Why Does Lean Six Sigma Projects Fail? & Possible Remedies


  • 14 Feb 2018
  • Posted By : XergY
  • Time and again there have been numerous examples where organizations have got humongous benefits by implementing Lean Six Sigma. Organizations that have used the Lean Six Sigma methodology have effectively reduced waste, increased profit and enhanced shareholder value. For example, General Electric used Six Sigma techniques in 1990s to increase profits by $2 billion in a one-year period.

    Lean Six Sigma can even be implemented toimprove revenue growth of just one vertical in any big Organization. Some of the Indian companies like Infosys, Wipro have successfullyused Lean Six Sigma and have reaped benefits for decades. Research shows that businesses who effectively implement Six Sigma deliver superior sales, record better employment growth, value growth and ROI. Over the years Lean Six Sigma tools help in improving customer satisfaction, job satisfaction, teamwork and communications. It also improves strategic alignment, system performance and simplifies process and workflow.

    But habitually we witness Lean Six Sigma implementation leading to no results on the ground. According to a study in the Wall Street Journal, nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to consistently meet their objectives. So the questions that arise are - When Lean Six Sigma is so powerful then why is not everyone using it? Why is it not sustainable? Is the Control Phase of Lean Six Sigma not working? Or do the companies go wrong in defining the project itself or were the rules not followed during the implementation phase. In this article I will share my thoughts of why isn’t Lean Six Sigma working on the ground? These are my views what I have seen through my lenses in the industries where I have worked or during the freelancing assignments I have undertaken as a Lean Six Sigma Consultant. Let’s now understand the key obstacles in implementing Lean Six Sigma..

    The most common reasons for Lean Six Sigma failures are:

    Cause number 1:           Nothing for the Management or Business Owners

    Whenever Lean Six Sigma fails majority of the time fingers are pointed at the management. The common maxim is –‘Our management is not supportive, they don’t believe in this methodology’. Let me ask you this question, assume you are head of an organization and I come and tell you, I will increase your revenue by 20% (the least expected from a good Six Sigma program) don’t you think you will jump up the table and say “YES”!But a doubt, always creeps in- whether the Lean Six Sigma expert can really deliver this?

    This happens because there’s one vital thing that many Lean Six Sigma coaches fail to convey to the management. The management needs to know and accept that there is a need of absolute commitment and support for Lean Six Sigma (LSS) deployment from the top leadershipand this is an essential key for LSS success. Sustained support, engagement and encouragement need to be forthcoming from all leadership levels, but more often we see a gap.

    Now the question arises is why management does not favor Lean Six Sigma despite the consultant presenting them successful case studies of GE, Motorola, Honeywell etc., and the enormousprofits gained. The answer is easy - Management does not see the real value in implementing Lean Six Sigma. They feel it is as an expensive propositionrather than business gain. Now why does this happen? The reason is simple - most of the time the leader who is leading the Six Sigma project lacks business insight. Along with customer focus Six Sigma must also focus on business gain, statistics should complement business growth and many Lean Six Sigma leaders’ fails to remember that business precedes statistics. The focus on Dollar saving should be highlighted and kept in mind, to keep the management motivated, else its one more program for the records and show it to the visitors.

    Cause number 2:            Lack of Clarity

    Studies have pointed out that many organizations try to implement the methods without really comprehending it completely. Many organizations fail to understand one basic question, Why Six Sigma? Lean Six Sigma needs to be implemented when basic quality tools like of 7 QC are not sufficient enough to solve the problem. When we apply Six Sigma to solve a problem which otherwise would have solved by simpler and quicker methodology or tool then of course Six Sigma looks very expensive. Often Organizations force fit Six Sigma project to a substandard project even when the causeof failure is known. Furthermore, the Lean Six Sigma strategy needs to be very clearly aligned with the business goals for desired results. Improper alignment leads to confusion among the key stakeholders, associates and managers making it impossible for LSS to become beneficial.

    Cause number 3:           Same Food for All

    Many a times the consultants fail to understand the needs of the hour and continue to coachgroups using their regular presentations whereas the organization’sneed could be totally different. Lean Six Sigma must be customized based on Organization needs and problems with special emphasis on the topics essential for a business growth. Six Sigma leaders should also be smart enough to utilize the virtuous aspects of other methodologies to attain business gain. Different flavorsof Lean Six Sigmamust be utilized to make it work, failing which chances of Organization continuing with Lean Six Sigma projectwill come under a cloud. Simply put - no results no point in continuing.

    Cause number 4:           Knowledge Gap among the GreenBelts to Drive Projects

    The chances of treating Lean Six Sigma as certification program are very high. Yes, you do get ample of opportunities when you carry Lean Six Sigma certifications, but that is short lived. What matters in Lean Six Sigma is how well you adopt the learnings at your work place and drive the culture first to yourself and then to the Organization. I received my certification from a good certifying agency, but none of the managers have asked me to show it to them as the results were visible to them through my work.

    Now, the question arises -Why are the individualsare not correctly applying to them and their work places the tools and techniques of Lean Six Sigma even after learning it? While the learners must take a part of the blame, but the mainonus lies with the coach who is teaching/training them. One point every organization and individual needs to understand is thatLean Six Sigma concepts are not easily understood unlike other computer programs. It’s much more complex and at times with so much of learning and new concepts being taught in just 4-5 days of training,it becomes very hard to remember everything, especially when you learn the concepts via simpleclassroom theory sessions. Learning by simulation becomes very importantin such scenarios as simulations are hard to forget. It is also important that the participants/ LSS Leaders are enabled with the skills required to drive real projects at their workplace, not just the tools and techniques of Analyze phase.

    Cause number 5:           Lean Six Sigma is a Cricket NotChess

    It’s very important to understand Six Sigma is not aone-man army, every member of the team is very important for successful completion of the project. Sometimes business hierarchies are transformed to Six Sigma project hierarchy which will lead to lack of responsibility and create a chaotic situation. If the team member who is collecting data does not collect data accurately projects fails right there, and irrespective of what you do next, it may not yield much results. Same goes for implementers. It is important Lean Six Sigma leaders must have the ability to take the team along and possessgreat supremacy in leadership qualities. Many organizations fail to include leadership as a parameter while choosing a lean six sigma team leader.

    How to use Lean Six Sigma Efficiently

    Now that we know about the primary causes of Lean Six Sigma project failures, let’s have a look at how can an individual or an organization uses the tools of Lean Six Sigma efficiently.

    Imagine a situation wherein Leans Six Sigma framework complement Origination strategy, concepts are well designed to emphasize on current business needs and goals. Projects are led by a leader who is decisive, carries business acumen, along with high competence in Six Sigma. When organizational leaders are aware of the business gain possibilities and are aligned, Dollars Savings marketed during the initial presentation would come alive and set a benchmark in the industry. Such organizations would go down in the history as best Lean Six Sigma enabled Organization.

    For Lean Six Sigma Success other than a well-trained team of leaders who implement the tools in the business processes there also needs to be committed towards consistency. The Lean Six Sigma team needs to understand the operations well by observing how they work. Several brainstorming sessions must be held before finalizing the project to understand what you are doing, why, and whether these the efforts add value to the client or business. Finally, the LSS team must present their assessments of the processes and how much time could be saved while delivering with positive impact on clients and profit.

    Lastly the most important part of successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma is recognizing Six Sigma as a management strategy, rather than using it as a tool or implementing it as an individual project. Management's support to drive continuous improvement is most critical, this is best realized with hard dollar saving is evident. When a company adopts Six Sigma as a management strategy, the entire organization and all its departments will be channelized towards identifying and improving its processes and this will lead to complete success of Lean Six Sigma and Accelerate the growth of the business Accurately.

    Six Sigma is all about perfection, if not the game is tough to play. You got to make the right throughout the game, failing which leads to loss of money rather than gain.

    Chase that Million Dollar Saving and let complete team be party to it once the results are achieved then see the magic happening.

    Note: All these views are my personal views, your feedback is welcome.