It would be great if every organization had senior management fully on board from the start of a Six Sigma program. Think Larry Bossidy at AlliedSignal and Jack Welch at GE. But not every organization is so lucky; many improvement efforts start at middle or lower levels. A middle manager gets a vision about how Six Sigma could dramatically improve operations. Or proactive front-line workers seize the initiative to map out and improve their process. Unfortunately, isolated improvement projects rarely make it to full-blown organization-wide Six Sigma initiatives. However, there are a couple of ways to turn on management support for a continuous improvement program organization-wide.
While continuous process improvement is widely regarded as worthwhile, dedication of time and money to do it is often elusive. Why? Continuous improvement – especially the large-scale variety – has few constituencies at the start. Senior management is reluctant to dedicate time and other resources for improvement when there are “products to get out the door” and short-term financial pressures. Front-line workers feel it takes time away from their “real job” and that “management has never paid attention to me in the past, so what makes this different?” And middle managers balk at projects starting in their area for fear of embarrassment or punishment for years of poor-performing processes.
But there are two proven, successful ways to get a foot in the door for organization-wide Six Sigma efforts that address the reluctance of senior management:
Their common underlying principle is that if Six Sigma benefits can be shown on a small scale, then senior management will buy into the program and dedicate resources organization-wide. The key difference is that Stealth Six Sigma begins under the radar scope of senior management, while Limited Commitment Six Sigma begins with a try-it-and-see blessing of senior management.
The objective of a Stealth Six Sigma project is to demonstrate significant improvement benefits while maintaining a low organizational profile. A key to success for producing dramatic results quickly comes from combining Lean waste elimination principles with Six Sigma statistical tools. In one high-tech manufacturing company, a two-week improvement project increased annual plant capacity by $225 million. The team used Lean principles and process maps to streamline processes through the circuit board test and engineering departments. This led to a broader deployment of Six Sigma.
While there are many variations, a general Stealth Six Sigma approach is:
|Activity||Who||Approximate elapsed time*|
|1. Identify and clearly articulate the gap between desired and actual performance.||Core group (one to three people interested in improvement, including a knowledgeable Lean/Six Sigma person)||1-2 days|
2. Articulate needs for the project:
|3. Use project selection criteria to evaluate potential projects. Starter criteria for a candidate project include:
Other custom criteria should be added to demonstrate Six Sigma’s value to management.
|4. Finalize the project organization (typically front-line workers within a process and possibly middle managers). Anticipated minor political battles require a Champion. All involved receive training/education.||“||1-2 days|
|5. Address the problem, using DMAIC where appropriate. (“Where appropriate” because the emphasis is on rapid results, not methodology adherence, e.g., Lean principles like waste elimination and 5s and simple quality tools like Pareto charts, checksheets, and run charts should be implemented instead of force-fitting tools like FMEA and DOE requiring potentially lengthier data collection/analysis timeframes.) When DMAIC is used, teams should avoid the frequent mistake of spending too long in the DMA part of the DMAIC cycle.||Improvement team (core group plus two to four others involved in the process)||1-5 weeks|
|6. Present results to senior management and request organization-wide roll-out.||“||½ day|
*Represents approximate time during which activity occurs, not actual time required. For example, Activity 5 may require 2 days of work, but may be spread over 5 weeks.
The objective of a Limited Initial Commitment Six Sigma project is to address several issues of executive interest and show dramatic improvement quickly. Senior management is actively involved up front in articulating business challenges and scoping three improvement projects. If benefits materialize, then Six Sigma is rolled out to the organization. Senior management does not need to commit to a full-blown, organization-wide effort from the start. General steps for Limited Initial Commitment Six Sigma are:
|Activity||Who||Approximate elapsed time*|
|1. Engage senior management in identifying two to four problems or opportunities.||Core group (one to three people interested in improvement, including a knowledgeable Lean/Six Sigma person)||1-5 days|
|2. Collaboratively develop project selection criteria and establish three projects that meet them. Starter criteria for the three-project portfolio would include:
Other custom criteria can be added to demonstrate Six Sigma’s value.
|Core group and senior management||1-4 days|
|3. Finalize the project organization (typically middle managers and some front-line workers who have knowledge of a process). All involved receive training/education.||“||1-5 days|
|4. Identify key stakeholders and develop ways to have them commit to the teams’ success.||Improvement team (core group plus 10 to 15 others organized into three improvement sub-teams)||1-3 days|
|5. Address the problem using DMAIC where appropriate (emphasis is on rapid results, not adherence to a methodology. E.g., using Lean principles like waste elimination and 5s, simple quality tools like Pareto charts, checksheets, and run charts instead of force-fitting tools like FMEA and DOE requiring potentially lengthier data collection/analysis time frames.)||“||2-9 weeks|
|6. Conduct periodic status checks to ensure project progress and financial returns. If a project is progressing well, conduct interim celebrations and consider awards of spot bonuses in cash, stock options, dinner/theater tickets, etc. (It should be made clear these won’t continue forever, and are intended to stimulate continuous improvement interest.)||Improvement team and senior management||Throughout|
|7. Present final results to top management and request a roll-out of Six Sigma to the organization.||Improvement team||½-¾ day|
*Represents approximate time during which activity occurs, not actual time required. For example, Activity 5 may require 5 days of work time, but may be spread over 9 weeks.
Some people may confuse Limited Initial Commitment Six Sigma with the “pilot approach” of yesteryear’s improvement projects. This approach differs in three key ways:
Ten factors critical to overcoming initial senior management Six Sigma reluctance via either Stealth or Limited Initial Commitment Six Sigma are:
Stealth Six Sigma and Limited Initial Commitment Six Sigma are good approaches to getting top management on board as strong supporters of a Six Sigma program, but they are not foolproof. Thus, implementing them requires the full attention and extra care from those involved.