Denis Leonard has a degree in construction engineering an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in quality management. Denis is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality, a Certified Quality Manager, Auditor and Six Sigma Black Belt. He has been an Examiner for the Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Examiners a Judge on the International Team Excellence Competition and a Lead Judge on the National Housing Quality Award. A former Professor of Quality at the University of Wisconsin, he has experience as a quality manager in the homebuilding industry as well as construction engineer, site manager and in training, auditing and consulting with expertise in strategic and operational quality improvement initiatives. His work has achieved national quality, environmental and safety management awards for clients.

Denis is co-author of 'The Executive Guide to Understanding and Implementing the Baldrige Criteria: Improve Revenue and Create Organizational Excellence'.

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Ensuring that lean and six sigma projects are successful

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The Lean Enterprise Institute surveys show that 36% of companies attempting lean give up the efforts. Customer Relationship Magazine cites 60% of six sigma programs fail to give desired results. The problem is not the tools it is the approach that has caused the problems and frankly the approach would cause any project to fail.

1.      Not connecting the projects to the strategic plan. You can assign improvement projects that take a lot of time and effort to issues that will have little return, but what is the value in that. What are the top 2-3 issues your company is dealing with, strategically important issues, these will have hard number, timeline and clear needs. Pick those projects to use six sigma and lean tools. When an impact is made it will not only have hard metric to prove its worth but the issue addressed will have had a strategic impact on your business.

2.      Continuing to focus on small easy to implement projects. While the first project to take onboard should be something of a pilot i.e. relatively easy to implement but with a good return on investment. But as experience builds more risky difficult projects need to be addressed. The danger with always focusing on easy to achieve projects is that the return is not high.

3.      Tool many projects underway at the same time. There is the danger of the number of projects becoming a metric, the more the better, right? Wrong! Key focused projects that directly help achieve the organizational strategy that have support and are seen to completion will have an impact on the business. But if it is just about rolling out more and more projects each year you can have people and efforts stretched too thin. Once projects fail or are not completed then the attitude is that it was lean or six sigma that failed.

4.      Not tracking results. If you think just getting it done is all you need to do, think again.  The early six sigma or lean projects must have detailed metrics to track them to show their impact. But as time goes by and project after project is successful there is the pitfall of not needing to track data. But what will happen is that when one project doesn’t do well or resources are needed elsewhere memories will fade. You will be asked to justify the people, time and money used on those projects. What was the ROI on all those projects? Sharing the impacts and ROI is what gains widening support.

5.      Not sharing best practices. A successful project is great, but if you don’t share what was learnt with other improvement teams and indeed the rest of the company you are reducing the impact you can have. Perhaps other departments can adopt some of the process, tools and ideas you successfully implemented on your last project. Perhaps another team can speed up their project because of something you learnt. It is important to share the leaning and gain even more leverage out of the project.

6.      Only focusing improvement on one area. By only focusing on construction we are missing the full range and impact that six sigma and lean can provide.

7.      Lack of support. I left this last because if this is the case it is really a non-starter. This can be management saying go do it but not supporting the time, people or other resources to get it done. Or they may just give lip service. Of course they are better off not allowing the improvement projects to start at all in such cases. Because otherwise they are setting it up to fail and this can be hard to recover from. All people will remember is that lean or six sigma didn’t work so why again.

For  more information on how you can apply Lean and Six Sigma go to this past blog

For a tool to help you select improvement projects go to this past blog

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