For a Six Sigma deployment to produce the expected results, organizational roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined and aligned. If executives and Champions are trained and Black Belts and Green Belts are not, the probability of success decreases to virtually nothing. The reverse is true as well. None of these situations will produce the type of results that will occur when Six Sigma practitioners are placed in the correct support environment.
The Six Sigma Support Structure
The core structure at an operational level is Black Belts supported by Master Black Belts. The Black Belts are trained in the basic problem-solving strategy and methodology. When Black Belts have demonstrated a proclivity for solving difficult projects, are self-starters, are self-reliant to a reasonable extent and put in the time commensurate with the task, they are considered for additional training as Master Black Belts. There is no universally accepted standard for the Master Black Belt curriculum. Additional training is intended to broaden, not necessarily raise the level of, the tool sets that are at the disposal of Master Black Belts. The strategy is to provide Master Black Belts with a wider array of skill sets so they can assist in projects that may become stalled.
Six Sigma Green Belts are critical to the process because they are the key to creating a culture shift. If the shift is attempted by training huge numbers of Black Belts, Black Belts will spend most of their time tripping over each other as they scramble to create the “number of projects” or “dollars saved” metrics imposed by management to motivate them.
A popular theory is that in a change process, one-third is on the fence, one-third is holding back, and one-third is jumping at the new opportunity. These numbers will fluctuate based on the company culture. A conservative company culture will create more fence sitters and resistors. A dynamic company culture will increase the number of people jumping at the new opportunity. Before you can comprehend what the number actually is, you must understand the company culture. Green Belts, in the long run, are the ones who shift the culture.
The relationship between Master Black Belts, Black Belts and Green Belts is well understood due to the intuitive nature of the titles. Getting just this much of the structure bolsters the success model. So what is the rest of the structure?
In most organizations they are referred to as Champions. If you ask people what a Champion does, they will quickly reply, “they remove roadblocks.” Superficially, that is true. Champions should remove roadblocks. Champions need to be in a position to defuse any issues that may arise between a Black Belt and another person in the organization, particularly if the issue is with someone with a higher formal position in the company. The Champion should be the buffer that keeps a Black Belt out of a head-to-head confrontation with managers, vice presidents and directors in the company, allowing Black Belts the freedom to focus on the problem, not engage in some inane territorial dispute. This is the most fundamental function of the Champion.
The Extended Six Sigma Champion
One critical characteristic for successful Six Sigma Champions is that they are some hybrid of Henry Kissinger and Xena, the Warrior Princess. It may actually be easier to find the mutant offspring of these two leaders than it is to find the complete Champion. Being the complete Champion requires more than diplomatic and warrior skill sets. Champions must be proficient in four other areas:
- Business and operations interface
- Project selection
- Pace mediation
- Results implementation
1. Business and Operations Interface
Champions should know the business they are in and at least be familiar with the technology1 used in the process. Black Belts are the process/project subject matter experts. Champions must constantly guard against intruding into the process and offering solutions. One of the Champion’s primary roles is to assure that operational level projects are aligned with the strategic level business objectives. Project reviews should be conducted not as a tool to manage Black Belts but to assure that the project is progressing as planned and that the result will produce a result that resembles (and aligns with) the needs of the organization. It can also be an opportunity for Champions to identify other potential areas of improvement.
Many companies have invoked the balanced scorecard to assure this alignment. It is a good tool to apply metrics to Champions. It can be used as a measurement tool to quantify the performance of Champions in this role.
2. Six Sigma Project Selection
The basic task of assigning Six Sigma projects remains an enigma for some reason. This is the most fundamental skill of a manager with direct reports. When placed under the microscope of matching a project to a Black Belt, however, Champions will “stand frozen in the headlights.” You have to wonder if it is truly such a difficult task or if it is the public nature of their decision that causes them so much consternation. We have seen Black Belts in report-out situations where some top-level manager will remark, “Who picked that project?” This goes back to the Dr. Deming’s eighth point: “Drive out fear.”2 This seemingly innocuous remark will infuse fear deep into Champions’ hearts. Instead of viewing project selection as an opportunity to improve a part of the process, they perceive it as a potentially career-limiting opportunity. The management staff attending reviews should be coached by either their Six Sigma providers (consultants) or a person with a background in organizational development (OD) on how to interact with the people involved in the report-out.
Again, alignment is the key. If the organization truly understands and practices alignment, project selection becomes less of a threat. Furthermore, if the alignment is augmented with process data it is an even easier task. The threatening question is defused to become a discussion of the alignment methods or the data that was used. The personal implications become a non-issue.
3. Pace Mediation
At the onset of a Six Sigma deployment one or more people are selected to generate a deployment plan. This seems to come from one of two sources: the Six Sigma provider or the internal sponsor. There is an inherent issue with allowing a Six Sigma provider to formulate the plan: cost. If your Six Sigma provider is most concerned with enhancing their own financial position, you could be in trouble. If your Six Sigma provider is more concerned with creating a successful deployment and letting reputation provide the incremental business, you should be fine. In either situation it does not make much sense to abdicate complete control of company resources to a person with limited scope of your business operations.3
One should also realize the risks associated with choosing an internal sponsor. The resulting plan will be a direct function of the sponsor’s level of Six Sigma knowledge. Many organizations have taken to hiring an internal Master Black Belt to lead the organizational charge. The risk here is the same as previously mentioned: if the total deployment experience is one deployment, they still have a limited scope. It is the basic calculation for a confidence interval using attribute data and a sample size of one – it is better than zero but probably not a significant difference. The optimum Six Sigma deployment plan is derived from a combination of an internal expert (business, Six Sigma and change) and the Six Sigma provider.
Once a plan has been generated and sold at the C-Level it is difficult to modify. Internal people will rarely adjust the plan. Very few deployments are initiated with metrics that quantify the program’s results and lead to a decision to accelerate or slow the program. Slowing a Six Sigma initiative too much may cause it to die – no sense of urgency will deprioritize any initiative regardless of which initiative it is. The real issue comes from a person or persons so committed to driving a plan that they see only completion as the success metric. Frequently these programs are quantified in terms of numbers of people trained. This will turn the focus from a results-driven program to a training program.
When a plan is constructed it should have goals, specific targets that will increase customer success/satisfaction, competitive position, technology, etc. These should have metrics. Meeting or not meeting metrics should be analyzed, and adjustments should be made to the program.
4. Results Implementation
We have labeled Black Belts as change agents. Change agents inherit the responsibility for implementing projects with identified potential savings. In many cases the Black Belt project will be cross-functional, and cutting across departmental lines can be hazardous waters to navigate, not to mention the complete lack of formal authority that the Black Belt possesses in these situations. Green Belt projects may be less prone to this ailment, but it may affect them as well.
When a project is completed it should have a calculated potential savings. The finance department of the organization, not the Six Sigma provider, should sign off on this number. The savings should not only have a financial measurement but should also be time bounded. That number represents a reduction in wasted resources for the organization. It is a metric that the Champion should be held accountable for. If a project identifies a $50,000 savings over the next 12 months and it produces only $25,000 because the Champion took six months to get involved in the implementation, then the metric should reflect the lack of involvement. If the plan was executed perfectly and the financial projection was inaccurate, a metric should be in place to reflect that inaccuracy. Just as with anything else, the metrics will drive the performance. If you want accurate projections and timely implementations, you had better place a metric on them.
One of the biggest questions associated with Six Sigma project savings is “are they real.” A decision to credit soft savings opens the door to exaggerations. The audit functions in place in companies today should be of a wide enough scope to assure the accuracy of these numbers whether they are from a Six Sigma deployment or any other program that uses cost savings as a metric. The audit function does not necessarily lie within the accounting or finance departments. The process of calculating savings may be well defined, documented and incorporated into some type of quality system (business system) audit. Some of the larger companies have internal auditors who have been given responsibility for the accuracy of these numbers as well.
Champions have a much larger role in deploying Six Sigma or any other initiative than just removing roadblocks. The job requires more than just this single task. Champions must be integrated into the business, select projects accurately, adjust the speed of the deployment as necessary, and take responsibility for implementation.
Unless metrics are placed on all responsibilities of a Champion, the organization is placing the deployment at risk. Failure to execute these tasks at even a minimal level can and does propagate turnover of the people your organization spent valuable resources training.
1 Technology is used in its broadest generic sense. This is not technology exclusively as it applies to a manufacturing process. It can be the intricacies of an accounting system or how a sales forecast is constructed.
2 The Deming Management Method by Mary Walton, Pedigree Books, 1986, page 72.
3 The book Dangerous Company: Management Consultants and the Businesses They Save and Ruin by James O’Shea and Charles Madigan provides many insights into the potential hazards of employing the services of consultants.