One fatal flaw guaranteed to cause your Lean Six Sigma Programme to Fail

By Paul Swift


Greed ! (Otherwise known as unrealistic expectations).greed

It is necessary to identify specific objectives in order to attain the vision that has been set for the company and that the vision itself is realistic and the timescales attached to this. I have seen this with at least two of my clients, whereby they are completely bought into the whole #lean Six Sigma philosophy, apart from one part – the part that says they absolutely MUST take the people with them. (This of course is the part that takes the time, as we must get these people through their own individual change curves at a pace that isn’t too uncomfortable for them).

A key objective can be defined as a manageable portion of the overall company vision. For example, an objective may be to increase productivity by 10% by the end of the year, which is quite realistic (as long as this isn’t set in November !).

It is vital that each objective is realistic to ensure a sustainable Lean Six Sigma transformation (if the objective isn’t realistic, you’ve lost the people on day 1). A company cannot expect the change agents to run multiple projects with multiple trainees simultaneously in order to grow the organisational knowledge in the shortest time. The expectation cannot be satisfied because the change agents have only gained a reasonable understanding of the approach while developing the pilot area. Overburden on the change agents can result in projects failing to meet their specified objectives. The failed initiatives can then permeate a general attitude from company employees: “Lean Six Sigma –we tried that and it didn’t work!”

The organisation must recognise that it is investing for the long term when pursuing these objectives. Persevering with a structured and well-planned approach in satisfying the objectives can reap huge business benefits. But beware, most organisations that embark on Lean Six Sigma transformation are greedy for results, which ultimately will result in failure. The greediness comes from an organisation’s belief that it can become a Lean Six Sigma exemplar to a higher degree, faster and with less resource than anyone else. There are no short cuts to the Lean Six Sigma transformation. World class Lean Six Sigma organisations have taken many years to establish their position today. It takes time to catch up – so, please be patient.

The following analogy shows the importance of patience and developing a proper infrastructure to support the change. Two gardeners each plant a seed in some fertile soil. After six months, each seed has sprouted above the ground to a length of only four inches. One of the gardeners is concerned because the plant is not growing fast enough, so he removes the sprout along with its root and plants a new seed. The other gardener is more patient and understands that the sprout is still developing its foundations and has great potential, even though the growth hasn’t been that great. Another six months passes and the patient gardener now has a plant that sprouted to a height of two feet! This flower was able to grow so rapidly because it was nurtured early on and allowed to develop at its own pace. One the other hand, the new seed for the impatient gardener has only grown four inches again.


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i&iImprovement and InnovationPaul SwiftLean Six SigmaStrategic ManagementLeadership and Growth