When the Company is not Ready for Change, Continuous Improvement Programs Fail

Most of the Six Sigma or Lean programs that have failed can be attributed to the fact that the company was not ready to implement. Both Six Sigma and Lean requires that the right continuous improvement infrastructure is put in place before the program is launched. Any continuous improvement initiative is going to fail if the company is not devoting enough resources to the initiative in general and projects in particular. Numerous companies have launched Six Sigma or Lean programs that stumbled and suffered just because the Belts or Lean leaders did not have the time to continue working on their projects after they spent time going through rigorous training. Or in those cases where a project gets started the Belts face tremendous obstacles in getting team members and subject matter experts’ participation. This leads to frustration for both the Belts or Lean leaders who struggle to meet their individual targets and business leaders who were expecting great things from the program. 

In such scenarios it is better to wait to get both resources and commitment from the sponsor/champion as well as subject matter experts before launching the initiative. In addition the particular program, be it Six Sigma or Lean, requires the blessing of senior leaders. If top business leaders view Six Sigma or Lean as a fad of the month and don’t see the strategic value these programs bring, then it might be worthwhile to show them the value of these methodologies and get them onboard before implementing a full-fledged program. If leadership is ambivalent to these programs and where the need is to get strong commitment, it might be possible to get their support by driving a pilot project to completion that generates breakthrough results.

There also needs to be an alignment of Lean Six Sigma implementation with the strategic business plan and direction. In order to achieve successful Lean Six Sigma implementation, there should be a clear link between improvement initiatives and the overall strategic plan for the organization. Some good examples of long term strategic goals are: to grow market shares by 25 percent in five years; to grow overall revenue by 50 percent in five years, etc. The continuous improvement initiatives should then be linked to this overall strategy: in other words, most of the Lean Six Sigma initiatives should link to how they will help the organization achieve its long-term strategic goals. One of the most common failure modes we see is that the CI function is on its own island. The root cause for this failure is typically that there is no link between business needs and continuous improvement initiatives. One real life example would be the continuous improvement group working on solely improving the 5S, while the factory’s on time performance is past-due and heading in the wrong direction.

In order for continuous improvement to stick, the improvement must be meaningful to the business and to the leadership. Lean Six Sigma is simply a set of tools that helps organizations get the desired business results while creating a high performing workforce and outstanding employee satisfaction.