Lean Six Sigma projects are a learning journey and, unfortunately, despite practitioners’ best efforts, projects can become delayed on their way to completion. A number of reasons may contribute to project delays, such as the occasional unforeseen organizational crisis due to business, operational or personnel issues. The conventional management response to delays is to arrange for more detailed project reporting, followed by reviews looking at milestone achievements versus original targets. This strategy can result in a reprioritizing of resources, a reinforcement about the importance of the method, a reallocation of responsibilities or a reconsideration of whether Lean Six Sigma is a good fit for solving the problem at hand.
While these actions may address the symptoms of the problem, they do not always address the basic root causes of delays. In a busy, multi-site organization, the resolution of delays can take additional time (extending the project timeline), consume specialist resources and lead to frustration among the Lean Six Sigma teams. However, in the following case study, a project team discovered the benefits of putting aside time to work on this issue. By using a current reality tree, the team was able to analyze progress slowdowns and determine solutions for keeping projects on track.
To gain more information, the Lean Six Sigma team that investigated the causes of project delays started by looking at:
This information provided some insight; however, in a dynamic organization, where actual processes are not always transparent, the real root causes and controlling factors were not evident. Matrix management structures, sub-contracting arrangements, differing personal work styles and geographical separation added even more layers of complexity. The consequences of these factors tended not to be visible because they were ingrained habits of individuals.
The team decided to use a current reality tree because they believed it would be a more objective and efficient method for drilling down to the root causes of delays. This is how the tool works:
The objective in creating the current reality tree was to identify the few root causes of delays that are under the organization’s control and to develop appropriate countermeasures. The team did not address other issues – such as changing customer requirements or insufficient resources – as they were considered boundary conditions.
Besides identifying root causes, the team experienced a number of other benefits from constructing the current reality tree:
At this stage, the current reality tree included about 70 UDEs. The UDEs could be categorized into five main groups:
The team presented the main conclusions from the current reality tree using a force-field diagram, which summarized the root causes. A sample of the current reality tree is shown below.
The advantage of using this approach was that it offered a rigorous, objective method to understand the root causes of slow progress within Lean Six Sigma projects. After completion, the deployment team felt that the somewhat fuzzy topic had been transformed into operational tasks. They had defined achievable actions that were supported by rigorous, logical and transparent paths to the objective of reducing additional controversy.
The workload and commitment for this type of analysis should not be underestimated. Because it reflects the culture of the entire organization, the current reality tree will inevitably be complex and will require several days to construct. The tree diagram requires an owner who is dedicated to the task; beyond this person, the deployment team as a whole must be committed to the rigor of constructing the UDEs and their numerous interactions.
Maintaining the momentum of a Lean Six Sigma program is crucial in order to reduce the doubt, skepticism and cynicism that can creep in when the program appears stalled. The effort required for this use of a current reality tree is far less than typical alternatives, such as additional training, more use of consultants or personnel shuffling – none of which address the root causes. Also, this technique was preferable to a re-launch process, where the original deployment kickoff is repeated with additional emphasis; if issues were missed on the original launch, they also may have been missed in the re-launch. Even for healthy deployments, improving the speed of project execution brings more financial benefits and an improved bottom line.