Integrate or Isolate: How to Maximize the Effectiveness of an
Organizations Six Sigma Resources
Caryl A.R. Eiseler
Kaufman Global, LLC
Everybody Knows It’s Got To Start At The Top
Unfortunately, no one really tells us how to “do” that. Six Sigma, lean, and many
other productivity tools have become the arsenal in our toolbox of business
improvement. Whether you are a Master Black Belt, Black Belt, Yellow Belt,
Green Belt, sensei, champion, lean master, a CEO, a team leader or a
supervisor who has been equipped with these tools, the basic question still
remains: “How does our organization implement this well – so it makes sense for
this organization, and drives the business and cultural results we intended?”
How Are We Doing So Far?
Text after text has been published in the last several years presenting different
Six Sigma improvement methodologies. These texts are filled with an
introductory chapter, and often a brief chapter on training, hiring a consultant or
roles and responsibilities, and case studies on leadership commitment. The
remaining chapters are tools – lots and lots of tools. New software tools have
emerged creating easier, quicker data manipulation and interpretation strategies.
Program and project management software has adapted to aid in project
tracking, budgeting, documentation and communication. The tools and
techniques have been dusted off, made more widely accessible (and in some
cases more acceptable) and more user friendly. Statistical Process Control
(SPC) and the Toyota Production System (TPS) are no longer acronyms used by
those “people in quality/productivity.” Or are they?
A typical Six Sigma (or lean) deployment as recommended by many of the early
thought leaders consists of full-time, dedicated Master Black Belts, Black Belts,
Lean-Six Sigma masters, or lean masters deployed throughout the company or
location (depending upon the organization size). This commitment is for no less
than two years (following the completion of training) and comes with a
commitment to produce $500,000 annually to the bottom line in project savings
during their tenure (this varies by company to include tangible and intangible
Unfortunately, many companies “jumped on the deployment bandwagon” before
understanding how critical having the implementation structure in place first was
to their success. Trained resources returned to the organizations and started
working on projects without an overall framework, goals, focus or direction.
Some projects were huge successes on paper and in metrics but never affected
the organization’s key business objectives such as cost, quality, inventory turns,
responsiveness or customer service. From the vantage point of the employee,
the supervisor, the manager or the CEO, adopting Six Sigma or lean (assuming
no formal sustaining structures are in place before deployment began) looked
pretty familiar: those Six Sigma and lean resources spewing acronyms and using
complicated tools looked a lot like those quality and productivity people – that
stuff must be their job.
Six Sigma, Lean-Six Sigma, and lean resources are expensive to develop and
retain or recruit and retain. Many organizations do, in fact, view the purpose of
these valuable resources to “fix” quality and productivity problems. This view
does perpetuate the notion that quality/productivity is someone else’s job and
undermines any corporate improvement culture. Is this really happening during
some implementations of Six Sigma, Lean-Six Sigma, and lean? Yes! At your
next professional society meeting, network chat, or alumni group social, ask the
following brief questions:
• After a Six Sigma/lean project, has the improvement resource ever
ended up as the defacto process owner?
• Are the improvement resources often asked to continue analyzing data
for a group, even after their project is done?
• Are the improvement resources now still responding to teams even
after the major problem in the area is “fixed” and they are assigned to a
Six Sigma and lean are billed as change initiatives. Change can’t happen if
organizations just deploy Six Sigma/lean resources out into their facilities and
just hope for results to happen. The organization must provide a leadership
structure for the change to be bounded by. Executive leadership must decide
how projects will be selected and resources assigned. Leadership teams will
work with improvement resources and teams to create focused results and
educate others in the organization. The leadership teams throughout the
organization must have a consistent method for providing guidance, direction,
coaching, and opportunities to the rest of the organization so they too can learn
the tools and techniques of business improvement. Deployment is easier than
implementation any day.
Let’s Try It Again: It Starts At The Top And It Is Everyone’s Job
By committing to Six Sigma, lean or Lean-Six Sigma, clearly executive managers
of many companies took the first step towards implementation – a commitment to
doing something with the right tools and the right people at the right time for the
right reason (the shareholders were demanding it). What was missing was the
overall structure or approach guiding doing the right thing.
Change teams are the second key component of the SLIM-IT® implementation
model. A change team is formed by the ESC for the reason of creating a
significant modification (change) in the organization meeting one or more of the
• Involves a large number of people (>10)
• Involves a more than “normal” day-to-day work process
• Is complex
• Is cross-functional
• Involves several levels (in terms of the management hierarchy)
• Is technically difficult
• Makes significant alterations in the way things are done
• Will likely encounter significant resistance
Often, the categories of changes are divided into four basic categories:
1. New things team – implementing a system new to the organization. For
example, an ERP system, a RF inventory tracking system or a new
performance management tool.
2. Improvement team – changes to improve an existing system. Examples
would include reducing employee turnover, improving a specific product
line yield or customer service rating.
3. Fixing things team – changes to correct flaws or problems. For example,
backorders, variation reduction, missed customer commitments or defects
getting to the customer.
4. Kaizen Blitz team – a team that plans and administers all the intensive
weeklong blitz events.
Many companies have more than four categories and have adapted these names
to fit their organizations’ culture more closely. Each team has a champion from
the ESC and a representative from the team (not a member of management)
presents a brief update at the ESC meeting (10 minutes or less). These updates
serve the purpose of alerting senior staff to resource needs or roadblocks or to
recognize successes. There should be limited visual materials – just a low-tech
Each team has a champion from the ESC and a process owner from the area
where the “opportunity” or performance gap emanated from. So where do the Six
Sigma, lean or Lean-Six Sigma resources fit into this model? Are they integrated
or isolated? Let’s take a look.
Maximizing Your Improvement Resources in Implementation
Each time a change team is initiated, the ESC identifies a champion, a team
leader and technical support resources by type – not name. The team leader is
usually the process owner with the span of control over the majority of the cross
function processes if appropriate, or the single process. The technical resources
by type might be Six Sigma experts (Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green
Belts,) lean masters, software engineers, hardware engineers, facilities
engineers, human resource professionals, employees, supervisors, electricians,
legal professionals, etc. The project may be not be well defined until just a few
resources are assigned to define the opportunity, but as the project becomes
clearer, formal project management methodology should prevail (based on
DMAIC, DFSS, S4, PDCA, etc.) The important consideration for any project
definition and assignment for the ESC is to get the right resources assigned to
the right project, frequently and openly coach, mentor, counsel and direct the
change teams to success in support of the overall business goals and objectives.
An example of how one Fortune 100 Corporation chose to structure their
implementation and assignment of Six Sigma resources is shown in Figure 2. In
this case, the organization was very large and had multiple sites. The structure
was instituted as part of the champion training at each of the sites. The goals
and objectives of the first two types of change teams (New Initiatives and
Improvements) were the same for all sites. The individual site projects were
somewhat different by the character of the site, but were focused on the support
of those goals. The Fixing Things and Kaizen Blitz change teams focused on
both site level and corporate business improvement objectives. A site level ESC
met weekly to support the continuous improvement culture and teams progress
at their respective site. Additionally, a representative from the site level ESC
joined the corporate ESC in person for a brief update on a quarterly basis. The
site level ESC’s may also participate in corporate update ESC meetings by
teleconference on a monthly basis. Most importantly, these updates held to very
highly formatted, low-tech and brief presentations. No more spending a week on
the presentation instead of a week on the improvement project.
New Initiat ives
(ERP),Diversit y, Succession Planning
Improvem ent s
(Inventory Accuracy,Employee Turnover, Pricing,
(Defects,Defect Prevention/Error Proofing,
Black Belt Kaizen Blitzes
Pool (Targeted Improvement, Lean Activities,
Root Cause Elimination/Minimization)
• Primary V isua l Displays
• Da ily Work G roup Me etin gs Green Belt Implementation Plans
• Kaizen Action Sh eets
• 20 Keys
• Short-Inter val Coaching
Su pervisor Su pervisor
Work Work Work Work Work
Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5
K CG :CA RE :11/ 02
Accepted thinking suggests organizations should staff 1% productivity
improvement professionals (lean/Six Sigma Black Belt level) for the total number
of employees. Centrally located or distributed?
Six Sigma, Lean, Lean-Six Sigma resources that are cloistered in Centers of
Excellence or within vertical organizations perpetuate the idea that “quality
(performance improvement) is someone else’s job.” Corporations who utilize this
structure and manage these resources by a personal performance objective of x-
hundred thousand dollars a year to the bottom line are wasting time, talent, and
not gaining any overall improvement focus for their corporation. Non-
certified/belted employees in these companies recognize problems openly when
asked. However, when asked how they were going to fix or improve them, their
answer was, “We’re waiting for Organization X”, or “Those guys/gals in the neat
shirts should be by today to look at it”, or “I think they are sending someone down
Distributed resources allow knowledge capital to reside throughout the
organization. Black Belts and lean masters can train others (Green Belts and
lean teams) and the culture begins to grow. Projects are assigned on as needed
basis instead of an “I have to meet this dollar objective” commitment.
Improvement resources have a primary objective of teaching and implementing
in their areas and building the culture. Instead of working on one big $400,000
project, a process owner’s teams find six different $70K-$80K annual savings
opportunities they can implement themselves with his help. These projects are
approved by the area manager and presented to the ESC for final approval and
funding. Instead of just one Six Sigma Black Belt getting excited about the tools,
the structure and the methodology, six teams get involved and get things done
that are in line with the organizations goals – and they learn how to use the tools,
track the metrics, see the improvement, and live the benefit. And since there
were six teams involved, the Black Belt asked for help, and he was assigned two
Green Belts from another organization to help facilitate some of the teams, keep
them on track, and help them with the tools. The Green Belts learned about a
new organization, got to practice their facilitation skills, and were part of a big
Integrated deployment of improvement resources is the optimal use of human
and knowledge capital for sustained, continuous improvement initiatives. An
integrated pool of knowledge allows for flexible deployment, flexible assignment,
and flexible frequency of assignment (over-deployment/long-term remote
deployment has been stated as one of the highest reasons for Black Belt/lean
master level turnover).
Most organizations are well into the training and development curve and many
belts, masters, Lean-Six Sigma masters can be readily identified. It is time to
pool these resources as an organizational asset, let them be champions when
needed in a team setting, but let them get back to work – teaching, mentoring,
coaching and installing the continuous improvement culture in their own process
area. Some may still be needed on the few “big” New Things or Fixing Things
change teams. Rotate people into areas they are not familiar with to minimize
bias, maximize professional development and minimize politics. Develop as
many key process owners as the organization can afford in using key lean and
Six Sigma tools and task them to teach their organization in the implementation
of work group metrics, visual tools, process control, and team problem-solving.
By utilizing a structure that drives multiple, focused business improvement
projects into the organization that are well staffed, coached, mentored, and
monitored, the probability of accelerated, positive results is greatly enhanced.
Distributed deployment of talent, tools, technology and team bounded by this
structure (and the other key components of the SLIM-IT® implementation model)
creates a long-term sustainable continuous improvement culture and significant
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