6 Common Reasons for Six Sigma Initiative failure

Six Sigma Initiative Failure

This article identifies 6 common reasons for failure in Six Sigma initiatives. I don’t like focusing on failure, however, an understanding of common reasons for failure will, at a minimum, enable practitioners to go into an investment in Six Sigma with their eyes fully open. It will also ensure they can maximise the possibility of success.

  1. The first reason relates to a lack of benefit quantification. There are actually two potential issues here – are there any benefits, and if so, are they being identified accurately and reported upon? Obviously, the first is a much bigger problem, and if there are no business benefits the entire program will need to be reconsidered.
  2. Lack of management buy-in. This reason is closely linked to the first. If there are few benefits and/or they have not been clearly identified, only a disinterested senior management team would continue to “support” the program anyway. Effective senior management teams are often not noted for their patience, and any investment not delivering clear ROI in today’s world is likely to have a short life.
  3. Lack of tangible results from a pilot. As with reasons 1, the third reason links closely to the 2nd. I would argue that a common reason for a pilot in the first place is that the executive team are not totally convinced of the business benefits, so a pilot is arrived at as a compromise. Pilots are easy to kill with a minimum amount of fuss as opposed to a high profile executive commitment across a business.
  4. Lack of coaching and skills. Again, this reason in linked to the others. A lack of coaching and skills, will in many cases, be associated with a relatively weak Six Sigma team – the kind of team that may struggle to get the executives fully bought in.
  5. Lack of resources. Getting sufficient numbers of “belts” trained at whatever levels is a major investment, not only in actual cash for the training, but in terms of time and adding extra work to busy managers’ lives.
  6. Is it seen as too complicated? In some quarters, Six Sigma is regarded as too complicated. There’s a lot of terminology surrounding the concept and that doesn’t always help either. Admittedly, nothing really worthwhile is achieved easily, but there is the sense that Six Sigma is sometimes more effort than impact.

So, one thing that does emerge clearly is that the reasons for failure tend to be linked and have a lot to do with the quality and experience of the Six Sigma team and their ability to sell the business benefits to the executive.

We have seen that one of the best ways to ensure that the business benefits are visible to the executive team is to establish an explicit link between operational excellence activities and strategy implementation or deployment.

In order to do this, many successful companies have adapted their approach to operational excellence tools to ensure the actions and tasks in their projects are linked to transformational goals. In many cases they have found Hoshin type planning processes can be used as an effective tool to ensure the essential links between breakthrough strategic objectives to annual objectives, to the tasks in the programs and projects including Six Sigma continuous improvement initiatives.

As all improvement activities need to be aligned through to one or more of only four to five top level breakthrough objectives, this results in prioritisation and a reduction in the number of operational excellence projects, reducing the complexity and number of resources required. The use of the collaborative catchball process considerably increases the quality of the objectives and metrics that are developed as well as the engagement and buy-in of employees, across the business to achieve them, including the leadership team.

Other Hoshin process activities, including monthly and annual review meetings, during the execution period will also assist. These meetings provide a forum to view planned and actual performance against metrics aligned to the breakthrough objectives.

Operational Excellence Software- Bowling Chart

Tools such as a bowling chart highlight where actual performance falls short and provide high visibility of the situation as well as the opportunity to decide on countermeasures to ensure the targets are met, significantly increasing the likelihood of improvement project success.

When enabled by enterprise software, continuous improvement teams could also ensure that the executive team could not only look at benefit realisation in individual improvement projects, but also at the aggregate programs and the overall program KPIs at an enterprise level. This will ensure that employees, including executives, based on their user access rights, will be able to track any associated benefits through standard easy to access and read reports, demystifying the real value the programs are adding to achieve their breakthrough objectives across the business.

Accordingly, in linking continuous improvement projects to strategic objectives of the business, this will provide continuous improvement teams with an effective tool to prove the ongoing business benefits of process excellence activities to their leadership teams. Doing this in terms of what they see as important to them i.e. achievement of overall strategic objectives, it will ensure ongoing executive sponsorship, and reduce the likelihood of failure of these projects well into the future.

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