The Pause that Refreshes?

Some of our Black Belts were talking the other day about how many projects they’ve got going, and (in spite of focusing our projects on specific value streams) how they sometimes feel pretty fragmented, getting pulled from project to project.

We discussed whether it would be reasonableto pause for a short while, to ensure that project follow-up is being completed and all the t’s have been crossed and the i’s dotted, within a particular value stream or project area.

Our Black Beltsare training our Process Owners as we go – project by project – and sometimes the POs need extra help to get the data collection and monitoring going. In our healthcare organization, much of the data is collected manually by chart review or observation, so it’s a little more cumbersome than pulling reports off of the computer (although, granted, that has its own MSA issues!).

We’ve been pushing the Black Belts to complete a certain number of projects each month, and sometimes it seems as if the goal of quantity is overshadowing that of quality.

I wonder whether this samefeeling isfamiliar toBlack Belts at other organizations, or are we unique?

I’d appreciate any comments you’d like to share!

Comments 6

  1. Mike-Carnell

    The idea of pushing anyone to finish a project regardless of it being a Six Sigma project or any other type of project to satisfy a quantity target is no different than a Production Manager that is slamming product out the door to hit production targets and doesn’t care about quality. It will take a very short time for the entire organization to figure that out and your program will lose credibility.

    The issue generally (although I don’t know in your specific case) is that whomever is running the program either doesn’t care how projects are loaded into the pipeline or doesn’t know how to manage project mix. In general in the shotgun blast deployment people think that all projects are equal and they all take the same amount of time. That seems a little ludicrous for someone in Six Sigma who will discuss another processes variation and not their own. All Six Sigma projects have a mean of 6 months and a std. dev. of 0? The six months is a myth as well.

    How can you push anyone to close a project unless you have established some type of stratification criteria and data on what the different types of projects take to close (by phase – trying to manage at the end of the project is pretty short sighted as well). Once you understand that you can load your pipeline so that you don’t wait all year for everyone to complete their 5 projects in the last month of the year.

    This entire discussion becomes even more ludicrous when people sign up to hit financial targets, don’t know how to classify projects, don’t schedule the results and then can’t tell the difference between an annualized and realized benefit. It has to be completely embarrassing to show up with some huge annualize benefit and nothing realized.

    I wrote an article in the May 2003 (page 28) issue of Six Sigma Forum Magazine that addresses this issue.

    If you are interested I can send you some information on how to stratify projects (separate issue). Contact me at [email protected].

    Good luck

  2. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks for your comments, Mike. We did start out with an expectation (partly from our consultants, partly self-inflicted) that we could do all projects within a very specific timeframe. Also, it was one of those obvious-by-hindsight learnings that we had to go through, to get to the point where we weren’t scheduling projects back-to-back in the same area (without allowing time for the new process to completely roll out). Our leadership has great enthusiasm for the methodology, and we wanted to say "yes we can" every time we were asked to do a project, so now we are learning to take the deep breath and re-evaluate so that we can properly define the next project before plunging in.

    Thanks also for your article reference!

  3. M. Rodriguez

    I used to work at one of the leading companies that are recognized by their Six Sigma programs. At one point, they linked compensation to the number of SS projects done. As a result, everyone was doing ill-conceived projects that didn’t delivered the promissed value, and without properly following the SS methodology. After a couple of years of that, they realized that they had taken the wrong approach and eventially killed that initiative.

    So, your organization is not unique when trying to implement SS across.


  4. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks M. for sharing your experience. Our BBs asked for project bonuses but at this point we haven’t implemented that – if it would lead to project quanitity over quality maybe that’s a good thing!

  5. H vd Haar

    Sue ,

    I have been a BB,MBB,QDL and Director Operational Excellence for more then 10 years at one of the leading company’s on Lean Six Sigma . If there’s one thing i learned it is " you get what you measure " meaning that if you measure the number of projects or the cycle time you will get that but it does not mean anything from a bottom line impact.
    Some basic concepts for a proper alignment of your BB’s and business goals as well as achieving big impact is focus and dedication.
    Focus : Ask the following question “ what is it my business wants to achieve in the next 3/5 yrs “ , then quantify this in measurable terms , then baseline yr current performance and look at the gap between current and desired. Quantify the gap’s in business impact ( $ , customer satisfaction ect ) and you will have your focus area’s . From then on the BB’s will be focussed on closing the most important gap’s through multiple lean six sigma projects.
    Dedication : not only dedicated BB’s but more important dedicated leadership. Leadership has to be convinced about the huge potential lean six sigma has, they have to understand that some projects might take more time , and they have to walk the talk , and celebrate successful project again coming from a business impact ( keep in mind 1 focussed project delivers more then multiple add random projects)
    Success with your mission

  6. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks, Hans, for your comments. This is the very area we are trying to look at now – leadership understanding and commitment to the process. Focusing on the business impact is will gain us far more than focusing on "Black Belt productivity" or "number of project" metrics.

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