Before any Lean Six Sigma (LSS) program can begin to drive efficiency at an organization, it must have a solid foundation of team members who are immersed in the LSS culture. When third-party logistics firm Transplace established its LSS program, management placed an emphasis on developing a regimented training program for those who would become deployment Champions. The program enabled organization-wide exposure to Green Belt training, refresher courses, promotional events and material to help infuse LSS into the company culture.
However, going through Green Belt training does not always ensure that those who participate will become certified. At Dallas-based Transplace, for example, more than 10 percent of the organization had gone through Green Belt training, but only about 16 percent of that total went on to earn certification, which requires Green Belts to apply what they learned in training and follow the LSS roadmap with a process improvement project.
Using conventional wisdom, Transplace made an effort to engage all non-certified Green Belts in project work as soon as possible. However, the company discovered many unexpected challenges along the way regarding the training of its new deployment Champions. Using their experience as a guide, Transplace came up with the following three areas to focus on while training its future Champions.
1. Provide Early Training
Programs have a better chance of positively influencing the culture with sustainable results when there is sponsorship and support from the highest levels and in the earliest stages. Investing in workshops gives a company’s executive leadership insight into LSS and why organizations invest in a LSS program. These workshops can also be a great platform for refining key program elements, like the role of the deployment Champion and project sponsors and the importance of project selection and chartering.
Be sure to include deployment Champions or senior leaders of quality programs in industry events. This is a great way to get oriented quickly with the varying levels of program maturity, support strategies and program structures. Additionally, these events allow participants to network with peers, share best practices and learn how to avoid common program pitfalls. Such experience can make a significant contribution toward the understanding of the deployment Champion role and the best practices of other organizations.
2. Apply Little’s Law
Taking the approach of getting every available Green Belt on a project to better increase the chance of completing more projects is not always the best course of action. Little’s Law, one of the fundamental principles taught in most LSS training curricula, applies not only within project work but also to the process of administering projects. The formula for Little’s Law is:
Lead time (LT) = Work-in-process (WIP) / Average completion rate (ACR)
When applied to the process of completing LSS projects, the formula could be interpreted as:
LT for project completions = Projects in motion / Project completion rate
As Little’s Law demonstrates, organizations can keep adding more and more WIP (projects to complete) into any process, but without making changes to increase the ACR (project completion rate) they are only increasing the process LT.
By controlling the number of ongoing projects and having Green Belts co-lead projects with other Green Belts, practitioners can improve LT for project completion. At Transplace, 73 percent of Green Belts who obtained certification did so by co-leading projects with other Green Belts.
3. Establish a Robust Project Selection Process
Companies should have a rigorous process in place to ensure that project work is in constant alignment with the LSS program and organizational goals. Otherwise, the project work, certifications and a company’s entire LSS program will be at risk. Unsuccessful projects often have red flags that can be identified in a formal project selection process. For the selection process, it is important to have set components for selecting the right projects, such as:
- Develop a quantitative method for measuring the size, complexity and risk of a project against the potential benefits for completing it. There are many quantitative elements to consider, so it is important for Champions to focus on those that are most important to their program and how the elements relate to their company’s goals.
- Make sure each project aligns with one or several measurable organizational goals. For example, doing a project to increase customer satisfaction is too broad. Organizations must consider what “customer satisfaction” means in a measurable sense.
- Develop several mediums for obtaining project ideas. To ensure that an organization keeps a hopper full of good project ideas at any given time, Champions should hold regular project idea sessions with the executive team and conduct customer, vendor and employee satisfaction surveys to tap into the voice of the customer.
- Develop a project selection committee. Deployment Champions normally have a team of Black Belts to assist with program improvements and mentoring Green Belts. However, Black Belts often serve as project managers to the organization. The deployment Champion needs a cross-sectional group of leaders that can help set goals, recommend program improvements, choose good projects and be a vocal proponent of the LSS program.
There is a wealth of resources available in text and online that provide guidance for new deployment Champions. The three recommendations outlined here, however, were helpful focus areas for sustaining the program at Transplace. In addition to meeting the savings goals of its LSS program, Transplace also has improved Green Belt certifications from 16 percent of those who received LSS training to approximately 59 percent.