How to make Lean and Six Sigma Work for Your Business

In recent years, Lean Six Sigma has become one of the most prevalently used business improvement strategies across the globe.  Significant gains in productivity and customer satisfaction have been realised by organisations that have successfully executed well-designed implementation programs.

Lean Six Sigma is about achieving stable and predictable process improvement and delighting customers with the right solutions.  However, results have varied across and within industry sectors and many organisations have achieved only patchy results.  Many have struggled to achieve breakthrough change and others have struggled to sustain long term continuous improvement.  So, what are the critical factors which drive program success and ensure long term sustainability?

As with any change program, success begins at the top.  Hence, a strong commitment to the foundation principles of Lean and Six Sigma within the organisation’s senior leadership team is of paramount importance and successful organisations invariably take steps to ensure a common sense of purpose within this cohort.  This establishes the capability needed to overcome the challenges that arise when driving disruptive change.  Successful Lean Six Sigma organisations possess this capability at the highest level and such capability is essential to program success.

When developing, and executing an implementation program, successful organisations perform strongly in the following critical areas.

  • Design
  • Governance
  • Learning
  • Application
  • Coaching
  • Support

1.  Program Design
Program design starts with the identification of goals and objectives for the program.  This is best undertaken following a review of current performance, and goals and objectives should be in alignment with the organisation’s high level strategic plans.  Importantly, the program’s goals and objectives should detail requirements from a people, process, financial and customer perspective.  Specific improvement projects should be carefully scoped to ensure a focus on the organisation’s short and long term improvement priorities.

2.  Governance Requirements
When executing a Lean Six Sigma improvement strategy, successful organisations track and monitor implementation strategies and related improvement projects.  The use of performance metrics, visual management and progress meetings are all key elements of effective governance.  This tracking enables roadblocks to be identified and resolved in a timely manner.  For example, resource constraints and resistance to change are roadblocks which often arise when implementing Lean Six Sigma.  Hence, the use of effective program governance procedures ensures early detection of such issues and timely resolution.

3.  Learning Essentials
The development of a comprehensive learning strategy is a vital component of a well-designed implementation plan. Successful organisations deliver structured training programs in Lean Six Sigma to employees at all levels. Training typically ranges from introductory courses in foundation principles to advanced practitioner programs for project leaders.  This training is essential to the development of internal capability and should be in alignment with the program’s overall goals and objectives.

4.  Application of Tools
The use of effective process improvement tools is critical to the success of any Lean Six Sigma program.  These tools are used to reduce waste and process variation and their application should be carefully targeted to maximise ROI.  Successful organisations are skilled at applying resources to priority improvement opportunities and following up on outcomes to ensure sustainability of solutions.  The use of qualified Lean Six Sigma practitioners and external support where necessary is vital for ensuring tangible and sustainable results.

5.  Coaching
Individual and group coaching in Lean Six Sigma is often employed by organisations to maximise results. Coaching provides access to expert guidance which assists individuals and teams to realise their business improvement goals.

6.  Employee Support
The importance of providing day to day support to employees cannot be overstated.  Successful organisations engage their departmental leaders as a first point of contact for team members and these leaders also play a vital role in prioritising and resourcing improvement projects.

In summary, successful Lean Six Sigma organisations appreciate the importance of careful program design and take steps to provide structured training and support for all employees.  By utilising effective program governance protocols, these organisations overcome roadblocks and carve a pathway to sustainable success.  The result is sustainable productivity growth, a culture of continuous improvement and enhanced satisfaction for all stakeholders.  Through careful program design and effective employee engagement, you and your organisation can optimise the significant and sustainable benefits offered by this powerful business improvement strategy.  Good luck!