As the Program Manager for Lean Six Sigma (LSS) at TMAC, I’ve worked with a variety of companies implementing continuous improvement programs. LSS uses a simple but powerful structured approach to process improvement called DMAIC, referring to the five phases of problem solving that a LSS project goes through: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. In LSS Green Belt and Black Belt training we cover each of these phases, teaching participants a series of tools that can be used to solve all types of business problems, from relatively simple to extremely complex.
A common question from new Green Belt and Black Belt students is ‘How can I get results on my project?’ We answer that question with the following equation:
Results = Quality of the Solution x Acceptance Level of the Solution.
It is important to start out with an agreement on what is the goal of a project. That is to say, the Project Sponsor must work with the Black Belt or Green Belt to define the desired Results. This is a key deliverable for the Define Phase. Typically the desired Results will be something like a reduction in error rate, an increase in production level, or a decrease in customer complaints. There should also be a financial impact associated with achieving the desired Results.
Quality of the Solution
The first part of the equation to achieve results is the Quality of the Solution. The question anyone involved in process improvement should ask themselves: ‘Is this solution technically sound?’ The answer should always be yes. Make sure that the solution will work ‘on paper’ (or in theory). Here is where it is critical to have the right combination of process data, statistical methods, lean tools, and related process improvement techniques. It is also important to adapt the specific tool or method to the business process. Which leads to the second part of the equation to get results.
Acceptance Level of the Solution
Technically superior solutions do not always translate to achieving results. In fact, spending too much time on developing a solution that is better from a technical standpoint can actually hurt results. It is critical for Lean Six Sigma practitioners to set aside time to work on increasing the Acceptance Level of the Solution. Consider a very elegant solution from a technical standpoint that will cause a low Acceptance Level from the workforce. Such a solution will typically result in poor Results, if not outright failure. In such a case, a simpler, less technically advanced solution may be more acceptable, and hence yield better results.
How much of my time should be spent on increasing the Acceptance Level? The answer, of course, is ‘It depends’. At organizations where continuous improvement is part of the company culture and employees are familiar with commonly used tools then the percent of time spent on gaining acceptance may be relatively low, perhaps 10 to 20%. But at companies where continuous improvement is new, or the workforce is not aware of Lean or Six Sigma tools then the percent of time spent gaining acceptance will be much higher. From 25% up to 50% of project time may be needed to change a group of Doubting Thomases to Believers.
Completing the formula
A great idea doesn’t always mean success, using this formula along with the DMAIC process and appropriate tools gets you one step closer to the results and impact you (and your organization) are looking for.
How do you determine your results on a Lean Six Sigma project? Have you seen a project fizzle because it was too technically complex? How did you handle that?