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The Adaptive Blog

Should we have our continuous improvement resources report directly to functional owners or manage them from a central team?

If your organization has decided to have dedicated Black Belts, Lean Leaders, etc. (full-time process improvement employees), the best organizational structure will depend on the organizations’ understanding of Six Sigma. If your organization is new to Six Sigma, the team should be centralized. If the Black Belts (BB) report directly to the functional leaders, those leaders rarely understand how to optimize a BB resource. The BB is usually viewed as a flexible resource and ends up helping with firefighting rather than fire prevention. In this case, a central team that has tight control can ensure that BBs are properly utilized. On the other hand, if the functional owners in an organization have been BBs and/or understand how to utilize BBs, functionalizing BBs is usually a better choice. Functionally aligning the BBs gives control of those resources to the person who is responsible for the results. This alignment helps ensure that BB projects get the support necessary to be successful.

What is the most important phase of a Six Sigma project?

I have heard this question and debated it many times with individuals. I stand firm on my answer – the Define phase. Regardless of how well you Measure, Analyze, Improve, or Control, if you are not working on the right project, the results don’t matter. I have seen far too many projects that do not really create value. The Define phase should ensure that the projects support the strategic initiatives of the company and are the best use of company resources. Companies that solely focus their Six Sigma efforts on cost often move forward with projects that, if completed, will save money but because they often are not the best ROI, they fail due to lack of support.

Which methodology would you recommend learning and utilizing first Lean or Six Sigma?

If we consider Six Sigma a problem solving methodology and Lean the way to run a business, then the answer is simple – Lean. Lean thinking ensures that we are focused on creating customer value, have stable processes upon which improvement can be made and have the right people to make improvements. Six Sigma helps solve complicated problems but it is only effective after organizations have both standard processes and the discipline to follow the standard processes. In most cases, business problems are merely symptoms of a business failing to apply the four concepts discussed in November’s featured article or not having the discipline to follow standard processes. We often ask people working on Six Sigma projects, “If the people in your organization can’t follow your current processes, why are you spending time creating a new process?” Don’t take this the wrong way. Six Sigma is a great, data driven, problem-solving methodology which we strongly advocate. We just caution organizations that Six Sigma alone rarely delivers significant and sustained improvements if the organization hasn’t already embraced Lean Thinking.

What is the difference between Six Sigma, Lean, and PMP?

The simplest response to the question is, “Lean is how you run your business, Six Sigma is how you solve problems, and PMP helps ensure that all continuous improvement efforts are completed on time and on budget.” To better understand this answer, we must first look at the differences between the three methodologies.

Lean – The common misconception about Lean is that it is a “tool kit”. Lean is not a tool kit. Toyota did not achieve what it did by using tools. Lean is a system that ties the entire organization together. Tools and management philosophies typically focus on just one area or aspect of a business. In Lean speak, we would call this sub optimizing the value steam. Lean starts with the Leadership team understanding how a Lean organization thinks and behaves. It focuses on long-term value for the three customers: shareholders, employees, and external customers.

Six Sigma – A process for solving problem using the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) data based decision making process. While the methodology is great for solving complicated problems, my experience has been that most business problems are not complicated, and poor performance is usually a lack of basic standards or the discipline to follow those standards. I often ask people, “If you throw Lean Six Sigma tools at a bad strategy, what do you get?” The answer – bad results faster. I have never seen a Six Sigma book discuss business strategy or human resources strategies. Both need to be in place before an effective Six Sigma program can be achieved.

PMP (Project Management Professional) – Practitioners are taught how to properly plan and execute projects. Concepts like critical path, communication, and budgeting are used. The PMP institute certifies people as a PMP.