Lean Six Sigma, a process-driven program to reduce defects, relies heavily on a decidedly process-free emotion: passion. A motivated, driven team can make the difference between success and failure.

I know about the power of motivation – I learned to walk again with braces and crutches after a 55-foot fall that left me as a paraplegic. While an unmotivated person may give up at the first sign of adversity, a passionate person will push through tough obstacles.

A Lean Six Sigma program that incorporates motivation at all phases will not only ensure passionate teams and management buy-in, but it will also deliver better business results in the end. These 12 steps will help foster passion and motivation, and make any program a success:

1. Find a Passionate Executive Sponsor

A passionate sponsor shows up for meetings, encourages the team and gives them the tools to succeed. Without one, a Lean Six Sigma program will not go anywhere. To motivate the sponsor, align Lean Six Sigma projects with the company’s senior-level objectives.

2. Assemble a Passionate Team

Pick project team members who will benefit from an improved outcome – often the process owners are the best option. The team should have a proven leader who is respected by the team members.

3. Align the Project Charter with Strategic Initiatives

The project charter should contain everything a sponsor needs to make the decision to support the process improvement, including the project’s expected return on investment, problem or defect, goal, scope, schedule, resource requirements (including capital), and a list of team members. Try changing the charter – and aligning it with the company’s strategic initiatives – if the ideas are not gaining executive support.

4. Set Realistic Goals

Goals should always be attainable; the only thing worse for a team than poor leadership is unrealistic goals. For any Lean Six Sigma program, the goal is to eliminate or reduce the costs of poor quality. Although some of these costs are difficult to measure, all are important. For instance, lost sales are hard to track because it is impossible to know for sure if better quality could have improved sales. The goal, however, must still be to reduce lost sales.

5. Apply Lean First

To really motivate a team, get rid non-value-added activities – such as excessive approvals, creativity-stifling control mechanisms and redundant forms or reports – before moving on to Six Sigma projects.

6. Implement a Phased Approach

In a relay race, each team member runs one quarter of the distance so that each runner is fresh and can dash rather than stay at pace. Phasing a project, with team members that rotate in and out, maintains energy and passion. First, get the low-hanging fruit so that the executive sponsor can see immediate returns. Then apply Lean practices to get rid of non-value-added activities. Next, apply Six Sigma to the parts of the process that are harder to improve.

7. Instigate Awards

Ideally, an award program costs the company nothing because the company is simply giving a portion of the savings or revenue gained through Six Sigma back to the employees who brought about that savings. A good award program should include dinners, plaques, accolades in front of peers, and, of course, money.

8. Maintain Motivated and Accountable Leaders

A motivational Lean Six Sigma program requires leadership to give credit for accomplishments and assume accountability for failure. This cannot be overemphasized. High morale normally comes from motivated leadership; when morale is low, poor leadership is almost always to blame.

9. Create an Amnesty Program

If leaders chastise employees for revealing failure, employees will hide poor processes – they may lie and become apathetic. When employees are brave enough to speak up, they should be rewarded. This approach will help team members gain confidence and get better at process improvement.

10. Introduce Team Members Properly

Send emails to the team that establish the accomplishments of each team member. This gives the members confidence that the team is talented and knowledgeable. People want to work with winners, and they also love reading about themselves. If people believe in themselves and in the team, they are much more likely to succeed.

11. Schedule Follow-Up Meetings

Monthly or quarterly follow-up meetings or conference calls are crucial. Such meetings should also be held at the close of every phase of the program, and when the team seems to be stalling or hitting barriers. These meetings should be well attended by team members and senior leaders, and attendees should be ready to recommend improvements, including the stipulations needed to complete them. When the executive sponsor and team members are ready for the meeting, it motivates the attendees.

12. Share Positive Results

This will ensure management buy-in and will show employees that Lean Six Sigma really works. If employees do not see the positive results, they may feel like their work is getting them nowhere – a discouraging thought. Sharing results will show employees that they have made a difference.


By using these tips to include passion and motivation in a Lean Six Sigma project, program leaders can ensure that any process improvement starts off on the right foot and follows through to success.

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