The 14 Reasons Six Sigma & Lean Don’t Work in Most Companies

As both a CEO and later as a consultant and trainer, I studied Deming, Juran and Senge in improving my business and honing my system-based problem solving and leadership skills. Before I go further, let me be clear that the teachings and principles underlying the work of these giants in the quality, management and leadership arenas are sound in their transformational power in business—when implemented properly. I can say the same thing for the principles of TQM, Six Sigma, Lean and Lean Sigma. It’s a good bet that the next systems-based programs that follow these (yes, there will be more programs with different names thrust upon us) will also be solid in principle. However, it is in the implementation of all these programs where things go quickly awry. In my experience there are 14 major contributors to under-performing or failed Six Sigma and Lean programs:

The Flawed 14 – The 14 Factors that Guarantee Under-Performance or Failure of Most Six Sigma and Lean Programs

  1. They are seen as programs rather than systems-based management/leadership models.
  2. They are implemented top/down, another program ordered by top management.
  3. They use a “push” implementation strategy – the programs are pushed upon workers and managers.
  4. Sustainable success requires strong support from top management, which is rarely the case.
  5. The programs are seen as something for workers and some managers but not for leaders and especially not top management.
  6. There is difficulty determining the best place(s) to begin the work – early implementation is often in the wrong areas and scope of work too large and time consuming.
  7. The tools are too complex for many, especially in service businesses such as healthcare. Many workers/managers are afraid of statistical tools.
  8. They require real buy-in on the front lines and with managers, which rarely occurs. People wait it out. This too shall pass, similar to other failed programs pushed down from the top.
  9. Little or no early success or ROI – Promised returns fall woefully short.
  10. Early successes take too much time to achieve and early adapters lose interest.
  11. They often are scaled through management edict, a recipe for disaster in even marginally successful programs.
  12. They do not use naturally occurring stresses in poor systems to speed change.
  13. They do not look at naturally occurring sources of stress in poor systems, which are passed on to people working in those systems, and seek to reduce/eliminate that stress as a significant benefit of the systems optimization process.
  14. They focus on process, mostly forgetting about the growth and transformation of people necessary to sustain good work done on the process side.

Contrast this approach to implementing the Systems-Based Transformational Leadership Model (STL)

  1. STL is a systems-based management/leadership model that creates much more value in almost any business (ever higher quality products, services, cultures and businesses at ever lower cost).
  2. STL is implemented mostly bottom/up.
  3. STL uses a “pull” implementation strategy – people are pulled to the work because they want to learn and grow as workers, leaders and managers.
  4. Although some support is required from top management, it’s very manageable for most.
  5. STL is seen as what it is—a higher-level systems-based leadership and management model.
  6. Determining where to start is simple, fast, easy, and accurate.
  7. The STL Tools are simple to use, easy to teach, fast and effective. Virtually anyone, regardless of background, can be successful using these tools.
  8. STL requires no buy-in. Instead, people create ownership of the Model as their own.
  9. Expect huge, measurable ROIs, along with meaningful quick successes for your people.
  10. Early successes in as little 30 days is the norm. This builds confidence in your people
  11. STL grows organically, usually through word of mouth successes shared with others. It is not unusual for people to ask when they will have an opportunity to do the work in their area.
  12. STL uses the naturally occurring stresses in poor systems to speed change.
  13. STL identifies the sources of stress in systems, which are passed on to people who have to work in those systems, and seeks to eliminate that stress during the systems optimization process.
  14. STL focuses on both process and the growth and transformation of people in becoming better workers, and/or excellent leaders and managers. With no push of any kind, this transformation takes place naturally in the training and utilization of the tools.
Editor’s Note: This article is republished with permission of the author with first publication on LinkedIn.
Posted in: Communication Skills, KM, Leadership, Management, Team Building