Six Sigma is a powerful tool for solving business problems and driving excellence in organizations. Its benefits can include breakthrough improvements, cost savings, defect reduction, greater customer satisfaction, and higher productivity and efficiency. To reap these benefits, however, organizations must pay close attention to six key factors that can make or break a Six Sigma deployment.

1. Senior Management Involvement

Top management team members must show their support for the deployment. Simply sending emails is not enough; they must take the responsibility of leading from the front, through involvement in the following areas:

  • Selecting projects and teams
  • Reviewing project milestones
  • Approving improvement ideas
  • Resolving conflicts
  • Recognizing teams

For example, if an organization’s chief operating officer (COO) oversees support functions, such as HR, administration, training and finance, etc., the COO, as the sponsor, needs to be involved in projects from selection to closure.

Another important role for the top management is to resolve conflicts between Green Belts, Black Belts or process owners who are working on Six Sigma projects. Because of the power of their position, senior management team members should step in to diffuse situations.

2. Selection of Six Sigma Projects

When selecting a project, organizations need to make sure that the project has a manageable scope. If the perspective is too wide, the project will demand too many resources and take a long time to complete. As the project drags on, team members may lose interest mid-way through, thus reducing the chances of the project’s survival. By selecting projects with manageable scope, the organization will be able to demonstrate early wins, and the Six Sigma program will gain momentum and appreciation.

Another important factor that must be considered while selecting a Six Sigma project is the operational stability of the process. Consider this scenario: A team starts a project to reduce recruitment cycle time. The current process is influenced by the people doing the recruitment. However, the management team has decided to roll out a highly automated recruitment process within the next couple of months. Because of the drastic changes involved, it is easy to imagine that the project will be scrapped mid-way.

3. Selection of Project Teams

Many organizations find success by selecting a project leader who belongs to the operational process being improved and has a stake in that process. For example, appointing a member of the HR team to lead a project to bring improvements to a finance process simply because the HR team member is available can easily backfire. Sometimes it is worth appointing a co-project lead as a back up. This is especially helpful if the project is focused on a process or function where the roles and responsibilities of team members change dynamically due to their customers’ needs.

4. Inclusion of Six Sigma Projects in Performance Appraisals

Another significant success factor is the inclusion of project efforts in the performance objectives of all team members working on a project. The objectives should be measurable and have clear deadlines. Communicating these objectives to all the team members and their managers at the beginning of the project will bring accountability and apply positive pressure on the team to deliver as planned.

5. Customization of Six Sigma to the Organization’s Culture

Sometimes organizations use help from an external consultant in deploying Six Sigma. Others may designate a leader from within the organization to act as Champion of the deployment. It is extremely important for an organization to make sure that the consultant or internal Champion understands the purpose of the deployment, as well as the context and culture of the organization.

The consultants or internal Champions must not dump all of their knowledge onto the team members at once. Training needs to be flexible according to the participants’ work schedules and carefully designed and delivered, with relevant examples and exercises that suit the business context.

Six Sigma training and mentoring should consist of more than mere academic modules on statistics. The objective should be to transform people into knowledge assets in the areas of root-cause analysis, innovative problem solving and process improvements so that they can bring value to the organization.

6. Recognition and Celebration

Finally, the management team needs to make sure that there is timely recognition of the effort put in by the project teams and that they are rewarded as per the organization’s policies and strategy. The celebration and evangelization of “wins” in a Six Sigma project can generate interest and inspire people to contribute to the organization’s journey of excellence.

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