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Clare Says!; Lean Six Sigma Implementation…Come On! Commit or Quit!

It’s been another interesting week causing us to pause and regroup on the topic for this blog. In the past few days, we’ve defended Lean Six Sigma from cynics who say that it’s all smoke and mirrors and have worked with multiple prospects discussing different shortcut approaches to solve their crushing pressures and challenges. And while I’d love to say that creating a culture of continuous improvement is really complicated, it’s just not. Like anything else that’s worth doing, it will work, but only if you do it right. Do it or don’t do it, but you have to commit.

Would you have surgery by someone who dabbled in medicine? Would you hire a homebuilder who simply watched a few seasons of Flip or Flop? Come on, man!

Lean Six Sigma is a proven organizational improvement method that has demonstrated billions of dollars in tangible improvements and even more in intangible improvements. Yes, I know. Many of us have seen it fail. And that’s because the decision-makers didn’t commit. They did some of it. They tried a shortcut, and it didn’t work.

The benefits of Lean Six Sigma are real. And while the dollars are always important, that’s just one of the many benefits. Implementing Lean Six Sigma the right way means that you will see priceless results materialize. Like what? Like increased employee competence and engagement, skillful collaboration and teamwork, increased productivity, high-quality, decreased costs, increased revenue, speedier delivery, increased safety, tighter security, minimized risks. And along with this comes an energy and enthusiasm that you get from competent “A” Players, who are confident and excited about their work.

How to Implement Lean Six Sigma

A Lean Six Sigma Implementation means that an organization commits to delivering excellent products and services and becoming a workplace full of self-reliant achievers. And there’s a clear roadmap and method to do just this. The belt levels of Lean Six Sigma describe that a certain proportion of the organization needs to have specific skills; daily problem-solving, root cause analysis for complex issues, and leadership skills to support them. Not everyone needs to be an expert, but everyone has their own role and contribution.

Here’s a quick rundown of the different belt levels and the recommended proportion needed in an organization.

So, just to illustrate with a little graphic, in an organization of 100 people, the proportion of belt levels would look something like this:

With this foundation in place, an organization will have the ability to successfully identify problems and opportunities and then quickly implement sustainable and meaningful improvements. The organization will become an enjoyable workplace, people will know how to work together and collaborate to solve problems. Chaos, firefighting and building frustrations and blame will dissipate as teams see their efforts materialize into truly meaningful results.

Keys to Proper Implementation

I can tell you this isn't all done by dabbling in it or doing it a little. It’s not done by having a couple people read a few books or pass an exam. It’s a system and it needs all its parts functioning.

  1. The right number of the right people need to be properly trained

  2. The people who are trained need the time and the space to practice what they’ve learned

  3. Leadership must actively support the roles and methods

How long does Lean Six Sigma Training take?

The training is the first chunk of time that is required. And then training is followed by a period of practice and initial setup of the new ways of working. With the right training and support, after a short online course, Yellow Belts can be up and running in a matter of weeks. This means that they will be actively working as a team to solve daily problems as they arise. For Green Belts, the training is more intensive (40 to 60 hours). And, depending on the scope, they can complete their first project in 3 to 4 months. Sponsors (Blue Belts) will learn the tools and structure to actively support Yellow and Green Belts in a power-packed 2 days.

How much does Lean Six Sigma Training cost?

In the above illustration, we show an organization of 100 people with the recommended distribution of the different belt levels. To accomplish this exact model, the training investment would be about $12,000. The time to practice and setup the new ways of working depends on the specific organization and level of leadership support.

What are the benefits?

As my partner likes to say, “how long is a piece of string?”. Going by averages, a single Green Belt typically completes 2 projects per year at an average benefit of $75k per project. A typical Black Belt will complete 5 projects per year at an average benefit of $150k per project. Not all projects result in hard financial benefits. Projects will also focus on other Key Performance Metrics such as Productivity, Quality, Timeliness, Safety, Security, Legal Compliance to name a few. So without getting too technical with the financial calculation of ROI, we can confidently say that for an investment of $12k, plus the investment of time for practice, the projects that come out of this investment in the first 12 months can be expected to be north of $1m. And that doesn’t even account for all of the daily problem-solving that is nipping issues in the bud and most importantly, the intangible benefits of creating a culture of highly competent and highly engaged employees and teams.

To see these benefits materialize, we can’t take a shortcut or kinda sorta do it. The return will be a big waste of resources and will result in employee frustration and fatigue with failed attempts to improve. So do it! Or don’t. Just don’t get yourself caught in the middle!