Many quality managers have read about and seen the benefits of Six Sigma but are unsure how to approach their senior leadership about the opportunity because they do not have a concise package of information to convey. Fortunately, there is a series of tried and true steps which can be taken to sell management on the benefits of Six Sigma. These are the steps blazed by pioneering quality professionals who successfully sold management on the methodology and eventually deployed an effective Six Sigma program.
The Importance of Leadership Buy-in
Without leadership buy-in, there is little hope for Six Sigma adoption. A company’s executives must believe and support Six Sigma’s potential with dollars, words and actions just like any other corporate objective or goal. Executives are looking for a return on investment (ROI), risk mitigation and competitive advantage. Therefore, to convince them of the value Six Sigma will bring to the organization, it is important to present the benefits as a business case. The major steps to developing and presenting the business case are:
- Identify and evaluate your audience.
- Research and summarize successful launches at other organizations with similar functions; include the ROI and a sample project.
- Document critical success factors.
- Define deployment requirements.
- Define a pilot project.
- Calculate and display the potential financial savings range and ROI including “soft” elements such as corporate image and competitive advantage.
- Present and sell Six Sigma to the executives.
- Get ready for deployment!
The first step is to determine the perspective of your audience. This involves evaluating their appetite for new initiatives and reviewing their previous messages to the company. Useful resources include mission statements, competitive or objectives cascades, and presentations made to various levels of the company. If appropriate, initiate an informal interview with the audience members in advance to determine their current challenges or passions and evaluate their previous success in finding tools to manage those challenges. From these sources, identify areas on which to focus the business case, including appropriate examples and pilot project ideas.
To demonstrate the potential of Six Sigma, it is necessary to provide examples of successful deployments in other organizations. Focus on similar-sized organizations within the same industry if possible. The purpose is to show an investment of similar scale and the resulting performance improvements realized within one or two years of deployment. Many success stories exist in quality management publications or on quality Internet sites. A few hours spent using an online and/or library periodical search tool should yield a good list of appropriate examples as well. Identify themes that made Six Sigma a success for those companies and look for examples that include some of the messages gleaned from the executive research to align the message to currently accepted viewpoints.
An important message to stress during the presentation to the executives is that simply training a number of Black Belts will not transform the organization into a “Six Sigma company.” Leading consulting firms have proven the critical success factors through years of Six Sigma launches. These factors include true leadership support, a data-driven culture, proof of concept through the use of a pilot project, alignment to corporate/functional objectives, and full integration in the business environment. To strengthen the significance of the message, reference examples of these factors found in the success story articles. The critical factors are a critical take-away from the meeting.
The purpose of presenting a deployment approach is to show the scale and timing of the undertaking. To address concerns about resource and training cost risk, include a stair-step approach to deployment. This approach uses approval tollgates to obtain executive signoff of the deployment’s effectiveness before rolling it out to a larger group of employees. The first step is the selection of a pilot project with one employee and an external consultant or Master Black Belt. If the project proves successful, the next step is Black Belt training and project management for a pilot department. This logic continues until all functional areas have 10 percent of their employees trained as Black Belts and 100 percent trained as Green Belts. This scalability also allows the training of internal, experienced Black Belts to become Master Black Belts, which reduces the need for expensive consultant-based training. One successful way of presenting this is through the use of a one-page timeline showing two years of anticipated benefits, the goals of training, expected project savings and external consultant needs diminishing. Also highlight a continuous line representing ongoing executive support.
Pilot Project Idea
The selection and presentation of the pilot project idea is another place where it is critical to link the project idea to a known “hot topic” of the executives. It will peak their interest if one of the company’s current challenges is addressed. But be careful not to promise “world peace.” One of the necessities of an individual project is a scope small enough to allow for real, measurable and sustainable improvement within a realistic time frame.
The pilot overview outlines the resources required and the process of evaluating its effectiveness. First review the objective (hot topic improvement) and the scope (one major contributor to poor performance). Next review the resources needed, including recommending an experienced, quality-driven employee for Black Belt training. Then outline the expected external consulting needs (a Master Black Belt), including a cost range. A natural next step is to review the timeline of the pilot project, which will explain the Master Black Belt costs over the term, including training and project oversight. The timeline should follow the DMAIC project steps with signoff tollgates to assure each step passes corporate and Six Sigma evaluations. The final evaluation should follow a few months after the project is closed to assure that the improvement is sustained according to the control plan implemented as a result of the project.
The Bottom Line
The return on investment is the focus of many executives. This section of the presentation should include a five-year cost/benefit analysis outlining the hard costs and savings as well as a list of soft issues that also affect the decision. The hard costs need to include the offset to department staffs when Black Belts are assigned fulltime to Six Sigma. Other costs include training, consulting, possible travel, software (statistical, flowcharting), and hardware (additional laptops). The cost offsets will increase over time as training increases. They will represent the average savings per Black Belt for your industry based on three to four projects closed per Black Belt annually. Although the five-year return data will interest the leadership, the softer issues communicate the real objective – competitive advantage. Here it is important to show Six Sigma as an enabler of the organization’s goals. Include appropriate illustrations such as “proven approach,” “fact-based management,” “process of continuous improvement,” “sustained improvements versus fix and forget” or other selling points that fit the executive mindset. The bottom line is not to oversell the benefits, but to convince management of the potential so that they approve the pilot project and continue their support as Six Sigma integration continues.
A lot of time and effort will have been put into the Six Sigma proposal by the time it is ready for presentation. Despite this, the purpose of the presentation is to gain buy-in. It is wise to follow a concise format, coinciding with similar material the executives are used to reviewing. The best approach is to use a successful presentation example unique to the organization. In the absence of a such proven example, the following format is a good bet:
- Executive summary
- Concise presentation of the highlights
a. Industry examples
b. Critical success factors
c. Deployment requirements
d. Pilot project
e. Return on investment
- Detailed report including copies of crucial references (to leave with them for further information)
- Question-and-answer session
- Schedule a follow-up decision point meeting
Now for the Real Work
When the executives are convinced that Six Sigma is the key to the future, they will likely view the person who sold them on the idea as the subject matter expert. They will typically select that person as their deployment leader to direct the integration of Six Sigma within the organization. The deployment leader’s next steps will include selecting a consulting/training/deployment company, managing the pilot project, developing Six Sigma overview training, and attending Black Belt training. With the executives engaged in the deployment, the organization is ready to reap the rewards of Six Sigma.