3 ways for making LSS go viral in your organization!

viral2Imagine this scenario…your lean Six Sigma (LSS) team has just finished implementing an improvement that saves your organization $5M.  Your team celebrates and shares a video on LinkedIn explaining the project and how your team achieved the results, and the next morning you check on the video stat’s to find out 3 million people have viewed the video!

This scenario is commonly described as something that’s “gone viral”.  While the example I provide here might be a Utopian LSS dream, what I want to share in this post is learning from things that go viral online, and how we as LSS professionals can use these viral lessons to help our efforts go viral in our own organization.

Viral ingredients.

So what makes something go viral?  Typically, there are three ingredients to creating a viral scenario:

1. Simplicity – easy to understand and quickly apply.

2. Relatable – something that can be shared by many.

3. Location – positioned somewhere it will be seen by the masses.

Keep it simple.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson we as LSS professionals need to learn.  The process of LSS is in general quite complicated.  I find that this is one of the reasons that draws many of us to the profession and methodology.  We MBB’s and BB’s love technical stuff, numbers, lots of decimal places, complicated software, etc.   We can usually spot a bullet point out of place on a PowerPoint slide from a mile away and tell the difference between 11 and 12 font!

Unfortunately, what attracts many of us to LSS is exactly what deters the masses from embracing it.  Never have I come across a client who has told me that LSS is a perfect fit for the complexity they have been looking to add to their already complex work life – nobody is looking for more complexity, so quit trying to over complicate LSS!

If our goal is to spread the LSS “gospel” and get more people using the methodology to solve tough business problems we have to make it easier to use.  One simple way to do this is by starting with the goal I share with all my clients at the start of a project, which is to use as few LSS tools as possible in the shortest amount of time that leads to achieving the project goal.

Where we tend to go sideways is by introducing too many tools when more tools almost never leads to more results.  What more tools usually leads to is more complexity, more project cycle time, more frustrated team members, and more of a chance LSS will have a no chance of spreading throughout your organization so keep it simple.

Keep it real.

When something goes viral it’s because it’s relatable to you and those you associate with.  When we encounter something we can relate to we’re more likely to explore it further.

How we can keep LSS real is by using stories and having a greater understanding of the challenges and frustrations often encountered by those we work with.  To really understand the challenges other people in your organization are facing you need to get out and do what I refer to as shaking hands and kissing babies.  You won’t gain much in understanding the problems of the people you want to help until you get out of your office and connect with the people in your organization.

What will surprise you is that most people face similar problems throughout an organization such as having too much to do and not enough time; reducing costs; increasing efficiency; improving quality; increasing customer satisfaction; getting more out of the people they manage, etc.  In essence, every person in an organization has one common goal – to get better at what they do each and every day.  LSS is a great way to help others improve regardless of what they do or where they do it.

Make it visible.

If you can’t see it no one will know it exists.  This is probably the easiest of the three viral ingredients to implement.  Start with where people hang out and make LSS visible in those areas.

Consider sharing project stories in the conference rooms where people meet.  Use pictures and very few words to tell a project story or an application of a simple tool.  Use bright colors that cause people to take notice.

Other areas to think about are where people spend time waiting for something like documents at a printer, food in a microwave in an employee lunch area, and maybe even in the bathroom.  Anywhere people meet or wait is a good opportunity to catch their attention.

Spreading the LSS “gospel”.

I often tell my clients that LSS projects really have two key goals.  The obvious goal is to improve a process by fixing a specific problem, but this is really a secondary goal.  The primary goal of LSS is to spread the LSS gospel (also known as the “good” news) throughout an organization so that every day people solve tough problems instead of stepping over them.

When people start to understand LSS doesn’t have to be overly complicated, and they can relate to how LSS may help them fix a problem that’s been nagging at them for a long time they will begin to embrace it.

So get started planting a LSS virus in your organization by keeping it simple, relatable, and making it visible.  In time the virus will become contagious and positive change will begin to take hold.

One final thought I’ll leave you with is to start with your leadership team.  They are the most contagious group in your organization and will infect faster than any single person can.  As goes a leadership team so goes an organization!

Play better “chess” with your people to get results!

chessWe’ve all been there before.  Whether it’s working on a process improvement project, giving direction to those we manage, telling our kids what to do, etc.  People don’t always do what they’re supposed to do.  So what can you do about it?

In this post I’ll share with you an overview of a short presentation I use with my clients to quickly explain how using positive reinforcement after a desired behavior takes place can lead to sustainable behavior change.

People behave based on two things.  First, what happens before a behavior (i.e., training, coaching, giving direction), and second, what happens after the behavior takes place (i.e. rewards, punishment).

The biggest problem I observe with my clients who are trying to change behavior of others is that they focus far too much on what happens before the behavior.  They spend hours in training, coaching, writing SOP’s, and telling people what to do, which is a necessary component of behavior change, but far too often they miss the more impactful aspect of behavior change, which is what takes place after the behavior.

Think about when you were a child and had to do “chores”.  Mom or dad told you to clean your room, which may or may not have led to doing it, but if you did complete the task the reward you received (i.e. allowance, ice cream, etc.) was more likely to get you to repeat the behavior than just simple direction on what and how to do it.

I would argue, and the behavior science research supports my argument, it’s no different in the world of business.  Your chores now are the job duties you are hired to complete, and one of the rewards is the paycheck you receive for doing the work.  What I’m getting at here is that what happens after the behavior takes place has a much higher effect on the person repeating the behavior than what happens before the behavior.

Let’s put this into more practical terms of how to drive behavior change.  Before focusing on the rewards component of behavior change let’s make sure you have the necessary elements to set the stage for the desired behavior by asking three simple questions.

1. Do they know what to do?  This might seem like a no-brainer, but just asking the question ensures the expectation has been set.  You wouldn’t believe how many times this one step is all that is needed to change behavior.  Have you ever told someone they were doing something incorrectly to which they replied, “I didn’t know that’s what you wanted.”?

2. Do they know how to do it?  You can’t tell someone to do something and then just miraculously expect it to happen.  This is where training and education play a big part in setting the stage for behavior change.  Show them how to do it before asking them to do it.

3. Can they do it?  Not everyone has the ability to do all things.  Have you ever watched American Idol?  Some of those contestants actually think they can sing, but not everyone has a voice for singing!  It’s no different in business.  Some of us are gifted speakers, others are great at analyzing data-we all have talents to use in helping achieve our personal and organizational goals.  The best test here is to have them demonstrate they can do it.

Assuming those you are helping change know what to do, how to do it, and can do it, now it’s simply a matter of providing some reinforcement that fuels their want to do it, which leads to a fourth question.

4. Do they want to do it?  This is where positive reinforcement (rewards) comes into play when changing behavior.  I suggest checking off “yes” to the previous three questions (they are usually the easiest issues to address) before addressing the motivation issue.  No amount of positive reinforcement will make you into an American Idol if you have the voice of a broken chainsaw!

Not everyone views positive reinforcement the same.  For example, many of the hourly workers I have had as team members hate being recognized in public, but when I was a welder many years ago and working on the production line I loved public praise.  The problem with not understanding each individual’s preferred way of being recognized is that when you praise them in the wrong way you are likely to get just the opposite of what you desire.  Praising those hourly workers the way I like to be praised will almost guarantee they will never demonstrate the behavior that led to that praise again just to avoid being called out in front of their peers.

This is something all great leaders know about their people.  In other words, they play chess with their people instead of checkers.  If you compare the two games you’ll see that all the pieces in the game of checkers are the same, whereas in the game of chess each piece plays a unique role.  People are no different.  There are not two of us that are identical in most organizations.

One of the simplest tools I’ve used to play better “chess” with those I’m helping change behavior is a 3 x 5 card as shown below.  All you need to do is write your name on the card and list the ways in which you like to be recognized and praised when you do something good.  This card can then be copied and shared with everyone you work with so that everyone knows the best way to keep you doing great work.  You could also share this with your family as a way to sustain desired behaviors.

One final suggestion I’ll leave you with is that the timeliness and certainty of the reinforcement happening after the positive behavior are critical to repeating it.  Think of how likely you are to repeat a behavior your boss compliments you on months after the behavior took place.  This is one of the best cases for why performance reviews on an annual basis have little impact on changing behavior.  The second you see someone doing something great provide the reinforcement instantly!

In summary, if the people you want to drive behavior change in know what to do, how to do it, can do it, and want to do it, followed by you reinforcing the behavior in a way they find positive that happens immediately while the behavior is taking place or shortly after it, and the person performing the behavior knows for certain the reinforcement is coming, sustainable behavior change is possible – give it a try!

You Need a LSS Coach!

coachGetting better at something is a lot easier when you have guidance on how to get better from someone who’s “been-there-done-that”.  We’ve all experienced being coached beginning with our parents.  There probably isn’t one person in this world who learned to brush their teeth on their own or tie their shoes without some type of “parental” coaching.

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

In business it’s no different, especially when it comes to lean Six Sigma (LSS).  I can remember my first project and how much I struggled because I didn’t have anyone to help me succeed.  Looking back now I see that I did have people I could have reached out to for help, but just didn’t have the courage to do so.  It frustrates me now to think how much quicker I could have found success if only I had asked for help!

This is one of the most common reasons why I see a lot of people, especially men, applying LSS for the first time fail.  We men like to figure things out on our own even if it takes us twice as long to do it!  In the end we might finish, but often the struggle to get there is so painful we never want to do it again, which is absolutely the worst outcome we could end up with regarding LSS in an organization.  We want more, not less, LSS!

Lean coaching.

Looking at a LSS project as a process (i.e. DMAIC) and analyzing it for waste using the 8 classic forms of waste it’s easy to make a case for using a coach to reduce project waste.  As a quick reminder the types of waste found in most processes can be summarized using the acronym DOWNTIME.

D-defects / rework



N-not using people well




E-excess processing

As with any process you won’t always find every form of waste to remove, but if you look hard enough you’ll find many of them.  turning our analysis to a typical first LSS project, the forms of waste I see most often when a coach is not brought into the process are defects / rework, not using people well, and excess processing.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

The most common form of waste in most processes, LSS included, are defects and rework.  Doing something wrong or having to do it again are probably the most common mistakes we all make when doing something for the first time.  In a complicated process like LSS I have never seen anyone, myself included, go from Define to Control, without making a number of mistakes that lead to having to re-do something or start over.

Defects and rework lead to not using people well, another form of waste, because nearly all LSS projects involve other people whose time is wasted when the project leader makes a mistake.  From a culture change perspective nothing is more impactful in a negative way than wasting people’s time.  When you waste people’s time with LSS they will invariably perceive LSS as a waste of their time!

Arguably, one of the biggest forms of waste I’ve encountered by those not using a coach is excessive processing.  This is always one of the toughest forms of waste for many new practitioners to grasp, but it’s essentially going far beyond what the customer of the process expects-something commonly referred to as “gold-plating”.

For example, I used to frequent a Starbuck’s drivethrough near my house, and almost every time I placed my order for a Grande (medium) Blonde with no room and one Raw Sugar they would give me a Venti (large).  I didn’t really care, but I ordered a Grande because I don’t drink the coffee fast enough, so a lot of what’s at the bottom of my Venti cup goes cold and gets thrown out.

The worst part of this is that they don’t charge me any more for the Venti (it was their mistake), but they still have the higher cost for the larger coffee and make less profit (I paid for a Grande not a Venti).  Now one coffee isn’t going to break Starbucks, but if they’re doing this at even a small percentage of their thousands of locations around the world it could add up quickly!

From a LSS project perspective the way excess processing comes into play is by using far too many tools, statistics, templates, etc. when completing a project.  All this does is add complexity that isn’t needed, and once again this drives people away from LSS, not towards it!  When it comes to a LSS project JIT and using only what is necessary to achieve the project goals will go a long way in creating an “I want to do that again” attitude, which is the ultimate goal of every project.  A coach will be able to help you decipher which of the 658 LSS tools available to you make the most sense to achieve your project goals (i.e. less is more!).

Using a LSS coach opens up a S.E.A. of success.

There are three reasons why everyone needs a LSS coach when they get started on their first few projects.  The first reason is Support.

No one is an expert the first time they do anything.  We all need support from someone who has been successful doing what we are attempting to do.  In the world of LSS these are usually those who have master black belt certification from a reputable organization and have completed many projects successfully.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22

A second reason to find a coach is for Encouragement.  If you haven’t been frustrated yet with LSS you haven’t done much of it!  Getting people to change what they do; follow a structured problem solving methodology like LSS; complete action items; even show up for an occasional working session can be extremely frustrating work.  Sometimes you just need someone to talk to who’s dealt with and pushed through those frustrating times to give you some encouragement.

A final reason, the top reason my clients find value in what I do for them, is provide Accountability.  In some ways it’s not surprising, but when I ask my clients what they value most about the time we spend together it’s always that I provide them with an accountability partner-someone to hold them accountable for what they have simply agreed to do.  My general approach to coaching is to meet with my clients every two weeks for an hour, and knowing that our session is coming up is usually enough of a motivator for them to come prepared to discuss their project.

Back when I should have been looking for a coach the resources that are available now didn’t exist, but with technological advances like Google, LinkedIn, Skype, FaceTime, etc., finding a coach isn’t all that difficult.  The most important criteria, aside from being qualified (i.e. MBB, project experience, etc.), is finding someone you trust, which can take some time, but it’s time well spent that will lead to years of future results and less frustration in the process.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Variance Reduction International, Inc. if you need help finding a high performance coach.  We have 30+ LSS Experts located around the world ready to help you succeed!

Selecting Lean Six Sigma Thoroughbreds

galloping-thoroughbred-horse-the-irish-image-collection-Over the course of 10+ years of working with organizations striving to improve what they do using lean Six Sigma (LSS) I’ve come to the realization that success lies in three key elements.

  1. Working on what matters to leadership
  2. Picking the right people
  3. Providing coaching support

First and foremost is picking the right stuff to work on.  There isn’t anything that’s even a close second in my opinion.  You’ll often read that the number one reason for LSS failure is a lack of leadership support, but I would argue if you dig a little deeper as to why the support isn’t there it has to do with what is being worked on.  Work on the stuff that matters to leadership and you won’t have anything lacking!

Work horses, donkeys, and thoroughbreds.

A second area that leads to success is what I want to focus on in this post-picking high performance project facilitators.  The analogy I like to use relates to the types of people that work in most organizations.

From a statistical perspective you can view this as a normal distribution in that most people tend to fall into the “work horse” category.  These are the individuals who come to work each day and do what they are told to do, but never seem to live up to their true potential. Essentially, they do the minimum to not get punished, but hardly ever give any discretionary effort.

Another group, thankfully much smaller but in some organizations are very disruptive, are the “donkeys”.  They kick at everything that comes their way and are generally pessimists about not only work, but life in general.  They find a $10 bill and complain it wasn’t a $100 bill!  The sad thing about this group is that despite their small size they tend to get a lot of attention!

The final group, the group you want to be selecting your future LSS facilitators from are the thoroughbreds.   They seek to win every race they get into.  They put in the effort to succeed and strive to achieve maximum performance every time they line up to take on a challenge.  The problem is there are not many of them in most organizations.  They are a rare breed and have no shortage of requests to help coming their way, and in some cases, they have the ability to perform, but no time to do it.

Gallup research on workplace engagement suggests similar numbers to what I’ve seen with organizations I’ve worked with over the past decade when selecting thoroughbred LSS facilitators.  The latest data suggests the following:

32% engaged (thoroughbreds)

51% not engaged (work horses)

17% disengaged (donkeys)

Think of it this way.  In your last LSS class 2 students were the pessimists of the group cracking off the sarcastic comments, saying this won’t work here, etc.  Five of the students didn’t care one way or the other.  They spent much of the time checking instant messages, email, and their Facebook page.  Then there were the three who really got into it.  They asked a lot of questions, came prepared, were on-time coming back from breaks and lunch, and they left with more energy than they came with.  Sound familiar?

Finding more thoroughbreds and fewer donkeys.

The challenge is finding more thoroughbreds than donkeys in your organization, but how do you find them?  I would argue that your search begins by identifying who are the future leaders of your organization.  These are the rock stars of the future you want leading your LSS efforts.

Think of it this way…They are the future “seeds” being planted today that will eventually “sprout” into leaders who will then “pollinate” the organization with the process improvement philosophy, mindset, etc.

We talk about process improvement being more about culture change than anything else, and how do you change culture?  I would argue it starts with your people.  People create culture.

Picture five years from now when those who are individual contributors start entering the leadership ranks and by that time have led a number of process improvement projects and have seen the value of focused process improvement.  Now, in the position of a leader, they will begin to cultivate the same attitude in their direct reports, and as leadership goes so goes the organization.  This is when real culture change related to process improvement starts to happen.

You could ask a hundred questions to identify potential thoroughbreds, but overall you want to feel secure that they are going to be a future leader which starts with some simple questions to the candidate, their supervisor, and their peers.  Consider these questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Does the business view this person as having “leadership potential”?
  • Where does their current supervisor see them in 5 years?
  • Where do their peers see them in 5 years?

The other two key elements that lead to success initially that are worth inquiring about are how the individual manages their time, and how their supervisor views and feels about process improvement.  The two biggest short-term failure modes I experience with my coaching clients is that despite their passion for improvement and leadership potential what often sinks them is their inability to manage their time well and / or a supervisor who doesn’t see the value of LSS.

Finding thoroughbreds isn’t easy, but if you ask the right questions the top performers emerge, and the donkeys will get left behind in the stable.  Eventually they will move into the leadership ranks and that’s when real positive change begins to take place.

Where’s your focus?

focusA number of years ago I worked for a mid-sized family owned business that had been around for over 60 years.  They had grown from a small “pop-and-son” manufacturing company to an organization with close to 300 employees and Fortune 5 clients.  They were a model of small business success.

Then, almost as quickly as the company grew it began to shrink.  The Great Recession hit and one-by-one customers began scaling back orders, and in short order we had a cash flow crisis every two weeks as we struggled to make payroll and keep suppliers paid.

From a career standpoint this was one of the greatest learning opportunities of my life.  I learned all aspects of the business management process, primarily that cash is king when an organization falls on hard times.  In fact, if you look at small business failure statistics you’ll find that the reason most small businesses fail, at least why they end up having to shut the doors, is because they run out of cash.

What I also learned during this process is where you focus will dictate where you go, to which you’re probably saying, “no duh!”.  Let me expand on what I mean by this.

Where’s your focus?

We have only three places to put our focus.  The past, present, or the future.  I knew the end was closing in on the business when the president of the company began spending time on the production line with a welding hood on standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his employees working to ship product so we could get paid and meet customer, payroll, and supplier commitments.

His intentions were genuine, and I could see he wanted to show the employees working beside him he was dedicated to meeting shipment deadlines crucial to the short-term success of the business, but is this where a company president should have been focusing his efforts solely on today’s needs to get work done?  I would argue it’s absolutely the wrong place for the president of a company to focus and here’s why-the higher up the organizational ladder you sit, the more you should be focused on the future, not the present or past.

If you’re a senior leader and you spend most of your day focused on today and little time on tomorrow, you haven’t hired the right people, and / or you have a trust issue to deal with if you want to take the business to the next level.

If you don’t spend time today doing something to get better at what you’re going to do tomorrow, you won’t exist tomorrow.

Evaluating your current focus.

The purpose in writing this post is to help you evaluate where your focus is today.  Are you focusing on what matters most to winning tomorrow?  One simple exercise to evaluate your focus is to examine where you are spending your time over the course of a typical week.

This doesn’t have to be overly complex.  Simply track what you’re doing in 1-2 hour increments throughout the day.  Then evaluate what you were doing by categorizing it in one of three categories that include 1) past, 2) present, or 3) future.  After you have a few days of data you will be able to see what percent of your time is spent in each category.

Now what?

With your data collection complete, the next question becomes should I do something different?  Am I spending too much time focusing where I shouldn’t?  There is no perfect formula that will provide this answer, but the further up the organizational chain you are the more time you should be focused on the future.  Your job isn’t about getting today’s work done (that’s what you have direct reports for), it’s about determining where today’s work should be focused to help you win tomorrow.

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

Peter Drucker

Choose to serve instead of being served.

hand-in-serviceI often help clients select people to get involved with their process improvement initiatives, and typically the process takes the form of evaluating the key characteristics that lead to success, and then searching the organization for people who have those characteristics.

There are a few “no-brainer” things that we always look for such as a mindset for improvement, future leadership potential, the ability to analyze processes and data, etc., but one characteristic I believe that stands out from the rest is having a servant’s perspective on the role they play in solving problems and helping others do what they do better.

Putting others first.

At the heart of a servant’s attitude is a focus on helping others.  When you become second and others become first you’re on the way to having a servant’s attitude.  Unfortunately, the “selfie-society” we live in today promotes just the opposite perspective, which makes finding these people quite the challenge in many organizations.

Good leaders must first become good servants.

Robert K. Greenleaf

To some degree I can see why we are so selfish because in every organization I’ve either been an employee or consultant my performance has been measured solely on what I have done, not on what I’ve helped others do.  I’m not suggesting this is going to change any time soon, but what can change starting today is your attitude toward helping others.

Seek to serve instead of being served.

Becoming someone who is focused on serving instead of being served isn’t all that challenging once you have the correct perspective.  Start with putting yourself in the position of those you are striving to help.  What is it you can do to help them look like a rock star?  What passions and talents do you possess that could be used to help others succeed?

You have something to offer others in their quest to improve.  Find what that is and put it to work and the ironic thing is that your good work will come back around to you and by helping others succeed you too will succeed.

Shaking Hands and Kissing Babies

IVotedButtonI’m what you could call a “political junkie”.  I love watching and reading the latest political news, especially around election time when things get heated up between the contenders.  While I typically look at politicians more as entertainers these days, they do offer up some things that we as lean Six Sigma (LSS) professionals can learn from to actually get things done, something they can’t seem to do.  One concept is what I call “shaking hands and kissing babies”.

Less talking more doing.

A few years ago I spent several months coaching a black belt who had a passion for LSS, well, sort of.  For months we spent hours each day talking about LSS.  We explored our thoughts and experiences on deployment, training, software, statistics, etc., but after months of talk he had progressed no further with taking action to turn his knowledge and passion for improvement into results (he would make a great politician).

Then, on my last week working with him, in walked a new black belt just hired and starting her first day on the job.  After some brief introductions, she left us and didn’t return until the end of the day.  I wondered what she’d been up to all day, and when I asked her she said she had been out walking around the offices and talking with people.  She talked with them about their problems, how she could serve them in getting better at what they do, and where LSS might add value to solving some of their big challenges.

Much like a politician seeking your vote, she was mingling with her constituents trying to understand their problems, and how she might help to alleviate some of the challenges they faced each day.  From this my political mind shaped the “shaking hands and kissing babies” analogy to finding people to help through LSS.

What follows is how we can learn from this black belt, and to some degree, politicians working to get your vote.

1. Seek to serve instead of being served.

Way too often we focus on what we’re getting out of the process.  We typically have our sights set on a promotion, job title, more money, corner office, etc., but I would argue that if your primary focus is on how you will benefit from helping others you won’t succeed over the long term.  If you truly want to help others they become priority one and you come second.

You can accomplish anything in life as long as you don’t mind who gets the credit.
-Harry Truman

2. Listen more talk less.

Think about someone you know who truly cares about you.  Do they spend all the time you’re together talking to you?  Do you have a hard time getting in a word during your conversations with them?  I doubt it.

People who care about you spend more time listening to you than talking to you.  The same can be said for those you are trying to help with LSS.  Like the black belt I mentioned earlier, spend more time listening to people and they will begin to see that your focus is on helping them not yourself.

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

3. Focus on what matters most.

This is where politicians could use some help!  If you try to fix all the problems you’re not likely to fix any of the problems, and not every problem is worth solving.  You have a finite amount of time in your work day, and what I’ve found is the best people I’ve worked with (those who get the right things done effectively) are those who manage their time well.

To manage your time well you need to have crystal clear focus on the vital few things that matter most to success (i.e. Pareto Principle).  This starts with defining what “success” means to those you are trying to help.  Why do they exists?  How do they add value to the business?  What is keeping them from doing what they do best?  These are all questions to ask in determining what matters most to their success and how LSS may help.

…if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.
-Greg McKeown

4. Know that you can’t do it all.

This is a lesson most politicians will never get, but you as a LSS professional can make a lot of progress by starting with the basis that you can’t do everything for everyone.  Principle number three feeds into this one in that if you focus on what matters most you will take a big step forward in working on the important stuff, but sometimes what matters most is an overwhelming amount of work that you will need some help in accomplishing.

Where there is passion for improvement you will succeed, so I suggest finding those who want to improve first because they will take part in driving the success and not simply come along for the ride.  To some degree process improvement is about finding people with a passion to get better first, and then determining where and how to get better.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.
-Steve Jobs

Get out of your office!

Not long ago I heard from the two black belts I wrote about earlier.  The guy who never left his office no longer works for the company, and the black belt who was out shaking hands and kissing babies was promoted.  To succeed you have to get out and find the opportunities to use your talent as a LSS professional to help others.

It’s a rare organization in which people will come to you with their problems, but as you begin to show others you are there to serve them and not yourself, spend time to listen to their problems and challenges, focus on what matters most to success, and tap into the passion of others who want to get better at what they do you will succeed!

4 ways to make Lean Six Sigma stick!

istock_000012003650smallThis 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!

150 Million Lean Six Sigma Projects

crowd_people_Shot_webA few years ago I read one of Jack Welch’s (former CEO and Chairman of GE for those of you living under a rock the past few decades:-) books in which he told a story about how he frequently traveled to all the GE facilities around the world, and on occasion he would attend retirement celebrations during his visits.  At one of those visits he met an employee who had worked for GE nearly his entire life.  Jack congratulated the man for his dedication to the company to which the man replied,

All these years you paid for my hands when you could have had my brain for free.

This exchange hit Jack hard realizing GE wasn’t doing a great job, like many companies I would argue, capitalizing on the ideas people who business leaders see as those who deliver value through the use of their hands and not their minds.  What Jack realized is just how many minds he had missed the opportunity to tap into to make GE a better company.

150 million opportunities to improve.

As of 2015 there were nearly 150 million people in the U.S. workforce.  Each one of these people could be viewed for their hands as Jack did, or viewed as 150 million minds to tap into to create a better way.

One of my passions is finding ways to get more people to embrace the lean Six Sigma (LSS) process improvement methodology for solving tough business problems.  The challenge I see on a routine basis with my clients as to why more people don’t embrace LSS is because it’s too complicated, and who’s looking to add more complication to their work life?!?!

I point the finger at myself as to why LSS is so complicated.  People like me, those I like to call “4 decimal place people”, thrive on the complexity of LSS.  We love the numbers and the challenging tools and methods that come with the numbers (i.e. DOE, multiple regression, p-values, etc.).   We can spot a bullet point out of alignment a mile away, tell the difference between 11 and 12 font, and, sadly, this stuff can take our focus away from what really matters-getting better at what we do!

The problem is that if our four decimal place focus is on the numbers and not the people who can impact the numbers we’ve missed the point of process improvement.  It’s not about us and what we get from the process, tools, statistics, etc., it’s about the people who work in the processes and have the ability to make them better.

Simplify to multiply.

Imagine if we could get 150 million people, or half that many as a good starting point, improving what they do at work each day.  What impact would this have on our society?

Imagine millions of people in healthcare, education, manufacturing, sales, finance, food preparation, housekeeping, hotel service, the <gulp> DMV…what would the result be?

Living in a defect free, well, mostly defect free if we strive for 6 sigma where it makes sense, world would be an incredible experience!  Much of the stress in our lives, I would argue, comes from defects.

Imagine a federal government running at 6 sigma!?!?  I’d settle for a congress at 3 sigma!

It starts with leadership’s attitude.

So where do you start?  Arguably, those who have the most impact and ability to make 150 million LSS projects a reality are those of you leading organizations.

As goes the leadership of an organization so goes the organization! 

Having a leadership team who truly believes everyone in the organization needs to spend some of their day getting better at what they do is a great place to begin.  If your focus is solely on getting today’s work done and not spending some time on doing the work better tomorrow you’ll never get better.

The higher you are on the org chart the higher percentage of your time that should be spent finding ways to get better tomorrow what you’re doing today.  Now I’m not talking exactly about tomorrow here, but simply suggesting your focus should be more future oriented than on the present state.  Imagine a CEO working on putting out today’s fires all-day-every-day.  How successful do you think that company will be in the long term?

Shift your focus.

One simple way to analyze where your focus is begins by looking at your personal plan, performance evaluation, etc.  Divide your objectives into two categories of either short (fire fighting) or long term (fire prevention).  What percent of your focus in on long term?

There’s no magic ratio for what is the proper percentage of time to dedicate to short and long term, but I’d recommend if you’re the CEO it needs to be at least 80% long term; if you’re an individual contributor a good starting point might be 25%; and if you’re a middle manager an even 50-50 split could be a good goal to begin with.

Another simple tactic is challenging your team to identify one area for improvement each year.  Imagine if every employee in your organization made just one improvement a year how big an impact it could have!  This simple tactic goes a long way in helping spread the attitude that getting better is part of your job.  It’s also a great way to help those wanting more compensation make an argument for it.

Just because you come to work every day doesn’t mean you deserve a raise.  When you add more value to the business is when you deserve more reward!

A final way to begin shifting attitudes in your organization towards a focus on improvement to make the organization better in the future is to instill an attitude of fixing problems when they appear.  In many organizations we tend to push problems off to the side and say, “I’ll come back to that later when I have time.”

We put our time where we place our priorities, and any leader who says I need to focus on getting today’s work done before I can focus on doing today’s work better is not leading the way to organizational success.

Make it easy and there’s a better chance they will do it.  These three tactics are an easy way to begin the journey toward creating the attitude of “a new day, a better way” throughout your organization.  Start with these simple tactics to get the focus right, then begin the process of equipping your people with the tools (i.e. LSS) to make it a reality.

Far too many organizations I’ve seen try and fail started with the tools by training everybody in the organization.  Why would you buy your tools before you know what you’re building?!?!

This is simple, but it’s not easy.  A final thought I’ll leave you with is that rarely can you do anything worth doing all on your own.  Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  I’m here, along with a team of experts at VRI to help you succeed.  When you’re ready, reach out to us and we’ll help you find a new day and a better way.