Often customers want to know, where shall I start improvement work?  How can I go from my current level to Six Sigma (nearly perfect quality)?  The answer is simple.  Listen to your customers, document what they are saying, and prioritize the major themes.  Lean Six Sigma doesn’t have to be complicated, organization-wide or address every problem the organization has at the on-set.  Begin by asking these questions:

Where is the biggest pain? Start here!  Pain can be further described as follows:

Customers are complaining.

Cost is substantial / problematic.

Known problems are easily described.

Previous improvement efforts have failed to achieve the desired impact.

Next, the organization must ask itself - Where are our most talented resources?

Lean Six Sigma spreads when people see with their own eyes the success it can allow teams to achieve.  Therefore, picking projects that have the highest likelihood for success becomes critical during the early stages of Lean Six Sigma implementation.  Ask where do we have the best:

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Leaders

Effective teams that work well together

Image of business partners hands on top of each other symbolizing companionship and unity
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Analytical resources who are interested in working with innovative teams.

Even terrific teams can fail if their leadership does not support the effort, or if the effort doesn’t address one of the key leadership priorities/initiatives.   Have you set your team up for success?

Where is the top leadership willing to try Lean Six Sigma?

  1. Effective teams who work well together and are supported by strong leaders should be the first ones selected for a Lean Six Sigma project.
  2. These types of teams will ensure early wins so as to convince others of the benefit of the Lean Six Sigma approach.
  3. See this Wall Street Journal article, https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-companies-should-hire-teams-not-individuals-1509329580, “Why Companies should hire teams not individuals”, Sydney Finkelstein, October 29th 2017. Business Section.  Journal Reports: Leadership.

Go where the energy is highest!

Finally, in order to complete the project in a short period of time, ask this: Where do you have significant data already that would lead to effective project selection?  When new data must be gathered to start a project, it requires experienced, skilled analytical people who have probably used Lean Six Sigma before.  Wait until your organization has some experience, or use external resources to accomplish this data collection exercise first before you undertake an initiative in this area.  Otherwise, ask yourself, “Where do we have either:

Scorecards, Dashboards or Metrics that are available and utilized.

A team works together to pull up a growth arrow
Male hand drawing Project flow chart on transparent wipe board.

Six Sigma process improvement efforts are accomplished project by project. All successful projects require structure – a team, a leader and a sponsor/champion.  If projects are not defined up-front, teams have difficulty scoping the opportunity and attacking it.  Champions have difficulty supporting the effort.  In order to define a project – start with these questions:

  1. Is this project central to the organization’s goals and objectives?
  2. Who is the customer or customer segment who will most directly benefit from the project’s execution? Will the customer feel differently if the goals outlined in a project charter are achieved?  A customer can be an internal (to the organization) one - the external customer is not always the right one for your project.
  3. Will the executives responsible for this project and the resources dedicated to its completion feel accountable for its success?
  4. What is the project scope and can this project scope be executed in 4-6 months?
  5. Will this project deliver quantifiable results?
  6. If data that describes the problem is not readily available, will it be available to be gathered within the first 1-2 months of the project?
  7. Is there an identified process owner who will take over the improvements implemented in the project and own the ongoing control plan documented during the control phase?
  8. Are the appropriate team members/resources available to ensure this project is successful?