Reinforcement is probably the most important step in ensuring a successful change.

Successfully building an internal program requires a department staffed with fulltime, dedicated resources whose primary focus should be in building the continuous improvement program. Almost all the companies that are recognized globally as leaders in continuous improvement have a quality or continuous improvement department that is responsible for driving the program and delivering to the business as per commitments made.

The actual work of program managing the continuous improvement initiative falls on a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt–companies who are just starting their continuous improvement program can actually benefit from hiring a skilled and experienced MBB from outside the company who has the experience in building these kinds of programs. As we have discussed elsewhere, a proven continuous improvement practitioner in the form of a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt (LSSMBB) can drive almost any continuous improvement program, irrespective of the continuous improvement methodology that is chosen.

Another advantage with hiring a certified LSSMBB lies in the fact that Lean Six Sigma certification is probably the only industry accepted and globally recognized certification in the continuous improvement world and assures a minimum level of knowledge and understanding of the different continuous improvement methodologies. There are a few other certifications like QFD certification, Kaizen certification, BPM certification etc., and individuals having these kinds of certifications can also bring lot of value to a continuous improvement program. When it comes to developing internal training curriculum and infrastructure, the company can also leverage the LSSMBB instead of having to depend on external consultants and thereby save a significant amount of costs as well as be able to design a curriculum that fits in with the company’s culture.

Opportunity for Growth:

As previously mentioned, a successful and visible internal quality or continuous improvement program can actually help in retaining talented staff as well as attract best candidates from the outside world. When such a program exists it becomes an attractive vehicle to reward high achievers grow within the business. In most companies with a successful and well recognized continuous improvement program that we have observed, high performing candidates with potential for future growth are selected to get trained as Green Belts.

As part of their training, these candidates work on one or more projects in their respective area of work and gain a better understanding of how their department and more importantly processes within that department function. Once they have completed the Green Belt training and receive certification (after successful completion of a requisite number of projects), a select few with high leadership program are then sent by their management to go through the more rigorous Black Belt training. As part of Black Belt training, the successful candidates are expected to complete a cross functional project with significant benefits to the business.

Working on these projects benefits the candidates in various ways–it develops them as leaders capable of delivering on major initiatives, it gives them visibility to senior leadership, and finally it is a great way for these individuals to learn more about other departments or overall business. Even though this sounds very logical on paper, in reality few companies have been really able to get this right for various reasons but most notably due to lack of top level support for the program.

Reward and Recognition Mechanism:

Reinforcement is probably the most important step in ensuring a successful change. As the saying goes, success breeds success. The next chapter addresses how and why the implementation of a successful continuous improvement program is very much dependent on proper change management. Also Appendix 1 analyzes 3M’s failed Six Sigma program and hypothesizes how a proper change management methodology and implementation would have resulted in a potentially different ending. However, we have seen many companies that do not have a formal process in place to reward and recognize successful projects. On the other hand, most companies that have been successful in building a continuous improvement culture treat the initiatives and projects as mission critical with executive level visibility and support, and individuals vie to get the opportunity to work on these projects because of the potential for recognition and career growth.

Having the Right Sized Infrastructure:

Managing and running a successful continuous improvement program can be pretty difficult and companies who have shown commitment to the program have ensured that enough resources are dedicated to it. However, that does not mean that a company needs to hire a bunch of Master Black Belts. In fact, as the chart shows below, MBBs as a percentage of total employees should not be more than 0.1 percent. The areas where the company needs to invest more would be around program management, training, developing internal Green Belts, a few Black Belts, and in ensuring that successful projects are suitably recognized and rewarded.