly impact his or her departments performance. This means failure of the project is failure to meet the goals that they have committed to and YES their performance appraisals are tied to the success of those goals and the perforance of their department.
- “… improvement teams should have no more than six to nine members and the timeline for launching a project should be no longer than six to eight weeks.” Since every project should be aligned to key company goals, it would mean that top management would what this project done NOW and not later. Delay would only cost the company money. If that is not the case the project should be dropped. By the way the “DEFINE[iii]” step helps insure this IF it is done right. Also in Define not only is the start decided but also the expected completion date and team membership. People, the most important resource of a company, need to be allocated to maximize their skills. In Six Sigma teams need to be small (5-10) so that the rest of the company can meet its customers demands. Even that many has a big impact on a department. So each team has to be carefully selected to represent all that will be impacted, but large enough to accomplish the task in the time allotted. This is all done in DEFINE with the “expert” and the Sponsor.
- “…executives need to directly participate in improvement projects, not just “support” them.” When a company has truly committed to this cultural change and deployed Six Sigma properly you will find every project has a director-level sponsor identified, duties specified, and sufficient time committed and scheduled in advance. Here the sponsor is part of the project team. That is how important the project is to the company.
If Six Sigma is implemented right as a business cultural change in the way they address issue and problems that hold them back from achieving their goals, then everyone get the idea and a voice. It becomes an improvement method everyone is focused on, understands and likes because they have an input into the process.
Quality Progress, American Society for Quality, www.quality progress.com
Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, Lionheart Publishing Inc., www.psqh.com/digital
Quality Digest, Quality Digest, http://www.qualitydigest.com/content/six-sigma
Quality in Healthcare, ASQ Healthcare Division, www.asq.org/qhc
The Quality Management Forum, ASQ Quality Management Division, www.asq-qm.org
[ii] Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong, Wall Street Journal | Business, January 5, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB20001424052748703298004574457471313938130-lMyQjAyMTAwMDIwNTEyNDUyWj.html
[iii] The First step of DMAIC – Define, Peter Bersbach, Bersbach Consulting, October 27, 2009, http://www.sixsigmatrainingconsulting.com/uncategorized/the-first-step-of-dmaic-%e2%80%93-define/