Six Sigma Unicorns

Six Sigma Unicorns

One session at the Lean Six Sigma World conference presented findings from of a study of successful Lean Six Sigma implementations. If you think your company can become a unicorn, watch now:

“Hi, I’m Jay Arthur, author of “Lean Six Sigma for Hospitals” and the QI Macros [software].

“I was in San Antonio at the Lean Six Sigma World Conference and there was a presentation by a couple of consultants about a study they’d done on successful Lean and Six Sigma deployments. Now, unfortunately it was a little skewed, because the minimum size of the company was 150 million dollars going up to about 750 million dollars, so you have Fortune 500 companies with deep pockets. They can afford to invest in full time Black Belts and Green Belts and all this other kinds of stuff, and they probably have a stable improvement leadership team during that whole thing. They told us the standard stuff – you know, “leadership support” and blah blah blah.

“Here’s the deal: [after one session] I sat down with a woman at lunch, and she said, “I’ve had three CEOs in the last five years.” The study that was done I think was really picking unicorns. To believe that every horse, mule, and donkey can become a unicorn is kind of insane, right? I think you’re expecting things that are not possible, but you can be the CIO (Chief Improvement Officer) of your own workplace.

“Now, in this study they also found that the average Black Belt project went from four months to 12 months in length. Whoah, that’s way too long! The Green Belt project probably went from 4 months to 16 months. Well, I hate to tell you this, but at the end of 16 months everything in your process has probably changed and what you’re trying to fix will no longer matter in the real world. Because that’s how fast things are moving.

“The good news is the median return on investment for those things was something like 8x, so for every project they did they got an 8x return. That’s a good thing, but you can do that without all this leadership support and all the other investment and everything else that’s going on in there.

What I want you to do is realize that there are unicorns out there and you might be lucky enough to work in one, but that does not mean that that’s how it gets it done in America. CEOs are constantly turning over, right? When I talk to people that’s more their experience, so this whole idea of top-down leadership support? Nah.

“Now, what can you do instead? Well, if you have a team, if you’ve done some data analysis (this is me as the data analysis expert and I do the analysis), we figure out who the team should be, and then above them is their supervisor who owns that process, and that supervisor has a supervisor. If you can get those two levels of management support, then the team can be successful. You don’t need “the on high [leadership]” you just need two levels of support, a team, and a change management kind of person who can help you do the quality improvement. That’s it. That’s all the support you truly need. (Very often the top leadership changes, but the middle leadership does not.)

“That’s my Improvement Insight for this week. Let’s go out and improve something.”