This week I finished teaching a 6 week class focused on applying some of the basic lean tools, and in our discussion forum I challenged the students to find ways of how they will take what they have learned in the course and use this knowledge to get better at what they do.
My “last words” to them were the following, that even if you’re not taking my class and are simply a practitioner trying to make the world a better place through process improvement, may help you navigate this long and challenging journey.
1. Keep it simple.
If our goal as advocates of process improvement is to change the culture of the organizations we work in, it’s unlikely this will happen if we try and add more complexity to anyone’s work life. Think about it-how many people do you work with who are looking to make their life more complicated? It seems silly to think we would want to create more complexity, but that’s exactly what we do in many cases when rolling out some type of process improvement initiative such as Lean Six Sigma. It’s all too easy to over-complicate what you’ve been learning in this class by using all the Japanese jargon (i.e. gemba, jidoka, kaizen, etc.).
While it’s important to understand these concepts and be able to identify them as a practitioner, it’s not as important to those we are trying to influence for change. I would challenge you to use language everyone can understand when leading any initiative in process improvement. Some of the ways I’ve done this are by suggesting we go to where the work actually takes place (gemba); finding ways to error-proof (poka-yoke) processes; and using working sessions (kaizen) to rapidly implement improvements. When you talk in language everyone understands you’re far more likely to make change happen and sustain itself.
2. Stay focused on the money!
At the end of the day all that matters, well, mostly what matters, is the money we’re making for our organizations. Whether you work for a profit or not-for-profit entity it still comes down to financial results. As process improvement advocates we need to always be focused on how the changes we are proposing will have a financial impact on the organization. This is what gets leadership excited and engaged in the process, and long-term creating this excitement and engagement is what leads to sustaining a Lean Six Sigma effort. Without the dollars management begins to question why we are doing this process improvement stuff, and honestly they should question it if the results are not being translated into financial improvements. Always be thinking in terms of the business case when taking on any improvement activity!
3. Constantly be looking for opportunities to “plant” Lean Six Sigma “seeds”.
We can’t do it alone! It takes the effort of many people working together to move an organization to world class levels of performance. Always be looking for opportunities to “plant seeds” in your organization to help “grow” the Lean Six Sigma efforts. These opportunities often materialize as people come to you or you uncover opportunities to improve processes in your organization. I’m always looking for a chance to help others learn a tool or technique that will help them achieve a goal.
Start with the 7 basic quality tools the next time you have an opportunity to help someone take on a problem. You’ll plant the seed by showing them how to use the tool, and when their problem goes away what will “blossom” is another disciple preaching the Lean Six Sigma gospel to others in the organization. More disciples means more converts, which ultimately leads to greater results!
4. Be patient and persistent.
Comedian Steven Wright stated, “Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.” The work you’re doing takes time to develop, and in this microwave world we often want crock pot results without putting in the time it takes to get the rich flavor we’re after. I won’t attempt to tell you change can happen overnight, but if you’re persistent and focus on helping others by understanding their needs; put all this technical Lean Six Sigma jargon into a language they can understand; link what you’re doing to business results that have a bottom line financial impact; and constantly look for opportunities to plant seeds throughout your organization to help spread the power of Lean Six Sigma, good things will happen, but they will take time to happen. Be persistent, but also be patient because your hard work, if it’s done in a proper manner, will pay off!