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Roadmap to Successful Six Sigma Implementation

Aug 11, 2004

Many corporations are hearing about the great successes being realized by companies who have leveraged the Six Sigma methodology to do business. Although the concept of Six Sigma has been around for awhile, for a number of individuals, this may be their first encounter with the model. For some managers the demand is being made by their executives to research Six Sigma and help the business decide if becoming actively involved in this pursuit of perfection is right for their organization. For those, getting started with Six Sigma can be an overwhelming task.
This article provides those individuals with a roadmap on how to get started with Six Sigma from selecting a provider, to defining the rollout strategy and finally becoming self-sustained.

Step 1: Selecting a Provider

O.K., so you have made the decision to move forward and implement Six Sigma in to your company, the question is do you hire Master Black Belts to come into your company and take care of business or do you hire an outside consulting firm to train your current employees in the methodology? If you choose the former, there are problems that may arise. First, it is often difficult to train those MBBs on the nature of your business and how things work. Secondly, most MBBs do not have their own materials and your company would still be required to purchase a licensing agreement. Finally one individual is not enough to provide the resources necessary to adequately support one wave (let alone multiple waves) and provide all the necessary support to all the candidates involved.

However, if you choose to hire the consulting firm, you are left to weed through the multitude of Six Sigma providers out there to find the one that best meets the needs of your organization. The task of narrowing the field is daunting. The initial selection is often based upon web searches, basic phone interviews and referrals from those who are currently or have previously taken part in a Six Sigma initiative. Once you have narrowed the numbers down to approximately three to five firms who appear to have a strong reputations, the real journey begins.

It is now time to treat these chosen Six Sigma providers as if they are all candidates in a very important job interview process for a potential Six Sigma partner. Each consulting company should be willing to provide for you (at no charge) a three to four hour introduction to Six Sigma. This will allow you to evaluate what it is that you could be signing up for. Be wary of those companies that send sales people who have not practiced in Six Sigma and are not Master Black Belts.

What are the kinds of things you should look for during the interview process? Well first and foremost you want to choose a provider in the same manner you would chose a new employee. Look for the obvious: years of experience, knowledge in a multitude of fields (manufacturing, transactional and service), professionalism and classroom dynamics. How often have you sat in a class or a seminar bored to tears because although you know that your instructor is highly intelligent, he/she could not keep you engaged enough in the lecture to transfer that knowledge. The hired consulting firm must have instructors who are passionate about what they do in order to keep all potential candidates actively engaged and ensure learning.

It is now time to discuss the not so obvious things to look for when choosing a provider. One of the deciding factors should be the material quality. Each potential consulting company should be willing to provide for you a sample of their training materials. Although the basic premise of Six Sigma may be the same, no two training manuals can be considered equal. The material should be written such that a newcomer to Six Sigma can pick up the manual and be able to walk through the use and application of each of its tools without a consultant there to translate. Ask yourself if the materials provided would be useful any longer once the deployment is over and the consulting firm has moved on? Many consultants write materials with such a lack of detail that it requires an expert to decipher it.
Another important factor is the cost. When choosing your provider, it is not just the bottom line that you need to be concerned with, but rather the overall model, the cost per day and the number of days you are getting for that bottom line price. Some providers may offer you Black Belt certification for a great low price, but does that fee include the crucial on the job site support necessary to make or break the project? Look for those hidden costs and make sure the model includes everything needed for a successful deployment.

The chosen consulting company must also be willing to be on call 24/7, indefinitely (i.e. phone support) not just an 8-5er who cant be reached during non-business hours while a candidate is working late on a project. All of this extra phone support should come at no additional cost to you. You want consultants who are interested in a long term partnership in terms of availability, not those who are looking to set up camp on property and just sell you days for longer than necessary. The potential consulting company should come equipped with an exit plan that empowers the organization to sustain the Six Sigma methodology for life.

This initial meeting also serves the provider with the opportunity to assess your firms readiness for Six Sigma. They should be able to walk away from this meeting with enough insight to provide for you a customized deployment model rather than a standard this is what everyone else is doing model. It is important to understand that what one company needs may be greatly different from the next.

Once you have collected their deployment models, look them over to see what they include. Is everything discussed included in the model, are the numbers manageable from a human resources stand point, and are the costs in line with comparable industry standards? Make sure that each possible consulting firm has a recognized, functional, successful project selection process and ask to see it.

Another important aspect to the selection process is the willingness of the provider to incorporate your project work into their curriculum.

Finally, do not be afraid to check references. Ask for at least three or more. Make a point of speaking with executive sponsors as well as the candidates themselves because they are the ones who work with the consultants on a daily basis.

Step 2: The Conviction to Move Ahead/Roll Out Strategy

The elimination process was lengthy, but at last you have made your decision and it is time to get started. Now what? Ideally, it is necessary to have a meeting with the chosen consulting firm to discuss the roll out strategy. There are three approaches that could be taken:
1.Corporate roll out
2.Departmental or Divisional roll out
3.Individual or Public Training

If your company is looking for the corporate roll out strategy, the meeting should include the C.E.O. and his/her senior staff. These individuals may not need to be physically present at the meeting, but may send an appointed Six Sigma director who can make decisions and act as a liaison between senior management and the consultants. The provider should work together with the liaison to define the roll out strategy that best meets the companys needs based on available human resources and the size of the company in terms of Green Belts and Black Belts to be trained.

For corporate roll outs, once the provider has been selected it is necessary to have some Executive training to ensure that the senior management understands what Six Sigma is and buys into its benefits. This training will define the value of the Six Sigma metrics versus the current business metrics. It helps the senior staff to understand how to leverage Six Sigma to meet corporate goals and objectives. It is recommended that the Executive training include all disciplines of the company from accounting, manufacturing, human resources, I.T. and call centers.

Maybe your company is thinking more about a departmental or divisional roll out. In that case, that first meeting should include the President or Vice President of that department or division to properly ensure the success of the roll out. Starting out on a smaller scale is not necessarily a bad idea; however, the risk is that if that department or divisions project crosses over into other divisions, there may be some struggles. This is when project selection is crucial so as to guarantee projects do not cross boundaries. You do not want to risk local optimization at the potential expense of corporate optimization. The goal is not to set up small silos on the floor between departments/divisions with the general feeling that as long as our department/division is running smoothly, who cares about how it affects the rest of the company. In reality, sometimes fixing the problems in one area can cause far greater problems somewhere down the line. Project selection is therefore key to victory in this form of a roll out.

The final option is the individual or public training of an employee. The thought here may be that your company is too small to undertake a full wave of training or perhaps you are just not sure if Six Sigma is the answer to your problems. Through an open enrollment class you could cost effectively train one to several individuals (off site) have them work their projects, have a chance to evaluate the ROI as well as discover potential new projects before making a commitment to a larger scale training. With that being said, the downfall to this may be that public training classes are typically generic and not customized to your specific industry.

The quicker you train the bulk of your organization in Six Sigma methodology, the quicker your organization will transition from anecdotal decision making to data driven decision making in all aspects of business. Nevertheless, it is better to have a smaller amount of big wins than a larger number of small fails. You companys roll out needs to be small enough to triumph, yet large enough to make a difference.

Step 3: Becoming Self-Sustained

Companies often select to conduct a Black Belt wave first, consisting of 15 20 full time Six Sigma practitioners. This foundation gives the corporation in-house application experts that will help alleviate some of the day to day questions of future Green Belt and Black Belt waves. These first Black Belt candidates must be your future leaders, the best of the best, representing each discipline within your organization. It will be from these chosen few that the future Master Black Belts will be selected to remove the need for outside consultants. Your in-house MBBs will then provide future Executive, Green Belt and Black Belt training and support.

The process is now complete. The guidelines have been laid out for you to select your Six Sigma partner and effectively work together to becoming a Six Sigma company whose systems and processes are as close to perfection as possible. Once this foundation has been laid, your organization will be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, eliminating the need for an outside consultant.