I was running outside in the back country on a beautiful morning. It reminded me of the summer days when I was training for marathons with groups of runners. Those were some most memorable days I ever had, a lot of hard work, sweat, pain, but also full of fun.

What does it have to do with Lean Six Sigma? The similarities are striking: courage, discipline, commitment, determination, the community, the thrill of accomplishments, and most importantly, the inspiration that changes our lives forever.

As inspiring as finishing a marathon is, it’s not for everyone. Neither is Lean Six Sigma.

Whether we start running or decide on a business improvement approach, such as Lean Six Sigma, setting a realistic goal is essential. Sounds simple. But it’s not. I have observed failures in both runners and businesses because they did not have a goal based on reality. The results ranged from disappointment to damaged health of the person or organization.

Developing a realistic goal is much like developing a winning strategy; both require deep insight about ourselves or our organization, in addition to understanding external factors. A vision or desirability of an outcome is only a necessary condition, but not a goal by itself.

I knew a very diverse group of runners with a wide range of goals, from competing in a 100-mile ultra marathon to socializing and drinking beers after the run. The runners who had most of the fun and success (by their own definition) seemed to be those who were realistic about themselves. In contrast, some runners dropped out of running because of disappointing results or competing priorities, and some others were unable to run for months due to serious injuries caused by over-training. Implementation of Lean Six Sigma seems to follow a similar pattern.

There is nothing wrong with setting an audacious goal. But we must understand that a bigger goal requires a higher level of personal or organizational commitment and faces a higher level of internal and external risks.

In my opinion, many organizations are not ready for, or compatible with, the basic philosophy of Lean Six Sigma. Therefore, they will not fully realize the benefit of LSS methodologies unless they change fundamentally their culture and practices. However, this does not mean they will not benefit from LSS at all. As almost everyone can benefit from some running or similar exercises, almost every organization can benefit from implementing some LSS. The question is “what implementation is right for you?” Do you have a SMART goal based on your organization’s reality?

If you are considering introducing Lean Six Sigma to your organization, I suggest asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a goal specifically designed for YOUR organization or even target groups? Simply copying others’ deployment rarely works.
  • Do you understand the level of commitment required, including time, resources, and leadership? The ultimate payoff may take years before many people lose their patience or faith.
  • Do you understand the price you have to pay, including the opportunity cost? There are always competing priorities, opportunities, and alternative choices in strategy.

Sometimes, people say “The change is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.” If you think the few hours in a marathon is long, what do you think about the months or years of discipline and hard work before getting to the start line of a marathon?

Is your organization prepared and ready to embrace Lean Six Sigma? What is your goal?

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