Everyone has an opinion on why Lean Six Sigma fails. Who is right and who is wrong doesn’t really matter. The important thing is to figure out what you can do to prevent it from happening to your company.

Keep Lean Six Sigma Alive and Well

A June 2012 Wall Street Journal post, “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong,” suggests that, similar to weight-loss plans, Lean Six Sigma programs fail because of declining motivation. Ultimately, participants “fall back into old habits.”

As the article illustrates, LSS is much like a metal spring. The more it’s pulled, the more it struggles to support the added pressure. In the case of Lean Six Sigma, midway through a project when the expert moves on and other projects grab the attention of top management, a team’s improving performance may stop and even regress.

To prevent this problem, they offer four solutions:

  • The extended involvement of a Six Sigma or other expert
  • Tie the performance management system to each process
  • Limit team size to six to nine members
  • Executives must participate, not just support

This fourth tip leads us to our next reason why Lean Six Sigma fails.

Demand Commitment from the Top

The buck stops here. The success of any change program rests with senior management. They must take an active role in the improvement programs to see and understand firsthand, rather than relying on someone else’s viewpoint.

This requires commitment along with a change in corporate culture. It’s not easy to do and sometimes it can get downright unpleasant. Businesses, after all, are run by people. We can only handle so much change and forcing it can cause pushback and frustration.

However, LSS is a philosophy requiring a paradigm shift. If you think it’s just a process, you’re doomed. Most processes have a finite life.

Make Sure to Make the Right Choices 

Knowing what you want and need out of the LSS process is more than half the battle. Creating a key performance metric from the number of people trained or certified is useless. Applying LSS tools to everything you do is not the answer.

Take time to understand the process and make sure it is appropriate for your company’s current situation. If you’re looking for a hail-Mary solution, you might want to reorganize, recapitalize, or implement a reduction in force.

Like any improvement methodology, for long-term improvements you need to start with a well-run organization and the right people, tools, and metrics for the best results.

One response to “Why Most Companies Fail at Lean Six Sigma”

  1. Thomas Pyzdek Avatar
    Thomas Pyzdek

    There’s one sure way to get commitment from the top: make Six Sigma the approach used to achieve the leaders’ goals for the organization. When Six Sigma is used in this way, rather than being just another flavor of the month, the leaders can clearly see its benefits because its “benefits” are that they, the leaders, accomplish what they set out to accomplish. Many top-level goals can be best reached by the horizontal, business process approach that is the essence of Six Sigma.

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