The third installment in a series of articles about the on-going research of advanced strategies and trends in deploying and team-training Six Sigma.
- Six Sigma Trends: Next Generation of Projects
- Six Sigma Trends: Upgrade for Supply Chains and Solution Providers
Below is a typical scenario describing the launch of Six Sigma in European companies and European branches of International companies.
Is Six Sigma A New Quality Initiative?
Six Sigma is often deployed as a quality initiative, where one manager is typically selected as a Six Sigma Leader and a few candidates are sent overseas to learn “new quality methods” and secure billions of dollars in savings “as Motorola and GE do.” Nobody in the company really knows what Six Sigma means, just that other companies are using it and that customers and/or shareholders are starting to demand its deployment.
The candidates usually attend a Black Belt training course where they are asked to present their pre-selected project, which is completed in conjunction with the training. Here is where Black Belts may experience confusion, especially if the project selection process is not completed prior to the beginning of training or the selected project is inadequate. Black Belts may also become frustrated when they realize that they lack an understanding of the Six Sigma concept and the supporting infrastructure needed within their company to ensure a successful deployment. Additional stress is created through their fear of failure.
Companies that decide to begin their deployment with Black Belt training nearly always underestimate the criticality of project definition and management. Immediately after a Black Belt’s first week of training and subsequent review of project reports, his/her manager starts to consider whether the Black Belt project should be redefined or stopped and replaced with another project.
Managers may begin to experience similar frustration and fear of failure for the following reasons:
- Lack of understanding of what Black Belts are doing in the project
- Inability to judge and review project results
- Inability to properly evaluate Black Belt ideas
- Lack of sufficient Six Sigma knowledge to manage Black Belts, resulting in a potential loss of credibility
- A perceived need to learn about Six Sigma in order to remain in a management position
When confusion, frustration and fear reach a critical mass, managers begin their Six Sigma training. During and after their training, they revisit the steps taken to date and re-launch the Six Sigma deployment. Meanwhile, the first group of Black Belts and Green Belts await strategic management decisions that will determine their position, career perspectives, projects, etc.
What Managers Need to Know Before Educating and Managing Black Belts and Green Belts
The above scenario is a pessimistic view that is unfortunately very typical. Real benefit and return on investment in Six Sigma is conditional and should be deployed from the top down. The leaders of the company must first understand the basics of Six Sigma and develop a company-specific deployment strategy before building a Six Sigma infrastructure and beginning Black Belt and Green Belt training. Understanding of Six Sigma should include not only its value as a quality initiative but also as a management and leadership strategy & methodology supported with a variety of tools. Companies deploy Six Sigma to learn how to run, maintain and/or improve business processes to satisfy customer requirements associated with:
- quality (and safety) of products and/or services,
- price, and
- on-time delivery.
Most core business processes at a high-level consist of several generic steps independent of the type of business as shown in Figure 1.
Six Sigma projects aim to:
- Improve the efficiency of value-added activities within business processes.
- Sustain process changes, particularly through data-based business process control.
- Reduce loss of time, effort and money due to defects and failures in specific process steps and subsequent non-value-added activities (see colored process steps in Fig 1).
Role and task allocations within the company allow management of the processes from supplier to customer. Keys to success in this area are the selection and on-the-job training of Process Owners and the support of these changes by company leaders.
The Business Case
All Six Sigma projects are process and business metric-centered and therefore should be linked to the business scorecard. When several projects focus on business process improvement using the same business metric, the collective group of projects is called a Business Case.
If project selection is not managed properly as a part of the Business Case, then there is a high risk of many similar projects running in parallel, doubling activities. This can lead to the loss of efforts and investment, as well as create difficulties such as conflicts of interest in implementing project results. It is the role of management to define, prioritize and manage critical Business Cases. And this has to be understood at the very beginning of any Six Sigma deployment. Business Case Management demands Six Sigma skills and knowledge of the tools. Black Belts and Green Belts may support it, but managers must lead it as a part of their daily activities.
Efficient Training & Deployment: A Top-Down Process
The arguments presented above lead to one conclusion: there is little or no chance to succeed with a Six Sigma deployment by doing it from the bottom-up or by perceiving it as just another total quality management initiative. The quickest and most effective way to success is through Business Case management and project-based top-down training as shown in Figure 2.
From our experience, management and executive training at a Green Belt level connected with participation on individual and/or group Business Cases provide the necessary momentum to achieve a successful launch and the quickest pay-back. Coaching is an absolute must during the training phase. After training, the first group of Black Belts and Green Belts become “self-carrying” as the savings from their projects usually cover the cost of training and coaching twice over.
We could have assumed that the topics discussed here are not relevant in the United States anymore, where Six Sigma has been deployed for many years. But that is not the case. By analyzing numerous experiences with our research companies, we concluded that these results are still critical and important to publish, particularly to improve cross-sea communication between different branches of a company that has deployed Six Sigma.
We have found that consistent promotion of top-down deployment and development of advanced hands-on training courses for executives and management in manufacturing, service and e-companies is still a burning topic, particularly in European companies. The success of this type of training at the beginning of a Six Sigma launch confirms our conclusion that overall promotion and marketing of Six Sigma training & consulting, usually done through quality initiatives, should definitely evolve to include management as well.
I am very thankful indeed to all who have responded to my previous articles and look forward to future cooperation.