Starting From Zero

Starting From Zero

Launching a Lean Six Sigma Program

Imagine starting a new job at a company with no formal continuous improvement program. There is no culture of fact-based decision-making. The company measures only one thing: Dollars. A wide variety of problems exist across many different departments – accounting, procurement, human resources, operations, customer service. And you’ve been hired to launch a new Lean Six Sigma Program to try to fix this mess.


Where to start?

Put differently: What is the best practice to launch a formal Lean Six Sigma Program?

While the scenario above is fictitious, all companies wishing to implement a new Continuous Improvement Initiative must start somewhere. There are multiple approaches to this challenge. One way is to train some employees as Green Belts and/or Black Belts, get them working on projects to address the biggest problems, then figure out other details of the LSS Program over time. This method requires little in the way of upfront planning and a limited infrastructure. It also allows the program to evolve over time.

But there are many possible problems with this approach. One major downside is the deployment team is always scrambling to respond to issues and needs that inevitably occur. Another issue is the lack of any formal change management effort. By ignoring company culture there is a high likelihood of failure on any number of fronts.

TMAC has worked with companies that use this approach. Our observation was that the deployment tends to take much longer to reach maturity. Likewise, projects from new belts take longer and results are less than expected. And in some cases, the entire program is effectively ‘Dead on Arrival’.

The opposite approach – and best practice, in our view – is to begin with a LSS Deployment Workshop. This is a 2 to 3-day session conducted using a kaizen approach in which the major elements of a company’s LSS Program are defined and planned. The outcome of such a workshop is a set of policies, procedures, and plans which enables the launch of a new LSS Program in such a way that it is up and running in a relatively short period of time.

We facilitated such a workshop recently for a manufacturing company. This particular company has been around for over 50 years and provides machining services. The company has several branch locations, but our focus was just the company headquarters. The plan is to expand their LSS Program to other locations over time.

Unlike the scenario mentioned above, this company does have an existing Quality Management System and is ISO 9000 registered. The company also has some experienced LSS practitioners on their staff. However, the company did not have a formal Lean Six Sigma Program.

So that was our goal: Defining the major elements of this company’s LSS Program. Fortunately, we had excellent participation from the management team for the Deployment Workshop.

What did we talk about during this two-day session?

First, to get everyone up to speed on the basics, we started with an overview of Lean Six Sigma: What it is, How does it work, What is DMAIC, etc. From there TMAC’s role, as facilitators, was to ask a series of questions about a LSS Program. And to present options on those questions, such as How to Select Projects, How to Recognize Belts, etc.

Here is a partial list of those questions, in the approximate order in which they were asked, plus comments:

  • Creating Case for Change:
    • Why are we doing this? What is the business case for change?
    • What is the compelling, value-laden vision of the company we want to create with LSS?
    • What do we expect to get from LSS? How will it help us achieve our strategic objectives?
      • These questions are key to change management for any new initiative.
      • We also discussed WIIFM – What’s In It For Me?
  • Roles & Responsibilities:
    • A RACI chart with typical LSS Roles & Responsibilities was used for the sake of discussion, along with basic job descriptions.
    • The Program Structure was defined: Who reports to Who? Who is the Deployment Champion? Who is on the Steering Committee? How are GBs/BBs held accountable? How are Sponsors held accountable?
  • Program Scope & Schedule:
    • What areas of the business will be included in the LSS Program?
      • Many companies start in Operations and expand over time into other areas. Others roll out LSS across all functions.
    • What are the series of activities which must occur to get the program up and running?
    • What is the timeline for these activities? Who is responsible for each major deliverable?
    • How will financial results be confirmed and tracked?
  • Staffing Decisions:
    • How many Green Belts will we have? Black Belts? MBBs?
    • What percent of time will they be expected to work on LSS projects?
    • What about support staff to handle Program Admin duties?
  • Program Metrics
    • What metrics will be used to track success of the program (e.g., Belts trained, Projects completed, Dollars saved, etc.)?
    • Who is responsible to track/update/report these metrics?
  • Project Selection & Tracking
    • What is the process for selecting projects? For canceling projects?
    • Who is on the Project Selection Committee? How often do they meet?
    • How are projects tracked and documented over time? Who maintains a project database?
  • Talent Selection:
    • What are the selection guidelines for choosing GBs/BBs/etc.?
    • How are individuals nominated (Push vs. Pull)?
    • How to repatriate belts back into management/non-LSS roles?
  • Recognition and Rewards
    • How will GBs/BBs be recognized? How will teams be recognized?
    • What rewards will be given upon successful completion of projects?
    • How do these roles impact career path?
  • Training and Coaching Program
    • What classes will be offered? To whom? When?
    • Who will provide training? How are they qualified?
    • Who will maintain training materials?
    • Who is qualified to perform coaching? How will it be delivered?
  • Communications
    • How will employees be informed of LSS Program activities?
    • How will the Leadership Team be informed?

As you can see from this list, there are a LOT of decisions to be made when launching a new LSS Program. It is extremely important to have the right group of stakeholders participate in these decisions. All companies are different. Regardless of the approach, make sure your organization spends time on developing the policies and procedures for a successful LSS Program.