It has been over 5 years since I moved from R&D and manufacturing roles to continuous improvement, both leading projects and supporting Lean Six Sigma deployment. As a CI professional, what I enjoy most is the opportunity to work on the most challenging issues facing the organization, to learn and improve myself by practicing the methodologies every day, and to see the impact on the organization and people.I cannot see myself working without the methodologies and wish I learned them earlier. However, my personal experience also shows that Lean Six Sigma is hard and often very frustrating. It takes more than a few weeks of training and a couple of projects to make someone a Black Belt.

There are many ways a LSS project or deployment can fail. But the worst (and most unfortunate) failure mode in my opinion is not selecting the right people for a continuous improvement role, especially at the beginning of a Lean Six Sigma deployment. Without applying the rigor of Six Sigma, I have seen significant differences in results between those I call “the natural” Black Belts and those who are not, even in the same organization or external environment where they face the same deployment issues, such as sponsorship and project selection.

The naturals seem to have all the qualities required to be an effective Black Belt BEFORE they are introduced to LSS. They help develop sponsorship and improve project charters. They are change agents enabled by Lean Six Sigma methodologies. At the other end are people who “just don’t get it,” despite personal efforts and mentoring. They passively follow the steps and mechanically apply tools, and many are only able to reach a superficial level of understanding of the methodologies.

Who are those naturals? Simply put, they have technical aptitude and leadership skills. They naturally have critical thinking skills, are good with numbers, and are interested in learning and improving. More importantly, they are motivated and resilient, see problems as opportunities, and understand the human side of continuous improvement. For a deeper understanding of candidate selection, I suggest reading a few books on LSS deployment and talk to an experienced deployment leader.

Above, I called poor candidate selection the worst failure mode because it’s correctable. In his classic book, The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done, Peter Drucker introduces,

The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superiors, and one’s own strengths. These strengths are the true opportunities. To make strength productive is the unique purpose of organization. It cannot, of course, overcome the weaknesses with which each of us is abundantly endowed. But it can make them irrelevant. Its task is to use the strength of each man as a building block for joint performance.

So the challenge for the leaders is to identify those who have the strength in continuous improvement, those I call the Six Sigma Type, and make them more productive.

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