How often are your DMAIC projects terminated before their completion? While it’s a benefit to make early decisions in the Define or Measure phase to stop unpromising and/or non-priority projects, it can be difficult in the later phases after the organization has invested in significant time and resources.

The problem is not unique to continuous improvement projects. In pharmaceutical research and development where I work, only a small fraction of projects lead to final products on the market. Stopping the less promising projects early enables the organization to reallocate its limited resources to those of the highest value.

To create a culture of disciplined decision-making in project prioritization, there have to be organizational policies and processes that support people impacted by those decisions. What do I mean by that?

For instance, what happens to the GB or BB candidate who is working toward certification when his or her project was “de-prioritized?” This happened recently to one of my mentees. She could not finish her implementation and show improvement. Therefore, she will have to complete another project to get certified. Although she appreciates the learning experience, others may resent or resist the decision.

It surely sounds reasonable to not certify a candidate if they did not complete the project and realize the business benefit. But what if the right thing to do is to terminate a project midway? How would such ineligibility affect people’s decisions? Would they be able to objectively assess the project’s impact or chance of success? Have you seen projects that should have been terminated but continued to consume organizational resources?

So what is the right policy? Let’s look at two common criteria used to determine if a candidate can be certified.

1. Have they delivered a minimum level of business benefit?

2. Have they demonstrated a defined set of leadership behavior and mindset?

The first criterion measures what they achieved and the second measures how they did it. [By the way, the second is not measured by tools used but how they think and behave. LSS Certification based exclusively on knowledge tests and/or tool applications completely defeats its purpose and is worthless. But that’s a different topic.]

The first criterion seems easier to measure, more objective, and more tangible. The second seems harder to measure, more subjective, and less tangible. Although meeting both criteria is ideal, the practice in my observation has been naturally more toward the first. However, in my opinion, we need to shift the emphasis to the second because that’s what we need to create the right culture, where people have the courage to make decisions for what’s right.

As much as we champion for quantitative assessment in LSS, we have to recognize the fact that numbers only facilitate our understanding of the world, and the potential pitfalls of Management by Numbers. [see HBR for an interesting column “Don’t Get Blinded by the Numbers” ] Just as essential in understanding customer needs, qualitative judgment is required in identifying and selecting the right leaders.

As in my previous blog “The End of the Beginning,” the goal of certification should not be to recognize the accomplishments but to select and develop future leaders of the organization. It is the leaders who shape the organization’s culture and its future performance. Expressed in a Y=f(x) relationship, if Y is the business results, the leaders with the right behavior and mindset is the critical x. In the complex and uncertain business world we operate, the right choice in the critical x does not guarantee, but improves the chance of success in Y, and a poor selection of the x inevitably leads to failures in Y.

Whatever the policy we choose, make it consistent with the primary and ultimate intent of LSS certification. Never forget how it is felt by the individual stakeholders and what hidden messages it sends to the organization.

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