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Implementation Case Studies The Organic Growth of Six Sigma at John Crane Inc.

The Organic Growth of Six Sigma at John Crane Inc.

Deployment is one of the most critical elements of a successful Six Sigma program. Top-down support, Champion training, wide publicity and Six Sigma awareness training for all employees are usual components. In addition, employees selected to be Black or Green Belts must be trained, and projects strategically selected. But deployment is not a destination. Rather, it is a process where, normally, one input leads to an output, that in turn leads to another input. The deployment process for a company can be tracked and measured. However, simply completing each step does not guarantee a successful Six Sigma program.

John Crane, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of mechanical seals and associated products, is an 87-year-old company. Family-owned during its first 67 years, during the last 18, it has had three different parent companies. As ownership and leadership changed hands, there were a number of flavor-of-the-month initiatives and programs to improve the business, including Quest teams, re-engineering projects and management accountability groups. For Six Sigma to work at John Crane, it had to be more than just an add-on. It had to be introduced and implemented in a manner that allowed it to become part of the fabric of the company.

In 2002, John Crane initiated a Six Sigma program that contained traditional deployment elements, yet the elements were not deployed as part of a sequential process. Starting Six Sigma was more like planting a field than building a program. Various deployment elements were “planted” simultaneously and grew together with the company. Looking at John Crane’s current Six Sigma program, it is difficult to trace back to find the specific impact of any of the separate deployment elements. John Crane grew an “organic” Six Sigma program.

The dictionary provides many definitions of the word organic. Three of them can be used to explain the organic growth of Six Sigma at John Crane:

  • Affecting the structure of the organism
  • Forming an integral element of the whole
  • Systematic coordination of parts

Affecting the Structure of the Organism

Belt Selection: One of the first decisions John Crane made was to offer Black Belt training in-house. This required an initial Black Belt class of at least 10 employees. Senior staff members were asked to nominate at least one person from their area. A nominee was to be a key manager who was effective working with people and who had a wide business perspective. The senior staff was assigned to coordinate with their managers and encourage allocation of 50 to 80 percent of the employee’s time to the Black Belt program. The Black Belt’s job responsibilities were to be delegated or reassigned to other people so the nominee could accept this two-year Belt assignment.

A safety net existed for those in the program since they were not asked to completely give up their “day job.” The nominated Belts had no experience with Six Sigma and wanted assurance that if Six Sigma turned out to be like other improvement programs, they would still have a job. From a senior staff perspective, providing this assurance was important and in addition, keeping Belts in their work area guaranteed that Six Sigma was spread throughout the company and no single department owned the program. 

Senior Staff Participation: Senior staff participation in Black Belt training was a second decision which insured that Six Sigma was being integrated into the structure of the company. The company president told his staff that he wanted each of them to attend the five-week Black Belt training program. In the first training class were the vice president of operations and the vice president of human resources. They did not work a project, but they attended every class and did all the homework. In the second training class were the president and the vice president of information technology. Involving senior staff in this way ensured a deep understanding of Six Sigma concepts, tools and the DMAIC process. 

These decisions guaranteed employees that Six Sigma was not just another project or a business fad being pushed on them by the company. The investment of time from the top and the reassignment of duties for Belts demonstrated a serious commitment. As the training rolled out, employees could see that Six Sigma was growing from within the company 

Forming an Integral Element of the Whole

Three Six Sigma components relate to this definition of organic – project selection, project reporting and White Belt training.

Project Selection: Before training started for the first wave of Black Belts, the senior staff met and identified a number of business problems they wanted solved. Belt training projects came directly from these problems, setting the precedent of connecting projects to core business issues. It did not go unnoticed. Joe Waltasti, manufacturing engineering supervisor and certified Black Belt, commented, “I’ve worked on a lot of projects where we thought we got good results, but no one higher up ever knew what we did. Now, when I work on a project, I know that senior staff looks at the results.” 

Subsequent projects have continued to be driven by the senior staff. Problems can be identified at lower levels, but they always go through a review by senior staff. The primary criterion for project selection is not a pre-determined amount of hard dollar savings. And, there are no Green Belt or Black Belt projects – there are simply projects. Some look like traditional Six Sigma projects where a defect is easily identified and the solution is unknown, while others are “just-do-it” projects where resources are needed to implement known solutions. Other projects are centered on office issues or are transactional in nature. Often those do not have much data at the onset of the project. However, the common denominator for pursuing a project is that it will ultimately improve the business. Six Sigma provides the thought process and problem-solving tools. 

Project Reporting: An integral part of Black Belt training, reporting is still a key component today. Projects are reported through regularly scheduled Six Sigma review meetings and electronically. During training, senior staff and project Champions attended the segment of the training when each Belt reported on their project’s progress, the Six Sigma tools used and what they learned by using a specific tool. After the training ended, senior staff scheduled regular meetings every other month to review project progress. This type of meeting regularly reminds the Belts that the projects they are working on are important to the business, and that senior staff has an on-going interest in finding solutions. 

The electronic reporting is based on an in-house adaptation of SharePoint software. It is not reporting just for the sake of reporting. It provides structure to guide projects and keep a wider audience informed. Each Belt to posts his or her project, the problem statement, team members, Champion, process owner, financial representative, key metrics and financial metrics. Because the system was developed in-house, it has wide access and ease of use. Belts can communicate with team members by posting team agendas and team minutes as well as data, process maps and other team materials. Final reports and all project realization reports are posted. Team members can even examine the final reports from other teams. 

White Belt Training: From the start, the company made a conscious decision not to offer company-wide employee Six Sigma training for several reasons. First, it was felt that for knowledge of Six Sigma to be relevant, it had to grow from project experience. Further, publicizing Six Sigma before employees worked on a project team or had witnessed the results of successful projects would make it look like a flavor-of-the-month initiative. Belts worked projects for more than three years before the company offered White Belt training to team members. Today, there is still not a plan for company-wide Six Sigma publicity, though every person who serves on a Six Sigma project team is required to attend a three-day White Belt course. In the initial three years, some 155 employees participated on Six Sigma teams. While the growth of Six Sigma is slow, it is deliberate, with the focus on completing projects and building on each success. 

Systematic Coordination of Parts

All of the previous elements have become part of a systematic coordination of parts that make up John Crane’s Six Sigma program. Two elements, however – financial representatives and in-house Black Belt mentoring – require more explanation. 

Financial Representatives: Every Six Sigma team is assigned a financial representative by the vice president of finance when the project is approved in the SharePoint tracking system. These representatives are selected from all areas of finance and accounting. The purpose of assigning financial representatives is twofold. First, the team gains financial expertise as they work to determine the dollar value of their project. Second, the financial representative learns Six Sigma from hands-on experience and gains in-depth exposure to company work processes. The financial representative stays with the team project during the realization year and reports on savings to senior staff. This is a systematic coordination of parts that keeps a focus on projects, which in turn keeps focus on the needs of the company. The financial connection reinforces that Six Sigma is part of the way the company does business. 

Black Belt Mentoring: The company moved into Six Sigma without an in-house Master Black Belt. During training, the company utilized the instructor as a project mentor. When the training ended, however, there still was a mentoring need. A group of three Black Belts took on the responsibility for providing ongoing mentoring. They met monthly with assigned teams to provide encouragement, support and a Six Sigma process check. Today, two of these Black Belt mentors are working on their Master Black Belt certification. Developing Master Black Belts from within the company means that the project focus for Six Sigma is reinforced. And, the in-house mentoring ensures that Six Sigma belonged to the company and not to outside consultants. 

Conclusion: It Really Is Top-Down

Most Six Sigma literature stresses that Six Sigma will not succeed in a company without top-down support. At John Crane, leadership has set the example and the tone for success. The perspective and skills of senior staff have enabled Six Sigma to grow beyond a program – to an organic part of the business.

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