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The 7 Don’ts of a Lean Six Sigma Project!

“Success comes from experience… and experience comes

 from failure. If you’re not successful yet, then maybe you

haven’t failed enough.” ~ Mel Robbins

In life we all have good and not so good experiences. All experiences offer a learning opportunity. Personally, I think I have learned much more from my not so good experiences – or I can say from my failures. Indeed, that is what makes us better at what we do!

Let me share one of my not so good work experiences. In one of my first continuous improvement projects, I failed to communicate the project progress to my customer. When it was time to present what I had done, the customer was appreciative of the work but said, “That’s not really what we were looking for”. Ouch! As you would imagine I felt horrible, and yes, I wanted the ground to open in that conference room and swallow me up. I learned the importance of communication.  Since then, in every single project, I make sure to always communicate the project progress to the customer and make clear what is planned for the next steps.

Of course, we would prefer not to have those embarrassing or uncomfortable moments, but the reality is that no one starts out being an expert, so allow yourself to be a beginner and to learn from your experiences. In other words, reflect after the action; acknowledge what didn’t go well and then think about what did go well, take the positives out of your experience, and move forward.

Now, let’s think about your first Lean Six Sigma (LSS) project. How did it go? Did anything go wrong? If you had the opportunity to do it all over again, would you do anything different? I am going to ask you to pause for a moment and think about it…

Let me guess, most likely, you would have changed something. Am I right? And this is the reason why: because there is always room for improvement. We can always do better!

Having firsthand experiences helps us learn these types of lessons. However, as LSS practitioners we can strive to minimize risk of failures, mistakes or something going wrong. From my experience as a LSS instructor and coach I have heard many belts who discussed various project challenges. I summarized what I think are the top DON’Ts in a project to maximize your chances for success. Here they are:

  1. DON’T Skip Gate Reviews – As you can see with my example above, not communicating project progress can be very risky. Things can change. The project might not be a priority or be aligned with company goals any longer. Every phase of the DMAIC methodology needs its proper gate review. Gate reviews offer a great opportunity to keep management informed. They also are important for gaining buy-in and they provide a great way to engage with your team. Of course, you should have a strong and recurring communication with your sponsor over the life of the project.
  2. DON’T Allow Scope Creep – One of the main factors influencing project success is to determine a proper scope. If the scope is too big, LSS practitioners experience a sense of frustration and what feels like an endless timeline. Scope should be reasonable and doable whether for a Green Belt (GB), a Black Belt (BB), or a Kaizen project. At TMAC we feel a properly scoped GB project can be completed in 5 to 8 months while a BB project can take 6 to 9 months. A Kaizen event – including planning, execution and follow up takes about 1 to 2 months.
  3. DON’T Omit the MSA – I cannot stress this enough! Trash in – trash out! If you use bad data in your project this can lead to all sorts of waste. More than improving anything, it can result in incorrect root causes, unproven solutions, and ultimately delay project completion. You must be able to say “Yes!” to the question: “Can I trust my data?”. The options to consider include an Audit MSA, Gage R&R, or a Kappa Study.
  4. DON’T Skip the Pilot – It is a natural tendency for teams to try to solve a problem without going properly through the DMAIC process and even in the Improve phase, many times solutions are implemented without proper planning. Therefore, a pilot of the solution is vital to project success. First, it is necessary to break down the tasks, due dates, and responsible people to implement the solutions. Then, after implementing them, plan to observe the process for a period of time and collect new data to be able to compare against the baseline data and determine improvement. Finally, take time to prepare lessons learned from the pilot. These lessons are critical to preparing a deployment plan for the full implementation.
  5. DON’T Do the Project by Yourself – A LSS project must be done with a team. Even if you are very knowledgeable about the process and the tools to use, it is crucial to have insight from team members. A mixed group can add different perspectives. Having the team on board can guarantee a level of project success; when people are part of the solution there is a higher probability, they will adopt the change. Use your team’s knowledge.
  6. DON’T Forget to Meet with Your Team Frequently – This is a common issue; people are too busy and scheduling team meetings can be very challenging. Skipping meetings causes delays, leading to team members being uninterested in the project. The best practice is to set expectations early in the project about meetings. For example, at the beginning of the project, you can plan to meet with the team weekly, on a specific day and time. Then if conditions warrant, you can change the frequency (e.g., switch to every two weeks). In this way you guarantee engagement from the team and gain momentum.
  7. DON’T Underestimate the Control Phase – You and your team finish implementing the solutions and great news – it worked! Everyone is excited and ready to move on to the next challenge. Often this mindset leads to a reduced focus on the key deliverables and activities in the Control phase. Then a few months later, the process breaks down and is not working as expected. The reason: the proper controls needed to sustain the solution were never fully implemented. Every project needs this and there are many options to sustain the new process. Examples include process audits, training, new documentation, metrics tracking, visual controls, mistake proofing, FMEA, and control plans.

Following these 7 Don’ts of LSS can help you avoid an 8th: DON’T celebrate a project birthday! As noted above, a properly scoped LSS project should take much less than a year to complete. The estimated timeframes also assume (a) adequate time is spent every week on your project (GBs typically invest ~10-20% of their time, while BBs require ~20-50%) and (b) project management tools are used, such as Gantt charts.

I hope these recommendations help in your LSS journey. Also, DO remember this phrase from Albert Einstein, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new”. Bottom line, it is OK if you make mistakes, just remember to learn from them, in order to be more successful in the future!

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