It is crucial to have good leadership, the correct team, a solid project charter, and personal and business incentives to be successful in Lean Six Sigma. When all these items are in place, it is possible to run a first-class deployment.

By Karl Williams

A Lean Six Sigma program that incorporates technically knowledgeable and motivated people at all phases of the deployment, along with a solid project charter and proper incentives, will not only ensure successful teams and management buy-in, but will also deliver better business results in the long term. The following seven focus areas will help drive passion and results, and make any projects in a Lean Six Sigma program successful.

1. Start with a Top-level Sponsor

A participative leader attends meetings, encourages team members and gives them the resources, budget and tools to succeed. Without such a sponsor, a Lean Six Sigma program will never produce the value necessary for the company and the viability of the initiative. To ultimately motivate the sponsor, Lean Six Sigma projects must be driven by and align with the company’s highest-level objectives.

2. Select the Best Available Team

While the Black Belt is the Lean Six Sigma team leader, a solid, properly chosen team is the key to success. The team must be motivated, cohesive, dependable, participative and technically knowledgeable. But those technically-competent stars are usually in high demand. They are pulled as key software developers, project managers and testers. It is up to the management to allocate some of these people to Lean Six Sigma projects.

Pick project team members who are connected to the process and have something to gain from improved results. Where possible, the process owners are the best match. The team also should have a solid Black Belt, coupled with a project sponsor, who is a proven leader respected by the organization and the team members. Publicize and promote the accomplishments of each team member in their particular areas of expertise and in past projects, if applicable. Everyone wants to work with successful people, and everyone takes pride in being acknowledged. If team members believe in the team, they are much more likely to be motivated and ultimately generate optimum results.

3. Align the Project Charter With Business Initiatives

The project charter should contain all the key information and data needed to accept, drive and fully support the process improvement. This includes the project’s estimated return on investment, goals, resource requirements and team members. The most critical item in the charter is the scope. Many projects are initially set with a “boil the ocean” scope. Instead, the scope should be appropriate and realistic. Once a proper scope is in place, attainable goals must be set.

4. Look for Simple Lean Fixes First

It is usually possible to find issues of the Lean variety much quicker and easier than more subtle changes unearthed in Six Sigma. Bottlenecks, wasted time and excessive wait time between steps are often isolated early in project activities. Some of these can provide critical wins while the team works on the tougher issues using Six Sigma. For example, I was once involved in a project to reduce cycle time from 44 months to 20 months. Within days, we uncovered a 26-signature sign-off process. A few simple and logical reductions drove the process from 44 months to three months before we continued the Six Sigma process to find the tougher improvements.

5. Address ‘What’s In It for Me’

Normally, team members are working on Lean Six Sigma projects while continuing with their “real jobs.” The overall Lean Six Sigma initiative must understand this fact and address it early and often during a project to keep participants as motivated as possible. These actions can range from special lunches at team meetings surrounding key milestones to public acknowledgement of successes to financial benefits at the end of the project. Such actions require a miniscule percentage of project savings, but keep people motivated and ready to contribute to the next project.

6. Make Performance Part of Management-level Bonuses

To make real achievements, goals, expectations, bonuses and results must be part of all leaders’ annual performance plans. The sponsor cannot preach Lean Six Sigma and then reward leaders solely on the basis of results in the typical reward areas. If goals and expectations relating to Lean Six Sigma are not fully in place, a deployment is doomed to second-class status.

7. Share Positive and Negative Results

Sharing results will help establish management buy-in and will demonstrate that Lean Six Sigma really works. If people in the organization do not see the positive results, they will feel that their work is in vain – a very unmotivating position to be in. Publicizing solid benefits and results will show that they have made a difference. Why publicize negative results? People often learn more from mistakes, errors or bad decisions than from good results. Also, it adds credibility when team members talk of negative items in this light to demonstrate a fair view of reality.

Achieve First-class Status

It is crucial to have good leadership, the correct team, a solid project charter, and personal and business incentives to be successful in Lean Six Sigma. When all these items are in place, it is possible to run a first-class deployment.

About the Author: Karl D. Williams is a Master Black Belt and a principal consultant for Six Sigma Advantage. An SEI-authorized CMMI trainer and lead appraiser, he has trained more than 17,000 people in CMM, CMMI, Six Sigma and software skills. Williams was formerly a director at Motorola and, more recently, a senior vice president of process design for Bank of America. He has published more than 80 articles and authored a book, Continuous Improvement & Reengineering… A Better Way. Williams can be reached at [email protected].

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