Deploying Six Sigma management to an entire company can feel like a daunting task. You need to change how people are working at every level of the company.

We’ve seen examples of successful Lean Six Sigma applications in areas as diverse as fixing our public schools to product ownership to tech support.

But how do you start the movement towards enterprise deployment?

As you can imagine, this comes with several challenges. You’ll also need to consider a few questions before you even begin.

Is Six Sigma right for your organization?

This first question is one that a lot of companies skip. However, it’s vitally important that you answer it before going further. Will Six Sigma add value to your enterprise?

To test it, look at these criteria for a successful Six Sigma deployment:

  • You want to improve your processes. (ex Quality, speed, consistency, profitability, etc)
  • Decreasing variation in your output would improve your results.
  • You have a consistent process (or set of processes) and you’re prepared to map your processes to better understand them.
  • Your staff are willing to take ownership of change management.
  • You’re willing to empower your staff to manage change.
  • Your organization can commit to a full implementation of Six Sigma management.

If this sounds like your organization, you’re on your way.

How to Start a Lean Six Sigma Program in Your Organization

The answer is highly contextual based on leadership buy-in and in-house experience. However, I find it best to gain momentum by identifying one key organizational goal and creating a single project that can deliver value quickly in that space.

You can do this by clearly examining strategic organizational goals and picking the most critical problems that need to be solved. This is often done via an organizational dashboard, flywheel, or as a result of a Hoshin Kanri exercise.

Deploying Six Sigma with other methodologies

While many businesses deploy Six Sigma by itself, others find that a combination works better. The methodology most commonly combined with Six Sigma these days is Lean.

Lean methodology focuses on just-in-time processing. You add resources to a project as they’re needed, not before. In a manufacturing context, this might involve having materials delivered just before you start to fabricate an item. In the world of IT, it might require scaling system processing as demand increases – not before. Using Lean methodology helps to cut waste and increase efficiency and is a natural partner for Six Sigma where we seek to reduce variation and increase effectiveness.

Prepare for your deployment

You’ve decided that Six Sigma is right for your organization. You’ve decided on other methodologies to use with it. Next, you need to prepare for deploying Six Sigma in your business.

Get buy-in from key players

Co-operation from people who hold power in your business can make all the difference.

Find your methodology coach

This needs to be someone who understands the methodology (or methodologies) you’re using. They also need experience in helping organizations to transition to these methodologies. This person might be a current employee or an external consultant. Depending on the size of your deployment, finding additional change agents will be key.

All projects or phased?

Will you implement Six Sigma across the board? Will you limit it to a single department or project? Typically, Six Sigma deployments work best when applied across an entire organization.

However, you might be running several projects concurrently, and using Six Sigma for a new project may work better than changing the methodology of all partway through.

Additionally, running Six Sigma projects is a skill that can be improved over time. Thus a phased approach – where you start small with a single Six Sigma project to learn and improve before extending throughout all of a portfolio – can help organizational success.

Identify your first project

This will typically involve key processes that are heavily impacting your bottom line. If you’ve decided on a phased approach, you want easy wins that will deliver impressive results. Why? Because early success will improve commitment across the organization.

Set expectations early. Ensure that your first project is clearly defined in its aims. Scope creep is the scourge of many new implementations.

However your organization identifies and decomposes its chief strategic goals down into tactical projects, make sure that the first wave projects are aligned to those necessary outcomes. Six Sigma has many techniques for this but I would recommend trying to launch an inaugural DMAIC project that has real strategic business value for your organization.

First wave projects MUST generate results or your program may be in trouble. Choose projects that are strong fits for core concepts that Six Sigma is well-suited for addressing.

I would further recommend that the project be time-boxed into a 30, 60, and 90 day tollgates with the expectation of delivering value at the end of that time.

Educate your staff

Everyone needs at least a basic understanding of the changes and their purpose. The employees involved in the first project need more than that. They need to completely understand how their work will change, and how this will benefit them. This is your opportunity to create change advocates: people who have experienced your new methodology and encourage others to give it a go.

Also beware that the first wave of projects is when resistance to new ideas and organizational change will begin. Education and communication is key here.

Listen to your staff

Your employees will almost certainly be anxious or concerned about the changes. This is natural. Ignoring those concerns won’t make them go away. And there’s always a chance that some of them identify valid roadblocks you need to know about. It will also help you to reassure your staff about the methodology, increasing buy-in.

Plan the deployment

Before deploying Six Sigma, you need to plan how you’ll do it. Make sure you have a firm plan of action. This should include your deployment model.

If you’re doing a phased release:

  • Who and what will be involved in the first phase.
  • How you’ll enlarge it to the entire organization.
  • What your schedule is for the full deployment.

If you’re doing a whole organization deployment:

  • Your schedule for the deployment.
  • How you’ll switch each project or department to Six Sigma.

Begin your deployment

You’ll be ready to begin your Six Sigma deployment once you’ve:

  • Gathered support from people on all seniority levels in your company.
  • Engaged your Six Sigma coach.
  • Identified and scoped out your first project.

Next, you need to go through the stages of the DMAIC process:

Key points to keep in mind

Commitment is key

A half-hearted conversion to Six Sigma will have issues from day one. Use education and communication to ensure that key stakeholders are on board. And don’t forget the lower level staff. They’ll be working under the new framework. If they understand and trust it, your deployment will be stronger.

You do you, not someone else

When deploying Six Sigma, you need to work with your organization’s goals and strengths. It can be tempting to simply copy another company’s successful deployment. However, when you do this you lose one of the key strengths of Six Sigma – empowering your business to work better in its own ways.

Change is scary

People don’t like change, generally speaking. Help them along by becoming an effective change agent.

Pitfalls to Avoid in Implementing Six Sigma

Managing products and services

It’s easy to fall into familiar patterns and focus on the output. However, Six Sigma is about your processes. Improve those, and the output naturally improves. Don’t get caught up in the output.

Focusing on tactics

While tactical choices are important later on, your first projects are about simple improvements. Focus on getting the methodology correct. DMAIC. Don’t over-complicate.

Misrepresenting Six Sigma

You might find it tempting to offer shorthand explanations of Six Sigma. For example, that it’s a ‘quality program’. Don’t do it. Quick explanations might be easier, but they can lead to a lot of confusion and chaos down the track.

Saving money only

While decreasing defects in a process usually will save money, a Six Sigma project shouldn’t only be about decreasing costs. After all, there are a lot of short term cost cutting measures available – and a lot of them will lead to long term quality issues.

Skimping on your coaches

When deploying Six Sigma, it’s really important to have experts on hand. Many companies flirt with the idea of having a Six Sigma coach who also has a couple of other jobs. This doesn’t tend to work out well. Typically, your black belt should focus on Six Sigma as a full time job. If you also have a green belt, this can be a part time position.

A narrow focus

If you’re spending a lot of time looking at a single process, you might be missing the bigger picture. For example, say a department optimizes a manufacturing process and increases output. But nothing around that process – for example, marketing or sales – has been modified to allow for the increased output. Now the company is dealing with surplus inventory. Ensure that you keep your projects in context of the organization as a whole.

Key Success Factors in Deploying Six Sigma

When deploying Six Sigma in an enterprise, there are also a lot of things that you can do right that contribute to a successful release. Here’s a brief summary of the key factors; for more information, see Critical Success Factors for Six Sigma.

  • Focus
  • Relevance
  • Commitment
  • Buy-in
  • Consistency
  • Fact-based decisions
  • Manager involvement
  • Early success
  • Bottom up communication
  • Progress reviews
  • Countering resistance

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