Not Just Statistics: Implementing the Cultural Change

When contemplating a Six Sigma initiative, it is easy to visualize a group of technically skilled individuals running around with pocket-protectors and laptops, statistical software running 24/7 and operational problems and defects disappearing at a rapid pace. In reality, Black Belts learn not only statistical tools and Lean techniques, but also how to apply them in the midst of the culture change that takes place when Six Sigma is deployed.

In the course of completing their training project, it is common for Black Belts to encounter initial resistance from members of the organization impacted by the project. There is usually some apprehension regarding the objectives of Six Sigma, fear of the unknown and resistance to change. In order to effect change, Black Belts must work within the existing system to build an understanding of the project objective between the project team and the organization:

  • Lack of Six Sigma knowledge by the project team is rectified by discussions and teaching.
  • Resistance to change is countered by candor and honesty.
  • Uncertainty is addressed by providing a vision of the future.

When Six Sigma is deployed, the entire organization is impacted by the culture change. Here are some lessons learned from within the Six Sigma community:

Project Champion Commitment

An all-embracing commitment from project Champions is required. There are several ways to encourage this commitment. These include attaching a portion of performance-based compensation to the success of the Six Sigma projects and recognizing the Champions’ participation by publishing statistics such as the number of projects completed, defect reduction impacts and the number of dollars saved. Lack of support from project Champions is detrimental to the Six Sigma initiative because they are usually the cultural leaders within a company. They not only identify projects, they also assign staff for Black Belt training, allocate resources and are ultimately responsible for the success of the program.

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Resistance and lack of participation from project Champions and process owners is best addressed with education and training, and by helping them understand the benefit to their operations. Support is gained by outlining expected results such as reduced processing time, reduction in defects, higher productivity and better quality of the end product. Any apprehension that blame is assigned for past mistakes should be eliminated at the beginning of the Six Sigma initiative. Project Champions should feel comfortable describing the problems, opportunities and defects within their operations.

Information Technology Engagement

In a mature transactional environment, a majority of Six Sigma project solutions require automation of processes. Willingness of the Information Technology (IT) department to share a commitment to the success of Six Sigma is pivotal. Engaging IT is sometimes difficult because a Six Sigma project is typically viewed by IT as just another project that will undergo evaluation in conjunction with all other projects in the company. Black Belts can improve their chances for success by presenting a clear definition of the project. Understanding the internal IT processes is helpful as this allows Black Belts to work with IT professionals to identify the financial benefits expected from a project. Support from the project Champion and process owner can accentuate the urgency of a project during the prioritization process.

Ultimately, extending the Six Sigma culture change to the IT department will greatly assist in the success of the initiative. Providing Six Sigma training to IT professionals provides advantages: First, it contributes to measuring and reducing cycle time in the project process, reduces defects, lessens the need for design rework and assists in resource planning. In addition, the training can breed a sense of partnership with business users. Understanding the strengths and limitations of the business tends to generate more sensitivity to the overall business picture and defines the role of IT in the organization.

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Communicating Goals and Celebrating Success

Communication and celebration are key components in any culture change initiative. The organization must communicate its vision of the future environment, where processes run with few or no defects. Communication of facts, challenges and successes provides a continual connection to the vision and assists the organization in understanding the roles and responsibilities of Six Sigma practitioners. Six Sigma projects are team efforts. Accordingly, the organization should celebrate project successes with the entire organization. This is a great way to energize the employees and further their ability to feel comfortable in the new culture, a culture that they helped build.

In summary, the goals of a Six Sigma deployment are to spread knowledge, create a more efficient and productive organization and to develop best practices. Cultivating a change in culture is essential to these efforts and thus the success of Six Sigma in any organization.

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