learnings from Implementing CI in Organizations Globally

Even though Lean and Six Sigma (aka Continuous Improvement, Operations Excellence, Business Excellence) methodologies have existed for quite some time now, not all companies have seen equal success with the implementation of these methodologies. Companies (leaders) have given various excuses for failed implementation (deployment) or reasons for not implementing Lean Six Sigma.

Some of the top reasons include: 1) we were not ready for change, which translated roughly means our people were lazy in adopting the Lean Six Sigma methodologies; 2) we are already doing continuous improvement, which means we don’t need a new tool, again showing the ignorance of the Lean Six Sigma approach; 3) we did not have the budget to implement Lean Six Sigma, which means we did not want to invest to grow, we just needed short term gains; 4) Lean Six Sigma is very complex and needs training and a lot of time and effort, which we don’t have right now—this is pretty self explanatory again of the need to change.

CI methodologies are implemented by companies for various reasons.
Some of the top reasons are: 1) to have an impact on the company bottom line; 2) to get more business; 3) to differentiate among the competitors; 4) to change the company culture…blah blah blah, right?
Some companies have realized huge benefits by implementing CI methodologies and some have not been so successful. George Eckes in his book Making Six Sigma Last states that the key to successful implementation is the A part in the equation Q*A = E; where Q is the quality of the solution, A is the acceptance of the solution and E is the Effectiveness of the solution. There are several tools that can be used to get acceptance from among the company employees.

Challenges of Increasing Acceptance of Lean Six Sigma

The threat of losing a job is one such tool (which is used widely, unfortunately), which only goes so far. Change or be changed can be effective only in limited situations. It is not a bad tool to use in some situations when weeds have to be pulled out from a company to move the company forward. As General Electric’s Jack Welch stated, “You have a choice in accepting change, but not here.” We always tend to focus on Q when an initiative fails. We forget we have not done enough to get our A up. GE’s CAP (Change Acceleration Program) is widely used by many companies to get acceptance. But in my experience, it too has its limitations. Companies tend to think that by making their employees go through the CAP training, the change will garner more acceptance. This might be true in some instances, but only in the short term.

The fundamental need to change will not come easily when the company is doing good or better than its competitors. The fundamental need to change will not come easily to a company’s employees if the leadership does not speak about change constantly. If the top leaders just talk about change and behind closed doors act in the same old ways as before, it won’t be soon until employees discover about this and call the leaders’ bluff. The leaders themselves need to be competent by virtue of a combination of knowledge, character and experience. Most of the time, the leaders are lacking in either one or two or all three areas. As a result, truly competent change agents leave the company in search of companies where they feel they can implement change. As a result the change initiative fails, and the company’s leaders blame the Lean Six Sigma methodology for being ill-suited for their company, which in my opinion is purely ridiculous and shows the naivety or ignorance of the leaders.

Change as we know it is very difficult for most of us. We accept change only if it is good, and by nature we think change is bad because we associate change with loss. In the beginning stages of the launching of any new ideas/approaches, we are keen on shooting down the ideas/approaches because:
1) we are threatened by the new idea (job loss!)
2) new ideas/approaches mean having to learn about the new ideas/approaches and by nature most of us don’t want to spend the time to learn new ideas/approaches because either we don’t have time or we are purely lazy!
3) we think we are doing well (beating the competition), which is complacency; and
4) we would mess up our current situation of already doing better than our competitors or things running smoothly, etc.
If all this effort we take to shoot down the new ideas/approaches could be translated into accepting the new ideas/approaches by making an effort to spend some time learning the new ideas/approaches, all the companies’ leaders/employees would have realized a high level of success.

Skills Change Agents Need to Build Up Their Organization’s Acceptance of Lean Six Sigma

So much of literature has been written on change, how to manage change, how to influence people, etc. There is no one tool/approach for getting our A up in our companies. There has to be a mix of skills in the change agents. The formula for that mix, according to my opinion and experience, is Technical Competency (knowledge of Lean Six Sigma tools and experience in implementing the tools across various areas—manufacturing, service, logistics, supply chain, etc) + People Skills (communication skills—oral and written, capability of handling difficult people etc) + Positional Power (the change agent must have a reasonable position power as well).

Technical competency comprises not only the knowledge of the Lean Six Sigma tools such as value stream mapping, statistical tests like two sample t test, chi-square test, etc., but also the ability to interpret and translate the tools into simple language so that non-technical people can understand what the tools do and why are they being used. This comes from in-depth knowledge of the Lean Six Sigma tools and well as their implementation in appropriate situations. Technical competency also comes from the exposure to use these tools. If some of the Lean Six Sigma tools do not apply to an industry, then part of technical competency is lost. For example, most of the data in manufacturing tends to be continuous and hence people are more exposed to tools that make use of continuous data. But in industries like textiles and BPOs, discrete data is used widely.

People skills is something that again does not come easily to us. People skills can be acquired or inherently present in an individual, although the latter would be better. Communication skills are very important, i.e. what to say at what time and when and to whom is very important. Change should not be thrust upon people, although most companies tend to do that and hence fail. The best way to bring about change is to not talk about bringing about the change and just doing it. Many people state that you have to become the change you want to bring to about in other people.

Positional power is an important element that is often overlooked by many companies. Change agents are often left to use their influential skills alone in many cases, which works only to a limited extent. The change agents can use their influential skills and communication skills and technical skills all day long but if they don’t have any position power, the results would be limited. This comes from my own work experience. Each and every time I faced roadblocks (which there were many to count!) in my Lean Six Sigma implementation efforts, I had to use my positional power. This should be used as the last resort, but it should be used where needed.