Imagine it’s Christmas Eve and you are the parent of child about to receive their first bicycle. The only issue is this: You’ve got one night to put it together.
The end goal is right there on the box – a shiny new bike. Tools and instructions are supplied to achieve that goal.
Now, imagine that you decide to completely ignore those instructions and use your own tools. Or you only use some of the supplied tools, but without understanding the proper way to put them into action.
The result: An unfinished or sloppily assembled bike. Even worse, one very disappointed kid the next morning.
At the end of the day, would you blame the bike manufacturer or yourself?
Six Sigma Complaints
The above directly applies to Six Sigma and how businesses apply it. Some blame Six Sigma when an organization decides to put the methodology into action and things don’t improve. Or they simply think Six Sigma does not apply to their situation.
Six Sigma is not some sort of magic incantation to chant that solves issues in a snap. It takes dedication, training and proper application.
Challenges arise not with Six Sigma itself, but with how it is applied and the people who apply it.
Challenges With People
Six Sigma is a collection of tools and techniques. They’ve been proven to work time and time again to make processes within a company more efficient. Those who doubt can call Motorola, Toyota, IBM and General Electric. They’ve all had a bit of success with Six Sigma.
Six Sigma or Lean, properly applied, can make any process more efficient. Feelings are not part of the equation. Any process can be improved when its measured, analyzed, defects and wastes are found and eliminated, and a plan is put into action to sustain the changes.
But things sometimes get in the way. They include many of the following.
Resistance to Change
Many employees – and managers – are resistant to changing a process that has worked one way for many years, no matter how inefficient. This is an emotional response, not a logical one. In some cases, employees fear they will lose their jobs if Six Sigma is applied. This is one of the biggest Six Sigma myths. That’s not what Six Sigma does. It focuses on fixing defects, not eliminating jobs.
No Management Buy-In
Management doesn’t always completely commit to Six Sigma. Or, if the benefit is not clear or immediately realized, they will lose interest and offer weak support. This short-term view is not the best approach. Six Sigma is a process that requires long-term commitment.
Challenges With Implementation
These areas are results of the issues listed above. They involve errors in implementing Six Sigma process improvement methodologies.
The scope of a project is important as it defines the ultimate goal and sets parameters for what the project will encompass. However, once a project begins and issues are uncovered, scope creep can occur. This leads teams off onto tangents that don’t necessarily benefit the stated project goal. Office politics and a lack of unclouded vision from management can also constrain a project.
Not Using a Data-Driven Approach
Knowing the correct data to collect on a project is difficult enough, as is analyzing it properly to reach conclusions that will benefit an organization. However, in many cases, managers and executives will still go with “gut instincts” no matter what the data shows. By ignoring the data, people ignore one of the basic principles of Six Sigma.
Lack of Resources
This ties in particularly with management buy-in. Without providing the proper tools to accomplish a project, a team can soon flounder.
Change Is Hard
Of everything listed above, fear of change is likely behind much of the issue.
Ultimately, the issue becomes one of vision. Any “agent of change” – such as a process improvement methodology – will be a cause of concern. There are five fundamental ideas to keep in mind that might be helpful to implementing Six Sigma. Set aside fear and consider the following.
Remember the Fundamentals
There are five fundamental ideas underlying any process improvement project. All these boxes need to be ticked to make a project work.
- Set the focus for the entire organization. This means leaders setting and communicating clear, realistic objectives and expectations.
- Ensure the organizational culture is aligned to the process goals. Smart leaders focus on culture as much as anything else, knowing that encouraging the right kinds of positive behaviors and habits are the real key to long-term success.
- Understand the process. Commit resources to educating and training employees on process improvement methodologies.
- Pick the right problem to address. This manages scope. Tackle issues with a clear goal in mind. Don’t underestimate the complexity of solving challenges.
- Use the right approach. Use the right tools and techniques, which requires extensive knowledge of what Six Sigma offers to know what will work best in your situation.
Like anything worthwhile, Six Sigma takes commitment and work. Don’t rush to blame the system if things don’t change immediately. Look, instead, at yourself.