The coaching of software Six Sigma is always a challenge. This top 10 list details common mistakes Green Belts in training make that can cause their projects to fail.

By Karl D. Williams

The coaching of software Six Sigma to Green Belts can be challenging. This top 10 list details common Green Belt pitfalls for coaches to watch for and help their Green Belts steer clear of. The list is based not on scientific study or polls but on the author’s experiences over years of coaching Six Sigma projects, especially those in the software domain. The list, however, can be applied to the business domain as well.

10: Not Exploring All the Educational Resources

Candidates often seem unwilling to expend any effort beyond class attendance in understanding the concepts and tools of Six Sigma. Most curricula supplements the participant slides with articles, references, deeper dive tutorials, examples and tools. Yet most candidates appear unaware of these resources or unwilling to dig into these materials to obtain a more solid grasp of the information.

9: Denial of Application in the Participant’s Workplace

Many participants are told or forced to attend Six Sigma training. A common way they retaliate against this is to attend the training and then state that it does not apply to their own situations. In many cases, participants’ managers (who also do not want to use Six Sigma) allow them to drop out and reject Six Sigma. For those who continue with coaching, this issue is always overcome when candidates work through the coaching sessions and are amazed at how valuable these concepts are in their everyday lives. They then begin telling other colleagues and pull them into the world of Six Sigma users.

8: Wanting to Move into Measure and Analyze Phases Before Define Is Solid

Ignoring, hating, or paying lip service to the Requirements phase in the software development life cycle to get on with the important work of design and coding is a common attitude of those in the software field. The result, however, is having to rework 50 percent of the project – and this is real work, not Requirements phase work. The same applies to Green Belt projects. If those involved do not precisely understand the project during the Define phase, they are doomed to significant rework or failure in the project.

7: Thinking the Data Is Not Sufficient to Do the Project

Data is nearly always available, but it may not be in the desired formats or packaging. Once again, some real work and digging is often necessary.

Consider this example: A project team wanted to reduce the cycle time for change requests to aircraft engine software for military jets. The current cycle time was 42 months. The team brought with them the 50 most recent completed change requests. They said, “This is a bad problem. We need to get the vendor to act much more quickly, but we have no data.” The documents they had brought along, however, revealed that each change request had with it a sign-off sheet showing the 26 signature sign-off process needed to put changes into the field. The vendor took about four weeks of the cycle. The remaining 41 months were to gather the 24 signatures at the Pentagon that were needed to allow the fix to go into production. No data? They had the perfect data to solve the problem.

6: Reluctance to Think in Quantitative Terms

Candidates nearly always come into their first coaching session with goals and business cases stated in qualitative terms. For instance, they may want the project to improve customer satisfaction, improve quality, or reduce the cost of quality. While all of these are noble goals, they must be stated in quantitative terms – that is, improve customer satisfaction by reducing complaints by 20 percent, improve quality by reducing released defects by 50 percent, or reduce the cost of quality by reducing the cost of poor quality by 50 percent. This move to statistical thinking is even more difficult in organizations where little more than finance is quantified in daily practice.

5: Not Evaluating the 10 Percent Improvement Goal

For participants who have crossed the line into quantitative thinking, many state the magical 10 percent improvement as the goal or business case. When asked where this number came from, most participants shrug their shoulders. They do not ask: Is 10 percent enough? Could 10 percent be too much or unattainable? Candidates must understand the reasons behind the improvement percentage they choose.

4: Determining the Project’s Solutions Before the Project Starts

This mistake is another carryover from the way projects, in general, are run within the organizations where participants work. In some organizations, it is a sign of weakness to not know the solution to everything immediately. One example is an organization where a person could not present an issue in the weekly senior management forum unless the solution was concurrently presented, even if an issue came in 20 minutes prior to the meeting. In Six Sigma, the idea is to thoroughly understand, measure and analyze a problem before thinking of solutions. This is an ongoing battle for coaches.

3: Worrying Too Much About the Tools

The tools, the tools, the tools. Most initial coaching sessions bring Green Belt teams that are overwrought about the tools. Coaches can help to settle this anxiety is by telling participants that:

  • Green Belt tools are not overly complex and will be covered as needed.
  • Any one project rarely uses all the tools.
  • Tools will be covered again thoroughly as needed across the project.

2: Not Planning for Enough Time or Resources for the Project

Participants often arrive with detailed milestone schedules, but have not at all considered the needed time and resources. Although some organizations set guidelines like, “Twenty-five percent of the time will be dedicated to the Green Belt project,” this often ends up being a 150-175 percent allocation of the participant’s weekly 40 hours.

1: Starting with a “Boil the Ocean” Sized Scope

If participants could only complete the projects they bring into their first coaching session, most companies would see quantum improvement. However, this is not reality, especially when combined with mistake No. 2. It is an absolute must to re-scope the projects based on calendar time and resource allocations. Otherwise, the projects are doomed to failure and Green Belts cannot be completed.

About the Author: Karl D. Williams is a Principal Consultant for Six Sigma Advantage. He has trained over 17,000 people in CMM, CMMI, Six Sigma and software skills. Mr. Williams was formerly a Director at Motorola and, more recently, a Senior Vice President of Process Design for Bank of America. He is a Master Black Belt, an SEI-authorized CMMI Trainer and Lead Appraiser. He has performed over 160 CMM, CMMI, QSR and customized assessments at over 100 organizations in 19 countries. He has published over 70 articles and authored a book entitled Continuous Improvement and Reengineering – A Better Way. Mr. Williams can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author