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 achieved 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 the 1990s to grow earnings by $2 billion in a one-year period.

    Lean Six Sigma can even be implemented to improve revenue growth of just one vertical in any big organization. Some of the Indian companies like Infosys, Wipro have successfully used 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 enhances strategic alignment, system performance and simplifies process and workflow.

    However, 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 meet their objectives consistently. So the question that arises is - 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? Alternatively, 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 on 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 critical obstacles to implementing Lean Six Sigma.

    The most common reasons for Lean Six Sigma failures are:

    Cause number 1:           Nothing for the Management or Business Owners

    As and when Lean Six Sigma fails most of the times fingers are shown at the management. The universal 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 Lean Six Sigma program) don't you think you will jump up the table and say "YES"! However, a doubt, always creeps in- whether the Lean Six Sigma expert can deliver this? The management needs to know and accept that there is a need for absolute commitment and support for Lean Six Sigma (LSS) deployment from the top leadership and this is an essential key to 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 why management does not favour Lean Six Sigma despite the consultant presenting them successful case studies of GE, Motorola, Honeywell and the humongous profits gained. The answer is - management does not see the real value in implementing Lean Six Sigma. They feel it is as an expensive proposition rather 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 gains, statistics should complement business growth, and many Lean Six Sigma leaders' fail to remember that business precedes statistics. The focus on dollar saving is a must and should be highlighted right in the project charter, to keep the management motivated, else it’s one more program for the records and shows it to the visitors, for which management is not keen to invest their money

    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 fundamental question, Why Six Sigma? Lean Six Sigma must be executed when some of the essential quality tools of 7 QC could not solve the problem. When we apply Six Sigma to solve a problem which otherwise would have answered by simpler and quicker methodology or tool then, of course, Six Sigma looks very expensive. Often organizations force fit Six Sigma project to substandard projects even when the cause of failure is known. Furthermore, the Lean Six Sigma strategy must be very precisely 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. Balance Score Card needs to be visited while selecting a project

    Cause number 3:           Same Food for All Does Not Work

    Many a time the consultants fail to understand the needs of the hour and continue to coach groups using their regular presentations whereas the organization’s demand could be entirely different. Lean Six Sigma must be customized based on organization needs and problems with particular emphasis on the topics essential for business growth. Six Sigma leaders should also be smart enough to utilize the functional aspects of other methodologies to attain business gain. Different flavors of Lean Six Sigma must be used to make it work, failing which chances of Organization continuing with Lean Six Sigma project will come under a cloud. Just put - no results no point in pursuing.

    Cause number 4:        Gap in the knowledge, skills, and desire among LSS leaders

    It's just not the knowledge which makes the Lean Six Sigma implementation successful but also the skills required to execute, and strong desire to make things happen is fundamental in implementing Lean Six Sigma projects

    The chances of treating Lean Six Sigma as a 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 workplace and drive the culture first to yourself and then to the organization. I received my certification from a well-recognized 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 individuals are not correctly applying to them, and their workplaces the tools and techniques of Lean Six Sigma even after learning it? While the learners must take a part of the blame, but the main onus lies with the coach who is teaching/training them. One point every organization and individual needs to understand is that Lean Six Sigma concepts are not easy to understand like other computer programs. It's much, and at times with so much of learning and new ideas are taught in just 4-5 days of training, it becomes tough to remember everything, especially when you learn the concepts via simple classroom theory sessions. Learning by simulation becomes very important in such scenarios as simulations are hard to forget. It is also essential that the LSS Leaders be enabled with capabilities & the skills required to drive real projects at their workplace, not just the tools and techniques of the Analyze phase but more than that.

    The last but the most important, desire to do things, unlike other regular works Lean Six Sigma requires a more significant commitment to an internal burning desire to get things done. LSS leaders must be passionate to get results; they should chase the results and be focused especially when things are tough.

    Cause number 5:           Lean Six Sigma is a Cricket Not Chess

    It's essential to understand Six Sigma is not a one-person army, every member of the team is necessary for the successful completion of the project. Sometimes business hierarchies are transformed into Six Sigma project hierarchy which will lead to a 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 results. Same goes for implementers. It is essential Lean Six Sigma leaders must have the ability to take the team along and possess great supremacy in leadership qualities. Many organizations fail to include leadership as a parameter while choosing a lean six sigma team leader.

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