The Role & Training of Executive Leadership In Deploying Lean Six Sigma

Posted by on Jan 26, 2020 in Lean Six Sigma Deployment | 0 comments

Some of the questions asked when starting a new lean six sigma initiative is “What level of participation and involvement do we need from our executive leadership in deploying our initiative? and “What should their training consist of?”

First, executive leadership should create a vision for where they want their organization to be the next 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years.  They need to determine a strong rationale for why the Lean Six Sigma initiative is needed by the business.  The rationale must be specific to the organization and tie directly to benefits everyone in the organization can understand.  The vision for your organization should fit your strategy and goals as well as being informed by the current culture and history of the organization.

Second, executive leadership should plan and actively participate in the implementation.  They can’t hand over this responsibility to a deployment champion, some Lean Six Sigma manager or a consultant.  Executive leadership needs to own the effort since they are the ones who’ll have to sell it and defend it.  They need to be able to change the plan as things change and the organization’s knowledge evolves.  In addition, they’re best suited to balance the priorities and challenges of the business with the Lean Six Sigma process.

The plan and strategy should detail some of the following:

  • What are our first steps?
  • How much of the business should be involved?
  • What’s our budget?
  • How many people will be trained?  To what level?  How quickly?
  • What will our process be for identifying projects and making sure they are aligned to organizational strategy?
  • What is our certification and recertification process going to be for the various belts?
  • How will we monitor the progress of our initiative and what metrics do we need to put in place?
  • What resources will be needed to accelerate our deployment?
  • What will our communication strategy involve and look like?
  • What will be our recognition process look like?

Questions like these can be addressed by a Lean Six Sigma Steering Committee made up of 6 – 10 executive members.  This committee is the engine for the initiative.  They will determine the program metrics, deployment timing, and the infrastructure required to sustain the effort along with any other questions that come up.  This group will most likely meet monthly for the first year or so, then potentially on a quarterly basis afterwards.

Third, executive leadership must understand how to select the right projects.  This responsibility will be evident very quickly because if projects are ill defined it will have an immediate impact on the whole initiative.  There must be a balance between the desire for big dollar savings and the potential for improvements in competitive position and market strength.  The upside for these improvements are often much more, even though the payoff may take longer.

To get as many people involved as possible in your change initiative, there must be a blend of small, quick-win projects and large scope projects.  The small scope projects should focus on identifying short-term opportunities.  Some of these opportunities may result from simple problems that finally can get some attention, a kaizen event or even a subset of issues from a larger project.  If these quick win projects are chosen correctly they can serve as the catalyst for much more important achievements down the road.

Larger scope projects can be conducted only after belts have a through understanding of the DMAIC process and a better knowledge of the tools and techniques.  Depending on the size of the organization, consultants can be used to coach and mentor projects.  If in-house expertise exists, either Black Belts or Master Black Belts, they should be engaged in coaching the projects.  I have even seen organizations that go on the outside and hire expertise to get their Lean Six Sigma initiative jump-started.

Now that we’ve know the role of executive leadership in the deployment process, let’s turn to the training executive leadership should receive.  I think it is important that the training involve three key areas:

  1. Basic understanding of the Lean Six Sigma principles and the tools and techniques the organization will use.  These should be the core tools consistent with the knowledge level of a “White Belt” or “Yellow Belt.”  They should understand the DMAIC process and the deliverables for each phase.  They also need to understand their role in coaching, overseeing projects and leading tollgate reviews.
  2. They should understand the “deployment process” the organization’s going to use and be committed to making it happen, not only in their own departments, but throughout the organization.  They must understand their role as a Lean Six Sigma leader and as a potential member of the deployment steering committee.
  3. Training in selecting projects and ensuring there is the right blend of short-term, quick-wins and long-term, larger scope projects. They must also understand the process for how the projects are aligned with the organizational strategy, goals, and objectives.

As leaders of the initiative, executive leadership has a key role in the success of its deployment and must be drivers of its implementation.  It is not a task that can not be delegated or taken lightly!

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