Projects are the core of every Six Sigma initiative. Identifying the right projects, having skilled people on board, and providing a proper environment for project execution determines whether the intended process and business results can be achieved and whether Six Sigma will be perceived as a powerful approach to contribute to business success.
A relatively simple 10-point checklist can be used for ongoing project evaluation at specific milestones as well as part of the lessons learned exercise after project completion. Anticipating potential project failures also can help drive an effective project selection.
1. Link to Strategic Imperatives
While it is not crucial that every project has a strategic dimension, it is important that the majority of the projects impact one or more of the business’s high-level metrics and goals (which are often called Big Ys or KPIs). While not every project will result in a dramatic change of performance, completing a number of projects should have a visible impact that is recognized across the entire business. Maintaining a focus on the strategic drivers of the business is important to ensure that the leadership remains engaged in the concept of continuous inprovement.
- Low – The project has no visible impact on any of the key metrics for the organization.
- Medium – While the project should have an impact one or more of the key metrics for the business, it is not clear exactly how the project will help impact key metrics.
- High – The project is crucial to accomplishing the key goals the organization has defined. Success of the project will clearly help to impact critical metrics. The project is built into the strategic planning and the goals/objectives of the organization.
2. Application of Six Sigma Tools
Applying the tools and concepts included in the Six Sigma framework correctly while following a logical thought process is a critical success factor of the overall initiative. While a project might be successful without using any of the tools correctly, over time the correct application of the tools as part of a systematic and logical problem-solving process yields superior results.
- Low – While the project team used some of the Six Sigma tools correctly, the storyboard reveals that the team neither has a thorough understanding of the individual tools nor followed a logical and consistent thought process. There are prominent questions that the team simply overlooked.
- Medium – The storyboard reveals that the team has followed a logical thought process. Most tools have been used correctly, and in instances where the team chose an incorrect approach the impact on the overall project is negligible.
- High – A review of the project demonstrates that the team has used the tools in the Six Sigma toolkit appropriately. The overall storyboard suggests a logical flow and ability to prioritize effectively.
3. Active Sponsor Engagement
The degree to which the sponsor is actively engaged in the project is a leading indicator of success for the project. The sponsor’s role is to help scope the project and guide the team through the process to ensure business results.
- Low – The sponsor has had only marginal involvement. Interactions with the team have been infrequent and inconsistent, missing several team meetings and tollgate reviews.
- Medium – While the sponsor has been somewhat engaged, it seems evident that their engagement was primarily reactive. Although they frequently attended team meetings, it is evident that completing this project is not high on their list of priorities.
- High – Highly visible engagement of the sponsor as demonstrated by leading the initial project definition effort, holding a project kick-off event, conducting regular project briefings, participating in tollgate reviews, removing roadblocks for the team, and serving as an ambassador for the team across the organization.
4. Team Actively Engaged
While the Black Belts and Green Belts are expected to lead the team, they need to actively engage the team members to achieve buy-in as well as transfer skills and knowledge of the Six Sigma process.
- Low – The team leader is the main force. While some team members may help with specific tasks, others seem to have only a nominal role. Overall, the team members have no clear understanding of the process and the tools being used. Attending team meetings is clearly not a priority for key team members
- Medium – While team members attend meetings and support the team leader, there is a visible lack of engagement among parts of the team. While some on the team understand the overall process and specific tools, others are visibly less involved. It seems that the team leader is completing most of the specific tasks with little involvement of the overall team.
- High – Team members are visibly proud of being part of the team. They see the team leader as a facilitator and expert whose role is to leverage the individual talent. Work is distributed among team members according to interest and capability. The team has a clear understanding of the overall process as well as the purpose of the specific tools.
5. Broad Organizational Awareness of the Project
Engaging the entire organization in the Six Sigma process is a crucial element of overall success. Each team has a responsibility to ensure that the key stakeholders are aware of the project. Executing an effective communication plan is a key element of the overall project plan and responsibility of every team member.
- Low – The project is virtually invisible to the rest of the organization. No formal communication plan is in place.
- Medium – While the team has developed a communication plan, it seems that there is very little awareness of what the team is trying to accomplish. Both the sponsor and the team leader provide frequent updates on the project, but it seems that across the board few employees know what this project is about and what the impact on their own area of responsibility will be.
- High – The team has a detailed communication plan and every team member is actively engaged in its execution. Across the board, almost every member of the respective organization is aware of the project and has an understanding of how it will impact his or her area of responsibility and plays an active role in communicating what is learned and the best practices into the community body of knowledge.
6. Project Delivered the Anticipated Results
The ultimate test for each project is whether it delivered the business results and customer impact it was chartered to achieve. While the real impact cannot always be exactly determined at the start of the project, the project has to deliver against the goals defined in the project charter.
- Low – The deliverables of the project do not meet the expectations laid out in the charter. No discussions have been held with the sponsor relative to updating the charter throughout the course of the project.
- Medium – While the project has made substantial progress towards the initial goals defined in the charter, overall the deliverables fall short of expectations. This shortfall was recognized early on and discussed with the project sponsor, who agreed to move forward with the project regardless of this issue.
- High – The project delivered the promised results. Over the course of the project, the team has updated the charter in a timely manner and made sure that all the key stakeholders are aware of the changes.
7. Project Completed on Time
Completing projects in a timely manner is a leading indicator for the success of the deployment. Short project durations help demonstrate the power of the approach to a broad audience as well as help energize the team. Long durations often indicate a loss of interest from key team members or loss of active sponsor engagement as well as an inability of the team leader to prioritize.
- Low – While the project was eventually completed, the overall duration exceeded the initial schedule by far. In addition, the team did miss the deadlines for some of the tollgate reviews. At least one of the phases has taken more than twice as long as originally planned.
- Medium – While the project has been completed within a reasonable amount of time, an analysis of the tollgate reviews indicates that the team has been struggling to complete specific phases.
- High – The team completed the project within the allotted time and an examination of the project timeline suggests that the project leader has managed the project effectively. The team used the Sponsor effectively as a sounding board to prioritize its efforts and managed the timeline well.
8. Successful Transition of Ownership to Process Owner
Transitioning ownership for the performance of the improved process is crucial to ensure that the project gains are sustained and the new methods are actually being used. A successful team engages the process owner early on in the project and ensures that they buys into the team’s findings. Once the project is complete, the process owner is expected to manage the new process using the control systems designed by the team.
- Low – No process owner has been identified and a formal hand-off has occurred.
- Medium – The team has identified a process owner however there are disagreements between the team and the process owner on how to manage the process once the team dissolves.
- High – A process owner has been identified early on in the project, and the team has made sure that the process owner is engaged in crucial decisions. The process owner has signed off on the implementation plan assembled by the team at the end of the Improve phase. The process owner has accepted responsibility for the changes implemented by the team and is using the new methods and control systems to continuously improve the process.
9. Improvement Sustained Over Time
Oftentimes, the impressive improvements attained over the course of a project cannot be sustained in the long run due to a failure to manage change effectively. Successful projects result in improvements that can be sustained in the long run.
- Low – Three months after completion of the project, process performance has dropped significantly. The data suggests that either the changes introduced by the team have not been adopted by the organization or the team has failed to address the true root cause.
- Medium – Three months after completion of the project, some of the initial improvements have not been maintained. While overall the process performance is significantly better compared to the baseline of the project, the data seems to suggest that not all of the changes have been adopted by the organization.
- High – Three months after completion of the project, process performance has stabilized. The results have been sustained over the entire time span, and it is evident that the changes have been adopted by the organization. The process owner is actively engaged in managing the new process and is driving continuous improvement efforts to extend the benefits already attained.
10. Replication of Results
Projects are often scoped so that they can be completed within a relatively short period of time which in turn leads to concentrating on one specific aspect of the overall issue. While this approach is prudent it also suggests that once the initial project is completed there is often a significant opportunity to replicate the results in other areas. An effective team realized the potential for replication and ensures that a proper plan is in place to replicate the results.
- Low – The review of the project suggests that the team has not conducted a thorough analysis of whether and how the results of this project could be replicated.
- Medium – The team has identified opportunities for replicating the results of the original projects but does not have a comprehensive plan that suggests how the organization can make this happen.
- High – The team has developed a thorough plan that not only shows how the improvements could be replicated but also who will be involved. Individual team members have reached out to other areas and obtained a commitment of the respective leaders to implement the suggestions. A change management plan has been put in place to prevent the “not invented here” syndrome.