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Eight Reasons Your Lean/Six Sigma Initiative Could Fail

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

8 Reasons Your Lean Six Sigma Initiative Could FailThese 8 things could prove deadly to your lean and/or six sigma initiative.  How many do you recognize?

  1. The number of people trained is a key performance metric. While this may be something worth tracking when first starting out on the continuous improvement journey, I’d say this metric is next to useless as a long-term performance measurement. You can train hundreds, even thousands, and bring zero value to the organization.
  2. The number of people certified is a key performance metric. Similarly, if the number of belts or lean gurus certified is a key measure, I’d say you are in it for the wrong reason. Badges and certifications are nice, and rewarding, but handing out marble plaques and T-Shirts should not be the driving force of your efforts.
  3. Tools are used for the sake of a checklist. This is a real problem in the six sigma world. In some cases, a magical checklist listing all the tools a green or black belt must use in order to certify exists. Often times this list forces the belt down a path they may not need to travel as far as what tools they use. If, for example, simple linear regression is not needed to solve a problem stop forcing the belt to use it.
  4. You spend more time quantifying savings than working on the actual project. I’ve seen people complete a project in a month, yet they spend 2 months battling with their controller over how much the project saved. This is pure waste! Before you start the project make sure you and your controller are in agreement as to what the savings will be if the objective is met.
  5. Boiling the ocean. Instead of attempting to improve the on time delivery across your entire plant with a single green belt project, why not focus in on one product variant after some Pareto analysis? You may actually succeed.
  6. It’s a program and not a philosophy. Programs, by definition, end. Conversely, the ancient origin of the word philosophy (philosophía) means “love of knowledge” or “love of wisdom.” And true love, as the good book tells us, never ends. So, make sure your lean and/or six sigma activities are part of an overall business philosophy and not a flavor of the month program.
  7. It’s all about their resume. If the sole reason an individual is interested in learning new lean and six sigma skills is to pad their resume you have a big issue. Do your best to understand an individual’s true motivation for wanting to learn new skills. This is a tricky one, since we want all employees to learn. If this problem is rampant there may be larger, more systemic organizational issues that need to be addressed.
  8. You attempt to control gains. If I had invented the DMAIC roadmap I would have made one major change. I wouldn’t have called the last phase control. Instead, I would have called it continue! You see, I am of the opinion that no gain can be controlled long-term. You are either improving or digressing. So, stop trying to control things… instead never stop improving them!

Do you agree with this list? Can you think of anything I’ve missed?

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  1. Dennis Stenson

    June 2, 2008 - 6:58 am

    Good list. Sadly, I recognize far too many of these.

    I think another one has to do with upper management support. If it is being pushed from bottom up chances for failure are excellent.

  2. William Budd

    June 2, 2008 - 10:04 am

    Well said!

  3. Jason Stokes

    June 2, 2008 - 10:48 am

    I, too, recognize a lot of these Ron. I’d like to add another, corollary to number 3:

    You make the candidate show use of a bunch of tools in a report that takes longer than completing the project itself should have.

    and another:

    Candidates are given example timelines for completing projects prior to starting them – leading them to think they need to spend that long working on it in order to be successful.

    one more from my past:

    Everyone gets trained and certified, driving up the numbers, but no one is ever encouraged to do anything past their certification projects.

    I like this post, and saw a lot of problems that I’ve encountered too. Keep up the good work on the site!

  4. mmm carpets

    June 13, 2014 - 7:28 pm

    Howdy! This article couldn’t be written much better!
    Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He continually kept talking about this. I am going to forward this information to him.

    Pretty sure he will have a great read. Thank you for sharing!

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