In a recent Lean Six Sigma Project kick-off meeting of one of my clients, after the teams presented their project charters, the business leader made an extempore announcement that the best and most successful Lean Six Sigma project will receive a special recognition and the team members will be lucratively rewarded.
Immediately few of them wanted to know what criteria will be used for selection. The business leader indicated that I will be one who will define the criteria for successful Lean Six Sigma Project.
Factors that I consider among the criteria for success of Lean Six Sigma Projects are arranged in the descending order of their importance in the below list:
Project Scope – Lean Six Sigma projects without well-defined scope are bound to fail, but they end up creating a lot of mess around. Scope usually refers to the boundaries of any project. A poorly defined project is one which hasn’t balanced the Project Goal, Scope and Timelines. Also, poorly communicated scope and not defining what is out of scope are equally important.
Retains interest and commitment of the resources – Improvement projects are successful when its team members contribute their best. Lean Six Sigma projects usually challenge the existing paradigm. Hence without the wholehearted and continued participation of the team members, no project will be successful. The sponsor/champion and the Green Belt/Black Belt are entrusted to retain the interest and commitment of the resources.
Attracts adequate buy-in from key stakeholders – Stakeholders of any project could either be the decision makers, important players who influence the decisions or even impacted parties. Successful Lean Six Sigma projects will have to manage the expectations of all the above stakeholders from time to time and create adequate buy-in. Rather than focusing too much on technical root cause analysis, the emphasis should be on how Lean Six Sigma project can bring about mid-to-large change in the organization.
Flawless execution– Immaterial of the breadth and depth of the analysis done in any Lean Six Sigma project, what sticks out is execution. Well led and implemented the project is bound to be successful, as even the quality of data collected and analysis is a function of the flawless execution. Adherence to weekly team meetings, project milestones, and tollgates reviews are some simple and easy signs to evaluate execution. Further unbiased data collection and analysis, open minded assessment of solutions, in-depth piloting and sustained monitoring are additional measures of flawless execution.
Identifiable impact on customers– As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so is the success of any Lean Six Sigma in positive impact it creates on customers. Usually, organizations evaluate the success of projects based on the performance of the CTQ (before-after studies). While this is definitely a good way to assess the impact, more often than not such movements in CTQs aren’t felt by customers. Considering several other business parameters to validate the impact of the CTQ, including post improvement Voice of Customer may be a very good method. For example, a reduction in defects certainly will reduce the rework effort, increase productivity, reduce complaints, apart from increasing customer satisfaction.
Making a discovery – Any successful Lean Six Sigma project should unearth something new, make a discovery about the problem. A project without a discovery could mean we are fixing obvious things. In order to ensure the project team makes a discovery, the quality of work done in the Measure and Analyze phase have to be evaluated. Have the teams identified all possible causes to the problem? Have they collected data of good quality and quantity? Have they holistically analyzed the data to make the discovery? And finally what is the discovery?
Based on my experience with Lean Six Sigma in the last 2 decades, I would consider these 6 factors as significant elements of the successful project.
In a Continuous improvement journey, improvement projects are nothing but the lifeline. In this series of articles, we covered on the Need for Project Selection and the Criteria for project. Now we’ll answer the big question – Where can I get my projects from? Essentially various sources of the project!
Customers Interactions: “Customers” are the biggest source for improvement projects. Classically, negative customer sentiments are good places to start. Your customers are unhappy, so it’s time to fix the issue. Mixed or ambiguous sentiments are also relevant places to start.
·Customer Complaints:If your organization has a list of customer complaints, then that is an apt place to commence. Complaints are not only sore for your customers, but for you too. Such complaints may cover a vast product or service attributes such as product or service quality, delivery time, responsiveness, people issues, pricing or areas of monetary impact including warranty claims,process & policy issues.
· Repeat Complaints: You can go one step further and target repeat complaints instead. Repetitive complaints from the same customer with the same tagging indicates high priority area for improvement.
·Enquiries & Requests: Few organizations target the need of customers to call or contact the organization and, reduce them. It might not be a complaint, instead just an enquiry or request. In other words, interactions with the organization that can be avoided. Looking at enquiries and requests serve as a proactive means to identify future problem areas.
·VoC Program output: If your organization conducts structured VoC surveys, then the outputs of such mechanism can be a good source of Continuous Improvement or Lean Six Sigma projects
·Customer Experience (CX) Dipstick: Customer Experience is usually hidden and not so obvious as customer feedback. Structured and unstructured mechanisms can be deployed to understand the customer experience. For example, many organizations now use mystery shopping to unearth issues in customer experience. Observation or Listening posts are also a good way to identify how customer experience can be improved.
First Time Right (FTR): If you closely have a look at your company’s process, you will find that there are many internal defects (work-in-progress) occurring, such as rework, repairs & in-process rejections. Such defects are silent killers because they drain organization’s efficiency and effectiveness silently. If your organization is measuring FTR, then its improvement can be an ideal project. More evolved organizations use RTY (Rolled Throughput Yield) as a metric which is also a good place to demonstrate Continuous Improvement.
However, most organizations have a simpler measure of success for quality – Defect Rate (% Defective). While there’s nothing wrong with this metric, is a bit holistic and hence factors leading to inefficiencies escape unnoticed with this metric. Nonetheless, it is good starting point for Continuous Improvement projects.
Reliability Data/Warranty data: Field failures are sometimes grave. It can cost you a lot and, the overall cost of ownership for customers might increase esp if the warranty is denied or the product is under breakdown. In broader terms, the principle of warranty is to institute accountability in the event of an untimely failure of an item or the inability of the item to perform its intended function. Experts consider reliability data analysis as a quality measure over time. This reliability analysis is done to analyze whether your product will survive for the time defined by the company in the normal conditions. Improving the reliability of a product can work both ways – organizations can lower its operational cost and provide longer warranty and customers would experience break down less often.
Process Performance Data: If your organization has a well-defined and structured reporting mechanism for process performance metrics, such as a dashboard or scorecard, then it would be a very good source to identify opportunities for continuous improvement projects. As leadership teams are consumers of such reports, such opportunities can easily gain sponsorship as well.
Competitive Benchmarking: Benchmarking is a continuous process of comparing your firm’s or company’s practice to those of the competitors or say most successful competitors. In certain cases, you might not be doing well. For example, having control over the delivery time to the customers. Then this can be taken as a project for improvement in our company. So, to generalize, competitive benchmarking results can also be a good source for Continuous Improvement projects.
Business Plans/Strategies: Gap between strategic plan and reality can be the cause of concern for leadership. Sometimes such problems may be because of supporting processes. They can hinder new business plans or strategies. Such process improvement opportunities are also a good source for projects, provided they are scoped well with well-defined objectives & goals.
Employee Feedback: While customers don’t see your process but only experience its outcomes, employees have an end to end visibility. They experience problems as customers and can associate inward aspects of such poor experience. Many organizations, pilot their products with employees, because employees are pseudo customers. If you can establish a structured process through which employees are encouraged to share their experience and enable them to take up such opportunities as Continuous Improvement or Lean Six Sigma projects, there’s nothing like it.
All the above can serve as a good source for Continuous Improvement or Lean Six Sigma projects.
While leaders strive to build a culture of continuous improvement (CI) in their organizations, it is equally important to understand that business-as-usual activities take precedence over improvement activities. CI programs commence with a big bang and a lot of enthusiasm, but time wears out even the strongest and what it leaves behind is mere CI hubbub. This is not a simple problem to solve. If you have been part of any enterprise-wide CI deployment, you will have no difficulty relating to this. This problem is complex and has several failure modes.
In this article, I’ll like to highlight a common but significant failure mode – Selection of projects. It’s needless to emphasize that projects play a big role in any CI journey, but to its disgrace, projects are also a significant contributor to the downfall of CI program.
Going overboard and having too many concurrent projects is one way to fail. Not selecting the right projects to pursue is another. Here are few compelling reasons to consider project selection as an important activity rather than opening the floodgates of projects:
Business Priority: Every business has its own priorities and so it’s important to select the right projects that are aligned with your priorities. Having many dispersed projects will blemish, if not nullify the impact of projects. Alignment between leader’s priority & CI program can be easily accomplished if you select projects right at the beginning.
Change due to competition: If your competition is disrupting the industry, well you better select where you need to improve. External environment often forces organizations ruthlessly reform their way of thinking and working. And today, we all live in a world that is fast changing. So unless your right projects are selected and pursued, your CI program will become redundant soon.
High Customer Expectations: Everyone I talk to says, customers are demanding more than ever before. Understanding the changing their needs and aligning the CI program to customers is vital to the success of any organization’s CI program. Organizations sometimes pursue trivial opportunities such as cost saves but miss on acting on big ticket customer facing projects or customer pain points. Of course, while dealing with customers, things are going to be volatile, but that’s not a reason to avoid them. The good project selection process should filter such project opportunities.
Limited Budgets: All organizations must work within the framework of budgets. Improvements need monetary resources to support the change. Sometimes they are direct and hence easily associated to direct cost centers. But projects with intangible benefits or the ones incurring indirect costs usually end up as scapegoats. If an organization commits to project selection, many such failures can be prevented.
Availability of Resources: Human capital is scarce. CI projects need quality time and mindshare from people of importance in the organization. Quite often resource requirements are never considered during the commencement of projects. Even if considered, it’s only the project leader’s time. As CI projects are a cross-functional effort, active participation of experts from all involved functions defines the success of the project. In order to ensure we get the best out of our teams, we need to time our success. Thus project selection is a time sensitive activity.
Optimizing Number of Projects: Not all the areas of your organization need improvement at the same time, And improvement culture building is a slow and steady process which can never be implemented overnight, nor will the results reap overnight. So getting to rush out the organizational adrenaline may not be a success recipe for good CI program. Selection of projects will ensure that you sustain optimum enthusiasm in the system for CI.
So it is very evident that selection of projects impacts the CI culture, employee satisfaction, alignment to customers and ROI to business for the investments it makes in CI in a positive way. In the future articles, we’ll take this one step further and talk about the criteria used for selecting projects.