It may surprise you to know that as many as 80% of Six Sigma projects fail to increase quality as much as anticipated.
How is it possible that a methodology that is well-organized, intensely focused on the process, and equipped with so many problem-solving tools can fall so far short of its potential?
True believers in Six Sigma can be reassured that projects fail not because the methodology if flawed, but because of poor execution in its application.
What Causes Six Sigma Projects to Fail?
Even proven continuous enhancement programs, like Six Sigma, will deliver dismal results when they are deployed improperly. There are several different factors that can cause poor project deployment and execution.
The project is not connected to a financial benefit – Money speaks loudly in the world of commerce, and when a Six Sigma project is not presented in terms of increasing revenues or decreasing costs, its voice is faint and faltering. Projects that get resources, respect and management’s attention are the ones linked to improved financial performance.
Inconsistent leadership – Six Sigma projects usually begin with a Black Belt at the helm. This strong leader helps keep the project team focused on reducing errors and improving the process. Because Black Belts are in high demand, they are frequently reassigned just as the team begins to make progress and gain momentum. Changing leaders at a critical time can cause a project team to lose focus on its objective and miss its target goals.
Indifference in the C-Suite – A project team that has successfully reduced product defects by improving the process has only won half the battle. The other half requires getting the improved process adopted as a permanent part of business operations. If executive leadership doesn’t support the project, or is unaware of it, the newly improved process improvements are at risk of being forgotten and dying on the vine. To become institutionalized, a new process needs the financial and political support that the C-Suite can best provide.
Three Steps to Defeat Project Failure
Once you know the common causes of Six Sigma project failure, you can take the following steps to help avoid them.
Talk about the money – While financial improvement isn’t always the most important benefit of your project, it’s easy to understand, and it grabs upper management’s attention. Make sure your elevator speech includes a line about how much the project increases revenues or decreases costs.
Provide steady leadership – Make sure the team is constantly supported by strong leadership. If Black Belts are able to lead the team until the project is completed, then by all means keep them there. If they can’t stay, keep them involved with the team as much as possible and make sure the Black Belt has a qualified successor.
Win over top management – Leadership’s support can mean the difference between a process improvement that never quite catches on and one that changes the way the company does business. Master Black Belts are the best advocates for winning over the C-Suite. Their best hope for gaining executive support lies in establishing the need for change and demonstrating the financial benefits.
Following Six Sigma principles is no guarantee for success. But when project teams are aware of the ways that Six Sigma projects could go wrong, and know how to address them, their odds of success will naturally increase.