Laser Focus Your Lean Six Sigma Improvement Teams

I often hear horror stories from companies that started lots of teams, let them choose their own problems to solve, and waited patiently for the money to start rolling in. Months pass; years pass. Teams become frustrated. "Six Sigma doesn't work!" they cry.

Don't let this happen to you!

Laser focus every team you start. This means that leadership will want to work with an improvement expert to develop the first two elements of a successful improvement story:

  1. Line graph showing defects (preferably in parts per million) over a period of time. (This answers the questions: "What's broken? How broken is it?")
  2. Pareto chart(s) showing 1, 2, or 3 "big bars" that contribute 50-60% of the problem identified in the line graph. 4% of any business creates over half of the waste and rework. Find it and fix it. (Using the power of "diffusion," a 4% involvement of your workers will make Six Sigma take root in the business. When 16-20% are involved and successful, Six Sigma becomes unstoppable.)

This should take no more than 3-5 days using existing data. 
(Never start by collecting a bunch of new data. This is just a way of avoiding Six Sigma. And unless your business is completely ignorant of day-to-day operations and problems, you already have enough data to work with. Just get on with it.)

If a leader working with an improvement expert can't get to this level of specificity, neither can a team! Never start a team that doesn't have a good chance of succeeding. You'll just waste their time and threaten the survival of Six Sigma.

Now that you've narrowed your focus, you can identify the experts who should be involved in the root cause analysis. (This is another good reason to laser-focus your improvement efforts; otherwise you won't have the right people on the team.)

Laser-focus your root cause analysis in 4-8 hours. TQM teams met once a week for an hour. This built weeks of delay into the process. If a problem's worth fixing, if it's a mission-critical problem, fix it fast! I've rarely had a team that couldn't find the root causes in a day or less. Then disband the root cause team and identify an implementation team (leaders and workers).

Laser focus the implementation: Implementing the changes may take days, weeks or even months, depending on changes to information and other systems. Project manage the implementation and find another "big bar" and do another root cause analysis.

This approach will save you a fortune in time and money usually wasted on "shotgun" problem solving.

Focus, Focus, Focus.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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