How long did it take to finish your last project? Do you feel like you never have enough time to do your current project because so much else is going on? When I meet with my mentees, I often hear them apologizing for not having made much progress since we met last time. Obviously they care about their projects. The challenge is that they never have enough time. What can we do about it? Here is what I want them to understand.

First, it’s not you, the project Black Belt or Green Belt. You have little control over most of your time. It’s your manager, the sponsors, the organization’s responsibility to set strategy, prioritize projects, and align resources for execution. Without discipline, processes, and leadership, organizations often lose focus, initiate too many changes, and fail to maintain a sustainable project portfolio. As a result, employees are overwhelmed by constant change and ever-increasing workload, and productivity suffers. If this sounds like your organization, you are not alone. A Harvard Business Review article “The Acceleration Trap” (April 2010) revealed in their study that 35% of companies overload their employees with too many activities (overloading), 35% ask their employees to do too many kinds of activities (multiloading), and 30% get into the habit of constant change (perpetual loading). The root cause of such problems lies in the company culture and can only be addressed by the top management.

However, as LSS Black Belts, Green Belts, mentors, and deployment leads, we can help to reduce the overloading.

1. Do not become a source of overloading. Have you seen Six Sigma projects initiated just so someone can get trained and certified? Have you seen DMAIC projects that would be better done in a just-do-it type of project? Did the Six Sigma tools and data analysis used really add new knowledge to your understanding of the problem? Some people accuse Six Sigma of adding more work. In some cases, it is true because of the learning curve. Sometimes, we failed to use Lean Six Sigma properly. But in any case, we have to be mindful of people’s capability and capacity to learn and use the methodology.

2. Constantly look for opportunities to prioritize. Remember the Pareto principle. Identify the 20% that contributes to the 80% impact. The earlier we find the 20%, the less we have to work later on. For example, here are some questions I typically ask during a DMAIC project:


Who are the top 20% most critical customers?

Among the CTQs, which are the 20% most important ones to our customer and business?


Where are the 20% process steps or sub-processes that contribute most to the delays?

Which 20% of product types or process outputs contribute to most of the problems?


What are the 20% potential causes that are causing the majority of the problem?


Where can we spend 20% of our effort to solve 80% of the problem?


What are the 20% metrics that are most informative of the process or performance?

Obviously the “20%” is only used to drive the point of prioritization, and many similar questions can be asked in any work. In my experience, all these questions help cut down the work significantly and keep people focused on the best opportunities. When you develop a habit of asking these types of questions, it will become increasingly clear what data are most valuable, and why you want to use them in the first place.

There is a common misconception that people are trained in Six Sigma to collect data and analyze problems. It’s true that we do that. But it is the questions that drive the thought process that make all the difference in the real world, not individual analytical tools or methods. I evaluate a person’s Six Sigma skills by the questions they ask, not the tools they used.

So what have you tried to reduce or avoid overloading with Lean and Six Sigma? What worked and what didn’t?

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