To be successful, Six Sigma programs often need certain catalysts to precipitate change and help ingrain the method in an organization. The 10 catalysts explored here are most important in ensuring that a program takes hold.

By Abhishek Rai

Although many people may be most familiar with the term catalyst in its scientific form, catalysts can do more than cause or speed up chemical reactions. A catalyst can also be a person or thing that precipitates change within an organization.

To be successful, Six Sigma programs often need certain catalysts to help ingrain the method in an organization. The following 10 catalysts are most important in ensuring that a program takes hold.

1. Select the Right Focus Areas

When starting a Six Sigma program, practitioners should first get a holistic perspective of the organization by using concepts such as systems thinking and 5 whys. These tools will help illuminate problem areas.

Systems thinking is the ability to see things as a whole. It is a conceptual framework for practitioners to go beyond individual events and, instead, view the patterns of behavior and underlying interrelationships that are responsible for the events. It is based on the principle that the component parts of a system will behave differently when the interrelationships are removed and seen in isolation.

5 whys is an interrogative question-asking method used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The ultimate goal of applying the 5 whys method is to determine a root cause of a defect or problem.

By using these tools up front, practitioners can begin focusing on improving areas that are the source of problems.

2. Identify the Constraints

Using the Theory of Constraints, practitioners can identify areas that cause bottlenecks or keep a process from reaching its potential. A constraint could be anything that prevents the system from achieving goals. For example, a particular individual’s time may be a constraint in a decision-making process. Once the constraints are known, practitioners can begin alleviating them.

3. Collect and Interpret Comprehensive Data

To learn more about processes, practitioners must gather an effective combination of secondary and primary data.

Primary data is gathered from direct observation for a specific purpose. This might be data collected from focus groups, experiments, surveys or personal interviews. Secondary data is gathered from indirect sources, such as previously published research studies and surveys, interviews, complaints or issue logs.

This data can help practitioners grasp the relationships and patterns within processes, and look beyond one-time issues.

4. Demonstrate a Business Case

First take into account industry and internal benchmarks. Emphasize to leaders the cost of poor quality. Quantify the savings that could be incurred by improving processes and overall quality, and illustrate the improvement potential to leaders in financial terms. Be creative in the interpretation of savings and benefits – logical estimates are acceptable.

5. Provide the Value Perspective

The basic principle of Lean is to create the most value while consuming the fewest resources. It is vital to realize which resources are consumed in order to create value and which do not create value. By taking a physical and virtual value stream walk, practitioners can map process steps and determine whether certain activities create value and eliminate the steps that do not add value.

Practitioners can also work to improve process value by reducing steps that fall into the eight wastes of Lean:

  • Rejects: Errors in documents, software bugs, delivery or design defects
  • Overprocessing: Multiple reviews, reports and approvals
  • Transportation: Excessive e-mail attachments
  • Over production: Printing nonessential paperwork
  • Movement: Looking for data and information or movement of documents
  • Inventory: Backlog of work, sales literature and reports
  • Underutilization of employees: Unused creativity and skills
  • Waiting: System downtime, idle time, time spent waiting for approvals

6. Take Advantage of People Power

Involving team members at all levels of the organization can help raise awareness of Six Sigma and its benefits, which can help with gaining buy-in and making improvements. Simple techniques like brainstorming are a good way to gather collective wisdom from a wide selection of people. People power can also be encouraged through recognition, rewards and celebrations of success.

7. Use Soft Skills

How practitioners communicate within their organization can go a long way in building a positive reputation for Six Sigma. Some habits to consider:

  • Be a good listener
  • Do not jump to solutions
  • Adopt a hands-on approach in coaching and training as needed
  • Maintain your composure at all times
  • Show energy and enthusiasm
  • Be creative, positive and optimistic

8. Sustain Improvements

By implementing lasting changes for the better, practitioners can prove the worth of Six Sigma. They should work to:

  • Provide creative solutions for the automation of processes
  • Conceptualize and implement appropriate control actions
  • Ensure effective training about process changes
  • Use mistake-proofing techniques

9. Manage Resistance to Change

Practitioners must ward off opposition to the method before it spreads. Some ways to fight resistance:

  • Plan and organize change-management workshops
  • Use data to support and verify the success of the improvement initiative and win people over
  • Encourage open communication and feedback
  • Address the question “What’s in it for me?”

10. Duplicate Success

After the program is in motion, practitioners should identify areas, locations and departments with similar or common problems. It may help to use organization-wide systems and repositories to share knowledge, and to take advantage of senior management forums to showcase benefits and opportunities for replication.

About the Author: Abhishek Rai,a Six Sigma Black Belt, works as a senior consultant and engagement anchor at Infosys Technologies Limited in Switzerland. He has been leading strategic end-to-end process improvement programs for Fortune 500 organizations across the United States, Europe and India for more than eight years. He can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected].

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