Black Belt project would end with a concise set of action items being turned over to the transition owner who would then swiftly implement them and achieve the desired results. But for many Six Sigma practitioners in transactional environments, simply handing off the project does not guarantee that the gains will be realized. Even in the best Six Sigma implementations, challenges often arise that delay or even prevent the implementation of project team’s recommendations.
Here are some of the common causes of realization problems:
- Lack of process owner buy-in – This can happen if the project team leader does not involve the right process owners from the start of the project and keep communicating throughout each phase of the project.
- Lack of Champion support – Do the team’s recommendations involve significant resources or changes to company policies and procedures? If so, this can cause a lack of support or even resistance from a Champion.
- Lack of cooperation from other areas/departments necessary to get solutions implemented – This can happen when the solution to Department A’s problem requires a lot of work by Department B, which sees little or no benefit for itself.
- No clear transition or process owner to turn the project over to – When the process crosses several departments and there is no single beginning-to-end owner, there may be no one to turn the project over to.
- Lack of accountability – If the area or department impacted is not held accountable for the success or failure of the project, it may focus on other priorities.
- Lack of process owner priority – The team has the process owner onboard, but the area is drowning in work or an urgent issue arises and the project gets moved to the back burner.
- Solutions require IT resources but are prioritized too low – This can happen if the project goals are not aligned with company priorities. For example, the project may greatly increase customer satisfaction, but IT priority is set by financial savings.
- Resistance to change – Every organization has some built-in resistance to change. Change requires effort, while keeping things the same is easier (in the short-term, at least).
- Language barriers – A Black Belt may not speak the language of management. Too much Six Sigma jargon will muddle the message.
What Can a Black Belt Do?
Well, a number of techniques can help Black Belts and their teams overcome obstacles and bring a Six Sigma project to realization. Among them are these 11:
1. Quick Wins: As early as possible in a project try to get some “quick wins” to energize people and show them that the process works. Look for a simple process change that can be implemented swiftly and have some impact on cycle time, defects or waste. Often, something will pop out during the process mapping exercise that can be used for this purpose.
2. Form Good Relationships: Use leadership and interpersonal skills to form good relationships with key players in the company. A good Black Belt will find something in common (a favorite sports team, activity, kids, etc.) with those key players and establish a rapport. This can make a huge difference in how accessible and responsive others are. It never hurts to socialize a bit when the opportunity arises.
3. Remove a Thorn: Sometimes the key people a Black Belt is working with have a minor problem related to the project that can be solved. It may not move the team’s metric, but fixing a small issue that has been a thorn in the side of a key subject matter expert or process owner can translate into cooperation on the team project.
4. Demonstrate Clear Financial Savings: Does the project have the potential to create revenue or generate significant savings for the company? If it can be clearly demonstrated that hard financial savings will come from the project, others will sit up and take notice. Nobody wants to be labeled as a person who stands in the way when serious money is on the table.
5. Get Results: Success breeds success. If a Black Belt has a project that goes well and makes a difference, others will recognize that that Black Belt is a person who can get things done. Every Black Belt should make sure that their successes get the attention they deserve.
6. Be Flexible on IT Solutions: If a team is relying on a large IT project to resolve an issue, it may be difficult to get the resources and priority necessary to get timely results. Consider both short-term and long-term solutions. Is there a manual work-around or smaller IT effort that can achieve some/most/all of the process shift that is needed? Always search for interim solutions in these situations. In many cases, with rules, procedures and technology constantly changing, long-term solutions either lose effectiveness by the time they are implemented or never materialize at all.
7. Lean on the Champion: A Black Belt should not shy away from a one-on-one session with the Champion. Be candid about the progress of the project and ask for his or her help in getting the necessary attention or priority needed.
8. Go Up the Ladder: Sometimes it is necessary to bring issues to a higher level in order to get them resolved. If a team has a problem with a particular employee, area or department that cannot be resolved through other means, then the case should be made to someone higher in the chain of command. Depending on the situation, the Black Belt leading the team can do this or ask a superior to do it through his or her own channels.
9. Start an Implementation Team: Sometimes a Black Belt needs to take steps to manage or guide the implementation of transition plan items until they are completed. This can be especially true if there are a large number of actions needing completion or extremely complex solutions. It is a good idea to have weekly or bi-weekly meetings with key members from the necessary departments. Get agreement on tasks, set expected completion dates, and push for commitments to meet those dates. This also is a good place to discuss and resolve problems that inevitably arise during implementation.
10. Send Out Control Charts to a Wide Audience: Regular distributions of control charts to a wide audience can be very effective. Along with the chart, a Black Belt can note steps taken to date to achieve a process shift and those actions that are still outstanding. If the chart shows no process shift, the parties responsible for the outstanding items will usually be motivated to get them done.
11. Use a Scorecard or Dashboard to Monitor Process: Does the area have an existing scorecard or dashboard that tracks the project team’s primary metric? If so, the team leader can use this (in the same fashion as a control chart) to spotlight defect rates, cycle times, etc. that are below the desired level. This is especially useful when the scorecard/dashboard gets distributed at the executive level.
Things to Avoid
In addition to the ideas and techniques that can be used, there also are some things for Black Belt team leaders to avoid:
- Do not take setbacks or delays personally.
- Always be professional in dealings with others.
- Take great care with the tone of emails. (Insistent and persistent is OK, but angry words seldom work.)
- Try not to make enemies. (Black Belts do not have to be friends with everyone, but they should be businesslike even with those who are difficult.)
Conclusion: Do Not Be Discouraged
And finally, the most important thing a Black Belt should remember is to not get discouraged. If these problems were easy to solve, they would not be Six Sigma projects to begin with. Remember to use both technical and interpersonal skills together to achieve the best results. Always search for new ways to push forward. Get the most possible out of every project in terms of professional growth. If there are obstacles in the path to project realization, being both persistent and patient will bring success.