Top 10 Essentials for a Successful Lean Six Sigma Journey

It is a well-known truth in the business world now that Lean and Six Sigma are powerful process Improvement tools. While everyone agrees on this philosophically, why is it so hard to be successful at implementing, sustaining and excelling in this journey?

We have found 10 ingredients that are essential for having a successful Lean Six Sigma journey.

No matter where you are in the Lean Six Sigma journey, this is a good list to check your progress against to understand potential gaps. 

1. Creating a strong sense of urgency or Setting up appropriate expectations:

The first step and probably the most important step is to set the right tone for your CI journey. The reason for change/need for change needs to be clear, concise and well understood across all organizations from the lowest level of employee to the executive leadership. The leadership needs to setup the expectations. Many organizations start CI programs as a flavor of month and it dies down without clear strategy behind it.

2. Aligning Lean Six Sigma implementation with strategic business direction/plan:

In order to achieve a successful Lean Six Sigma implementation, there should be clear link between improvement initiatives and to the overall organization strategic plan. Some good examples of a long term strategic goals are: to grow market share by 25% in 5 years, to grow overall revenue by 50% in 5 years, etc. The CI initiatives then should be linked to this overall strategy; in other words, most of the Lean Six Sigma initiatives should link to how it will help the organization achieve its long-term strategic goals. In order for CI to stick, the improvement must be meaningful to business and to the leadership.

3. Setup a foundation to link LSS results to bottom-line or Link the Lean Six Sigma improvements to bottom-line:

Even though cost savings is not the entire reason for implementation Lean Six Sigma, it is extremely important to be able to link the improvements to bottom-line or to the long-term strategic goals. Many organization fail to link and struggle to show the impact of Lean Six Sigma implementations on bottom-line and long-term strategic goals. The finance team should be part of the planning phase of the Lean Six Sigma implementation so that the estimated savings/benefits are calculated well before the implementation.

4. Selecting right people to run your LSS program

This one will truly make it or break your LSS journey. As we all know, truly talented people suited for Lean Six Sigma are hard to find. When just getting started, you may need the help of outside talent to get it going. Often, when you hire someone from outside to lead this initiative when it is new, it takes time for the individual to understand the operations, business and the company culture. It is much easier to train someone who understands the operations, business and culture on Lean Six Sigma than the contrary.

5. Selecting a right outside company to help you

Almost all companies need support from an outside service provider to get them started off in the right way. Companies should look for someone who is willing to be partner with them to implement the principles in a way that will work with the culture of that organization. While the concepts of Lean Six Sigma are straightforward, their application to each company is never straightforward. Often times an outside company will help you to ensure that your organization is protected from the falls of Lean Six Sigma implementation.

6. Training the leadership first

If there is one initiative that will truly test leadership, this is it. Lean Six Sigma will truly test your leadership skills, support, know-how and relentless follow-up and follow through skills. It is not uncommon for people to say our CI efforts failed due to lack of leadership support and commitment. We strongly recommends starting your LSS implementations with leadership training first. After all, it is only fair to train them and then to expect them to support it.

7. Creating Quick Wins to Excite the Organization

In order for LSS implementation to strive and be successful, at the beginning of the Lean Six Sigma journey, an organization MUST create quick wins. What we recommend is to go for the biggest impact project first, so that it helps the business to solve one of its most complex problem apart from creating excitement that is required to be successful.

8. Expanding it to Enterprise wide

Now that you have the right people, right leadership and the whole organization is excited about Lean Six Sigma, what you do next is another important step. Most organization start typically at one of their departments, functions in their company. Organizations should move quickly to expand the application of the concepts throughout the company before it is attached only to the function where it is started (e.g. “it is a shop floor thing, it doesn’t apply to the offices”).

9. Leveraging the Improvements to GROW the Business

This is one of the single most reasons why Lean Six Sigma dies down after a successful start. Also, this is THE biggest missed opportunity after all the hard work has been put in to ensure successful beginning of Lean Six Sigma. Many organizations fail to leverage their LSS success to win more business from their existing clients or acquiring new clients/businesses. The biggest reason any company want to start their Lean Six Sigma journey is to grow market share and profitability. One of the easiest ways to improve your profitability is to increase your net sales with relatively same level of staffing. Lean Six Sigma, if it is done correctly, will help you to achieve this.

10. Pay for Performance for All

The last piece of this puzzle can be explained picture perfectly with adage “Put Your Money Where your Mouth Is”. All the successful organizations in CI, have a pay for performance for all employees program. While many organizations have bonus program for certain level of employees, it does not typically excite the entire organization. No matter how much we don’t want to believe it, behavior follows money.

Continuous Improvement simply means you are never done improving, so the natural next step after these 10 steps is to start all over again; reset your bar and go for it.

No matter where you are in the journey, this list will help you to identify the gaps that is preventing from achieving the greatest results. If you look at the most successful companies, they will demonstrate ALL of these 10 essentials, not just few of them. Many companies demonstrate only few of these and struggle to achieve the fullest potential of Lean Six Sigma. We encourage all readers to use this as a checklist to ensure that their organizations are on-track to achieve the fullest potential Lean Six Sigma has to offer. 

For more information about how to implement Lean Six Sigma, and for a free consultation, Contact Us.

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

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