The perfect organization does not exists anywhere in the world. This is a good and bad thing. It is good because people like you and I who are passionate about making organizations work better have no shortage of problems to solve. However, the problems create frustrating environments to work in that leads to disengagement and turnover in addition to dissatisfied customers who, given an option, will find what they want somewhere else.
Knowing this, and after coaching several hundred process improvement experts over the past few years, I still run into a recurring problem in which the people I coach (freshly trained LSS green and black belts) struggle to find projects to apply their newly trained skills to. You would think that with all the problems most organizations face they would have piles of project opportunities to get after, but that just isn’t the case in most businesses.
Nobody likes piling up their problems, especially out in the open where everyone can see them. They tend to be hidden deep in the organization, but the good news is that I have uncovered a few “secret” places to look that almost always turn up golden nuggets to make processes run more efficient with higher quality that lead to lower costs and higher profit margins.
I call these hidden locations the “six pack of opportunities”. Let’s break open this six pack and look at each area, but first a few words of advice on how to approach finding your next opportunity.
Keep it simple. Serve instead of being served.
Whatever you do never walk into a manager’s office and say something like, “I just went to training and need to find a lean Six Sigma project. Can you help me with that?”
There are two big problems with this approach. First and foremost is that your perspective has to be one of a servant. Your goal is to serve someone else who is in need; not to be served by someone who can simply hand you a project. Process improvement is never about you or what you will get from the effort. Process improvement is completely about how you can use your passion to help others.
If you have an attitude of “what’s in it for me” you will not succeed in this profession that is all about serving others. If you want to be served go to a Denny’s and order a Grand Slam. If you want to help others get better at what they love to do and make a real difference, focus on the needs of others, and not on what you will get from the situation.
Second, you should never bring up the words lean, Six Sigma, process improvement, kaizen, or any other confusing Japanese or statistical terms or worse yet, acronyms like DOE, SPC, LSS, etc. This will immediately turn on a filter, a faulty filter in most cases, that whoever you are talking with will use to run their problems and project ideas through that will lead to nowhere. You are there to simply understand the challenges, frustrations, head aches, etc. the person you are talking with is currently experiencing. Using simple language to get all these problems out is where you should start. Business leaders could care less about specific process improvement methodologies like lean Six Sigma. What they care about and get measured on is business performance. Focus on the what (i.e. problems, issues, challenges, etc.) not the how (i.e. LSS).
Break open a six pack and get busy looking for opportunities.
Nearly all great LSS projects come from one of six areas. Each of the following represent opportunities to apply the LSS methodology to help organizational leaders succeed. The key is finding an opportunity that they have passion for that leads to improved performance.
Six places to look for projects include:
- Business Plans / Strategic Goals
- Team Goals
- Personal goals / performance plans
- Pain points
Focus on the heart.
I find that starting with number six in this list is where you will find opportunities closest to the heart of the leader. The further up the list you move the farther from their heart you get, and the less passionate they are about the issue. Have you ever met a leader that got excited about strategic plans? I’ve never met one, but I have met several leaders who could tell me about their pain points for hours on end!
The top five focus areas are pretty straightforward in finding project opportunities. One simple tip I will give you is to look for some keywords such as “minimize”, “reduce”, “maximize”, “increase”, and “streamline”. Each of these words typically points to an existing process that can be measured, two key elements to a good LSS project.
Where I suggest starting is with the pain points of a leader instead of the other five areas. In some ways when you are just getting started with LSS you are also doing some promotion and marketing for the LSS process. If you pay attention to any type of advertisement these days you will notice most selling is based on tapping into emotions and not on the data making a solid case to buy whatever is being promoted.
In some ways it is the same with LSS. You need to tap into the emotions of a leader to find their pain points, and once you do and help them eliminate them you will begin to build their trust and open doors to projects in the other five areas.
To find a person’s pain points is no different than going to the doctor. You need to first ask “What’s hurting you?” in order to make a diagnosis and take the first step in reducing / eliminating the pain. You could simply begin with this exact questions, but some better ways to ask it are:
- What’s keeping you up at night?
- What work-related things do you think about when you’re not at work?
- In the last month what problem just doesn’t seem to go away that you wish would?
These are all simple starter questions that begin to develop a conversation that will lead to making a diagnosis on what is causing their pain. From their answers to these questions you will be able to start determining how or if LSS can help alleviate the pain. When you find a pain LSS can help with and reduce it you will begin to build a bridge of trust between the leader and yourself that will lead to bigger and more impactful projects. Be patient and focus on serving, and the reward for doing so will come in time.