To maintain control and assure a payoff from LSS, it may help to start on a limited scale. With only a few key team members – including the right Black Belt candidate – a company can create a program that will have an impact enterprise wide.

By Forrest W. Breyfogle III

Every great journey begins with small steps. This principle applies for most organizations when beginning a Lean Six Sigma initiative. Few businesses have the bandwidth to create an infrastructure that supports a large, instantaneous deployment. To maintain control and assure the initiative provides a payoff, it may help to start on a limited scale.

With only a few key team members – a Black Belt, a deployment leader and a Master Black Belt resource – a company can build a small but committed force of the right people. They can initiate a deployment in one area, which will later be replicated to other facilities throughout the company. Given the proper authority, the team will create a system that impresses the entire organization by identifying and working on projects that impact the enterprise as a whole. Ultimately, the team can help lead the organization into a mode where it is accomplishing the three Rs of business: everyone is doing the Right things and doing them Right at the Right time.

Getting Started

Before the program is launched, the organization’s leaders must make a commitment to give active support to the assessment of a pilot Lean Six Sigma deployment. The organization should also establish a supporting infrastructure, including a deployment director. This person should be a highly respected change agent in the organization and have the drive needed to overcome resistance to the initiative. Such a change can be threatening; it establishes metrics and goals that make everyone accountable. The deployment will need this person’s support and guidance to break down barriers.

Selecting the First Black Belt

The next step is to add a Black Belt to the organization’s talent pool. The Black Belt must be a full-time Lean Six Sigma implementer. Do not make the mistake of assigning the responsibility to an employee who has other functions; doing this will risk the entire initiative.

Company leaders must now choose between hiring a Black Belt or training an existing employee to become one. There are distinct advantages to the latter. Selecting an internal candidate will:

  • Provide a smooth transition because the person is already familiar with the company culture and is a good fit, while bringing in an outsider may upset the status quo and threaten some employees.
  • Demonstrate to employees that management is serious about employee development.
  • Assure that a valuable and ambitious employee who might otherwise leave the organization will stay.
  • Offer a faster and less costly process than recruiting from outside.

Criteria of a Good Candidate

Which employee should be selected? An ideal candidate should meet these 10 criteria, which include personality factors and both soft and technical skills:

  1. Fire in the belly – Has an unquenchable desire to improve the way the organization does business
  2. People skills – Works effectively with teams and people in other organizations
  3. Project management – Gets things done successfully and on time
  4. Systems thinker – Understands that work is accomplished through processes and that long-lasting results come through systematic improvements to these processes
  5. Multitasker – Is able to manage several activities concurrently
  6. Unstructured environment manager – Performs well in chaotic environments
  7. Big-picture thinker – Aligns efforts so there is a significant impact toward the achievement of goals. Avoids analysis paralysis
  8. Organizational navigation skills – Can work around barriers without invoking higher authority
  9. Critical-thinking skills – Conceptualizes, analyzes, synthesizes, evaluates and applies information from multiple sources, integrating analytics with innovation
  10. Analytical skills – Reasons adroitly and is comfortable utilizing mathematics

How do company leaders find an employee with these attributes? One way is to take an informal survey of employees to identify someone who is performing more than the position calls for. That employee may be a valuable contributor to team projects, a reliable source of ideas and information to others, someone who employees go to for thoughtful feedback on the viability of their ideas, and someone who supports and inspires others so they can meet their goals.

An employee suitable for the Black Belt position will welcome the opportunity to add to his or her skills set and become a more valuable contributor. If an employee expresses any unease about taking on this new role, this can signal a lack of fire in the belly, or that one or more of the other attributes that make for a successful Black Belt is missing.

Planning Black Belt Training

When planning training for the selected employee, it is important to select training that integrates Six Sigma with Lean concepts, and teaches the Belt how to use these tools not only for project execution but also at the enterprise level. Lean Six Sigma is much more than troubleshooting – and much more than the pursuit of low-hanging fruit.

To achieve the goals of the initiative, the Black Belt should gain more than technical skills that capitalize on the new tools available. The employee must also have increased business knowledge, leadership skills, team-development capabilities and improved thought processes. The Lean Six Sigma practitioners must be trained to become indispensable partners in organization-wide initiatives that are grounded strategically and implemented on a highly structured basis to meet critical organizational goals.

When investigating training options, also consider other offerings, such as Champion training, that may be necessary as part of the initiative.

Introducing the Master Black Belt

The deployment effort should include a Master Black Belt, who will guide the Black Belt’s initial projects. It is usually possible to “rent” a Master Black Belt from the organization that provided the Black Belt training. The Master Black Belt must have a diverse range of skills to properly fulfill the role. They include the ability to:

  • Understand corporate roles and responsibilities.
  • Navigate organizational structures, identifying stakeholders and securing their enthusiastic cooperation by using superior leadership skills.
  • Isolate the flashpoints that cause fire fighting and eliminate them.
  • Remove performance barriers.
  • Pull rather than push for project selection so that every project chosen is designed to meet critical goals.
  • Establish metrics that include a real-time, full-screen management dashboard where everything that matters is measured and everything that is measured matters.
  • Build a Lean Six Sigma business strategy and create a Lean Six Sigma culture that influences how people think and perform their everyday work.

The Master Black Belt provider must have a rigorous certification process. Following training, candidates should be required to provide project reports from at least three Six Sigma or Design for Six Sigma projects.

Achieving Maximum Payoff

Following this process may help an organization secure maximum benefit from its Lean Six Sigma initiative and make the method a competitive advantage. Although deployment goals should be large, the program’s beginnings should be small.

About the Author: Forrest W. Breyfogle III is the founder and CEO of Smarter Solutions Inc. He is a professional engineer and an ASQ Fellow who has been awarded the organization’s Crosby Medal. A presenter and author, he has written four new books describing his creation, the Integrated Enterprise Excellence system, including The Integrated Enterprise Excellence System: An Enhanced, Unified Approach to Balanced Scorecards, Strategic Planning and Business Improvement. Breyfogle can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author