One of my favorite elements of Six Sigma is researching a problem and finding the data to justify making an improvement. However, this element can also be one of the biggest barriers to securing support for a Six Sigma program. While practitioners might enjoy the hunt, executives often are looking for quick solutions that can be implemented immediately. They may not be interested in spending the time to research a problem for the true solution.

This rush for solutions can be addressed through coaching. With the introduction of Six Sigma, executives and project managers should be coached to spend more time at the front-end of the project in the Define, Measure and Analyze phases. But a word of caution: Having coached several projects, I have witnessed incidents proving that “more time” can quickly become too much time. Suddenly projects fall behind deadline, forcing implementation to be rushed. Therefore, proper planning of the key elements of solution implementation is needed so that practitioners can avoid a time crunch.

Implementing Solutions

Implementation involves executing the process improvements that have been developed throughout the life of the project. There are key elements of any implementation that primarily include planning: planning the work, planning the tasks and subtasks, planning the time, and planning the people and resources. To these planning elements must be added an understanding step; that is, understanding the “why” and understanding whether or not the project worked.

A thorough implementation plan usually covers at least five elements: The work plan, resources and budget, stakeholders, risk assessment, and quality control.

The Work Plan

The basic objective of any work plan is to establish and communicate what is going to happen and when to ensure that all involved have a common understanding of how the improvements will be implemented. The work plan identifies the changes needed for existing processes, procedures, resources and equipment, and documents how to make the changes. In addition, the plan identifies who will make the changes and when they will be completed. It is also crucial to determine how the changes will be measured and deemed successful.

Resources and Budget

If the implementation of the solution requires significant time, staff additions or other resources, sponsors may want that information included in the implementation plan. Some software programs can automatically generate resource usage charts.

It’s a good idea to determine the budget components that should be captured (salaries, incremental costs, etc.) with managers. Practitioners should also check when and how managers want budget information and if there are particular accounting codes that must be used.

A few questions to think about are: What dollars and other expenses are needed to get the job done? When the overall implementation budget has been approved, how will it be allocated? Often, practitioners will need to indicate categories for the rate at which expenses accrue (such as hourly rate for subcontractors) and for total projected expenses (Table 1). Typical budget categories may include: materials or supplies; telephone/Internet/fax charges; equipment rental or purchase; staff expenses; travel; subcontractors; legal expenses; shipping charges; and photocopying.

Table 1: Sample Budget and Resources

Category Rate Total Resource Planning
Travel 3 trips @ $2,000/trip $6,000 Project Office 20 hrs./wk., starting 7/1 thru 9/30
Legal 10 hrs. @ $350/hr. $3,500 Bryan & Tracee 20 hrs./wk. for 4 wks.
Sub-contractors 40 hrs. @ $125/hr. $5,000 3 sub-contractors Obtain resumes from pool by 6/1
Materials/supplies   $340 Jared & Jeff 40 hrs./wk. for 5 wks.
Total   $14,840    


Stakeholders are the people who will be affected by the project or who can influence it. Examples are managers, process owners, people who work with the process under study, internal departments that support the process, customers, suppliers and the financial department.

A stakeholder analysis tool is often used to identify and enlist support from stakeholders (Figure 1). It provides a visual means of identifying stakeholder support, which can ease the creation of an action plan for the project. It helps the team begin to discover ways to influence relationships and strategies to ensure that the project has the appropriate involvement and support from the key stakeholders. Most important, it helps the team answer the question, “Where does this stakeholder currently stand on the issues/ impact associated with this effort?”

Figure 1: Stakeholder Analysis Tool
Figure 1: Stakeholder Analysis Tool

The following are the five major steps in conducting an analysis of the stakeholders and possible resistance:

1. Identify stakeholders (people or groups). Stakeholders’ interest in the project is twofold: They either influence the change or are affected by the change. Either way, stakeholders are uniquely positioned to help or hinder implementation of the change.

2. Indicate current and needed levels of commitment. The objective of this step is to answer the following: Who are the stakeholders? Where do they currently stand in terms of support of or resistance to the project? What level of support can be expected from them?

3. Identify potential reasons for resistance. Resistance analysis is meant to help the team to understand the nature of resistance that they may face while completing a project and to develop a strategy for overcoming it. It is also important to identify the root cause of the resistance.

4. Develop action plans aimed at reducing or eliminating resistance. These plans are essential in minimizing the potential negative implications.

5. Indicate responsible party and target dates for action plan initiatives. Document who is responsible for completing each of the action plans, with clearly established target dates. Make sure the project plan schedules this task to be completed at the beginning of the project as well as in the implementation stage.

Risk Assessment

In short, risk assessment involves the project team identifying all potential risks of the project implementation and communicating them to the Champion and stakeholders. There are several variations of a risk analysis, but the majority of the templates available call for the same steps:

  • Brainstorm all potential risks that might decrease the probability of successful project completion.
  • Assign a scale (high-medium-low) to both the probability and impact of each potential risk. Multiply combined probability and risk to get total risk.
  • Identify activities that need to occur to mitigate risk and ensure that a contingency plan is in place. Owners should be assigned to both plans.

Make sure that sponsors and key stakeholders are kept up to date about the risks identified and how they will impact the implementation (Table 2). An additional risk question would be to examine what might derail any team members when trying to implement the team’s great ideas. Examples include cost, organizational changes, competing projects, new technology, politics and resource availability.

Table 2: Risk Sources and Categories to Consider

Sources of Risk Risk Categories
Business Case

  • Cost increase
  • ROI lead time increase
  • changing market/regultory environment
  • business commitment
Product/Service Design

  • Porduct performance
  • Product/service cost
  • Business buy-in

  • Resource availability
  • Project complexity
  • Developement time
  • Project management experience

  • Accuracy in VOC
  • Process Capability
  • Process/service sigma levels

  • Cross-functional involvement
  • Process ownership
  • Multiple locations for implementation
  • Change management issues

  • Investment and operating costs
  • Process scaling factor
  • Process control capability
  • Vendor quality
  • Speed and responsiveness

  • Technology experience
  • Design complexity
  • Scope changes
  • Knowledge of business processes
  • Quality methods, skills ane experience

  • Regulatory requirements (SEC, etc.)
  • Privacy, contracts, etc.

  • Vendor/contractor experience and support
  • Multiple vendors/contractors
Program management

  • Program resources
  • Program cost
  • Schedule and project tracking

  • Business-specific
  • Change management/adoption
  • Human resources

After identifying these risks, practitioners should try to overlay these issues against the stakeholder analysis and process maps to see how these tools are impacted and what should be the next steps.

Quality Control

Quality control is a process by which entities review the quality of all factors involved in production. This approach places an emphasis on three aspects:

  1. Hard elements, such as controls; job management; defined and well-managed processes; performance and integrity criteria; and identification of records
  2. Competence, such as knowledge, skills, experience and qualifications
  3. Soft elements, such as personnel integrity, confidence, organizational culture, motivation, team spirit and quality relationships

In this instance, quality control relates to project management, which requires the project manager and the project team to inspect the accomplished work to ensure that it is aligned with the project scope and that changes are sustained. Dashboards present a great picture to assist with success measurement. These dashboards can include control charts, run charts, histograms, Pareto charts and bar charts (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Example of Dashboard
Figure 2: Example of Dashboard

A few of the quality control efforts should take place at the beginning of a project, such as the determination of the key reactive and proactive metrics the sponsor will want to review. My company’s best practice has been to begin the design and development of dashboards during the Define and Measure stages of the project. This can be as simple as creating a one-page document (more if necessary) that demonstrates how the team will present each metric (e.g., run chart, Excel table, etc.) Please note that each metric should tie to a critical-to-quality factor (CTQ). A good rule of thumb to remember is that more is not necessarily better – showing the key metrics only should suffice.

Practitioners should facilitate preliminary discussions with the sponsor explaining how these metrics will replace current reports so that the team is not simply creating more work. It may be preferable to provide a high-level dashboard for the sponsor and a more detailed one for the process owner. Practitioners also should gain sponsor and process owner agreement that these are the right metrics and the right format for the dashboard. After implementation, they should collect data so that an actual dashboard can be presented at the project’s report-out or tollgate reviews.

Increasing Odds of Success

Implementation planning will help ensure that the right resources and stakeholders are involved to execute the implementation plan in order to meet or exceed target dates. Proper planning increases a project’s odds to be on time, in scope and within budget implementation. If variations take place they can be easily accounted for with few surprises.

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