Free Webinar – 11 Ways to Sink Your Six Sigma Project, Part. 1

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Article Revised: March 27, 2019

Join us for a Free Webinar on February 1

Peter Bersbach
Peter Bersbach

No matter what your knowledge of Lean Six Sigma, come join us in a one hour lively discussion on “11 ways to Sink Your Six Sigma Project.” Master Black Belt Peter Bersbach will give an overview of each way, then open the session to a discussion on how to avoid that particular failure mode. No ideas are wrong, but we will learn different approaches we might use to avoid each of the 11 ways and have a very successful project.


  1. Poor Project Selection
  2. Defining Defects
  3. Training Variation
  4. Statistical Training
  5. Shoddy Certifications
  6. High Attrition Rates
  7. Relying on GEMBA
  8. Tool Application
  9. Sustaining Results
  10. Estimating Benefits
  11. Six Sigma or Lean


“Okay, so I got this idea to have this discussion when I read this article by E.V. Gijo of the Indian Statistical Institute. He has 11 good ways which I think are applicable to sinking your Six Sigma project. He also mentions right here, in the middle of the screen, that implementation schemes should take a few moments and review these and think of the ways of avoiding it. Knapp gave me the idea of, well you know would be good idea even before you have a team to sit down and go through these eleven ways and figure it out. So that’s what we’re doing today.

Just to give you an overview about key E.V. Gijo is from the Indian Statistical Institute in Bangalore. He’s a specialist in statistical quality control and operational research and holds a master’s in statistics. So he’s got some good background going into this.

Here are the eleven ways that he had listed there. Now I’m not going to go right here into the level ways but I’m going to talk to you right now about the way I’m going to run this discussion. It’s basically I’ll bring up each of the eleven ways and a little snippet from his article about describing what that way is. Then I’m going to kind of open it to the floor and I have asked you all to give your ideas in the chat so I’d like everybody to at least give one idea in the chat area of how you would avoid this particular way of sinking your project. I’ll give a few moments for that that take place and I’ll read some of them as they come up. Then somewhere along the way I’ll show you a couple of my ideas which aren’t any better than your ideas I’m sure. Then we’ll just kind of move along at an even pace to try and get through all eleven.

So let’s start with the first one here. For project selection Gijo says, “Six Sigma projects are linked directly to an organization’s business metrics and bottom line. But projects are sometimes selected from isolated pockets and departments nobody considers as important to the organization or is its customers.” This last sentence kind of got me because it sounded like he was saying that the department that nobody considers are important to the organization or customer. That may be what he was saying but I kind of read it as the projects themselves that may not be considered important to the organization or customers. So how would you avoid selecting a project that isn’t as important to the organization of customer? So if you would take moments now and try to add put some stuff into the chat box I’d appreciate it.

There are dire comments. If the executive team ensures that all of the projects are linked to the corporate strategy you will not select poor projects. Yeah we are in the process in the throes of we’ve put in the process excellence leadership team in place for two years. Really the first year that we…. it’s an evolving thing we change it all the time we get better. But the first year we really didn’t have linkage between our projects and the corporate strategy. So we ended up executing projects that were really poor projects. Projects that some people didn’t care about, projects that didn’t have benefits which dropped profits to the bottom line or other things that were strategy related. So we’ve redoubled our efforts this year to make sure that we show that that linkage is in place so that we don’t select those projects.

I don’t see other people inputting. Anybody else have some ideas? Matt comments, “Take your cues from the big whys already seen by senior management etc.” William comments, “No projects without executive sponsorship.” Cornelio says, “Let top management do the project selection with black belt support.” Formod says, “Do not take the project until the customer is feeling the pain or problem in the particular process or product.” Julie says, “It is critical to make sure you are viewing the entire value stream so that your project improvement does not have an adverse effect on upstream or downstream processes. Sharing comments those making suggestions for projects must understand the organization strategy sometimes this is not communicated clearly.” Karen comments, “Steering team that is in the loop of management directives you’d need a management team that is knowledgeable about a serious about the bottom line driving process improvement and not just in the reactive mode.” Let me give some influence here. I also talked about a project evaluation it was one of my inputs to it. That it divides big Institute at least we have a Excel spreadsheet where you can evaluate the project to make sure that it’s aligned to customer and organization’s goals and objectives and it will be successful. The other thing I had thought of was the project chart of making sure that you got a high-level sponsor measurable metrics that are tied to an excellent business case with goals and objectives. Got any others on this one Tom that you I didn’t don’t see anything else in chat.

Okay, I’m going to go on then to the next one which is defining defects. Gijo says, “A defect in the service industry resulting in customer dissatisfaction can range from a simple misunderstanding of terminology to complete disrespect by the employee toward the customer. Yet these two outcomes receive the same value in Six Sigma projects because they are defined as a single defect.” So how would you avoid having this type of occurrence happening? So that not all the same defects are looked at the same way so to speak or groupings in this case dissatisfied customers or customer dissatisfaction.

I’ll go ahead why are you thinking about it that… Stefan mentioned, “Using a weighted system.” Excellent idea. I thought of Pareto analysis of root causes of the defects so that you may have a particular defect like customer dissatisfaction. You could analyze that or weight that by a frequency. Cornelio says, “Defects should be categorized from the customer perspective.” Formod says, “You should have clear operational definitions of measurement system and defining defects.” Steve says, “In fact this is one of the dangers of Pareto charts with frequency on the vertical scale.” Yeah they’ll have the same thing and I’ll have some detailed definitions minor to critical. It’s better to convert the vertical scale to dollars or something that indicates customer pain. Good point, good point that’d be an interesting scale to do. Okay I also had weighted defects like the first comment that we had.

How about training variations on excellence. Frequently organizations customized the Six Sigma concept during implementation. But in the name of customization, training and consulting organizations dilute the curriculum and duration of training for the Six Sigma black belts and green belts. So how would you avoid training variations in an organization? I mentioned here, compare value not price only. In other words sometimes you know you get what you pay for so you have to think about that. Another thing would be review several training organizations and see what fits into what you’re trying to get. Then once you pick somebody, listen to who you hire because sometimes there is a tendency to force a consultant or training organization to cut it down. I know that I had the experience of having someone asked me to make black belt training into one week and green belt training into one day. You can do that but you missed the body acknowledge so to speak. Yeah we actually evaluated several sites before we made a selection. I’ve worked with other black belts that have been trained at other sites like Villanova and they exclude a bit of the body of knowledge from their training. So it was important to us that we have a site that taught the entire body of knowledge so that was one of the reasons why we went to the Pyzdek Institute. Also William had a good input there about not everybody has to be certified. There are differences. A different level of knowledge that every organization needs or individuals in an organization needs and so that’s a good comment. Not everybody is needed to be certified in this particular level. Cornelio comments, “I think training variation is required to adapt to the actual needs of each company.” Richard says, “For me the problem would be that customization leads to a range of ills training being only one of them.” Karen says, “Require a certification from an institute that is valued by experts in the field.” Steve says, “What’s the training is complete start grassroots efforts where employees meet to learn from each other in fact we do that here at Whatcom County Washington, where interested parties from different companies meet to learn from each other this is a very effective method because you get to see case studies from different industries. William says, “Don’t shortchange soft skills. Steve says, “My point here is that training is only a starting point and that it should be made clear to employees that are provided for third party training.” There are some other ones that deal with customization, which I think is a good idea from a standpoint because sometimes Six Sigma is kind of a basic set of training and tools. I think some customization can be done to emphasize certain things in and less so input on others. But there are some basic tenants of Six Sigma that you need to have when you go through a customization, you need to have somebody with some background to know you can’t leave that segment out. For instance, one of the Damai steps, just to take controls off at the end would be a dramatic impact. So when you tailor or trim something to the company sometimes you want to make sure you don’t tailor out something that’s extremely important. So you need to own some background and knowledge in Six Sigma to make it work for you. What are your thoughts about things like the yellow belt and white belt certifications now that there’s a move towards increasing the number of belts and to provide training and a lower level of competency for people who may not need the entire green belt or black belt skillset. For example, the Isaac International Association for Six Sigma certification has defined a yellow belt body of knowledge. The yellow belt body of knowledge emphasizes the defined measure and control steps it actually leaves out most of analyzed and improve. In fact nearly all of analyze and improve. These folks of course I can’t really complete a project on their own they have to work with other black belts, green belts and master black belts. But they do have a role to play and in the organization. Apparently this is considered an important certification. Like you said Tom, I think they’re important and like several of the other attendees here have mentioned not everybody has to be certified green belt or black belt. Where I used to work it at Raytheon, there was a level of almost like a white belt. It was kind of kind of a general knowledge that everybody needed to have about what Six Sigma is and the cultural change that they were trying to make happen. So different levels of training for people and an organization is good and necessary I think. That’s what Mike just said.

Steve, how long was the white belt training that you guys did? It was a six weeks basically broken over six months. So we had a week of training and then a week about three weeks of application and working on the job with it to some degree and then go into the next week of training. For white belt? For white belt? Yeah actually in Raytheon they didn’t really call… well they didn’t call a black belt, a black belt. It was just kind of an orientation and they had a couple of hours that all employees went through and eventually in the hiring process everybody went through that presentation. There I had somebody go through it. Okay, because we did, when we call white belt four hours of orientation and we have another session that’s one and a half to two days and we call that yellow belt. But one of the things that we do a the whole first day is a simulation where we are simulating a broken process and then going through the entire domoic to fix it. By the end of the day they see the results of that and we found that to be a pretty effective way to get the entire concept across. I think the breakout of the belts, you know originally my personal opinion was green belt, black belt. You get too many belts and you don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. But in reality, I think that’s an excellent way for an organization to customize Six Sigma. You still have the main things of black belts and green belt. Then there is a certain body of knowledge that everybody needs to do and know if you’re making a cultural change in an organization. Then there are different levels, you know maybe they want to have a certain skill set for team members and so on and so forth. That’s a good approach to having some success there. William says, “I agree with multiple level training, but multiple levels of certifications is an administrative expense that I would not pay for.” Great point. That’s an educational address. Software is just a tool and it’s useless without an understanding of the process. It’s an irony that process excellence to not understand the process. Stephen says, “To me white belt and yellow belt training is most useful to identify people that are enthusiastic about the subject and thus worthy of additional training.” I’ve used that quite a bit to identify potential identify a green belt candidate. Yeah and William on the administrative expense for certification is… that’s true after doing a lot of outside stuff. I know one of the things that Raytheon did was for their green belt in some of the lower levels of stuff they would do their own training internally and to the mouths that it wanted. Then if there was a completion or product. If not at least recognized that somebody had that training. You know with a company certificate that you completed the training. If there was some skill that need to be demonstrated once the skill was demonstrated then you could have a thing. Because when people accomplish something it’s good to award them that they’ve done that. That’s basically it. So I don’t disagree with you but because the pay for thing is can’t be very expensive. But a sheet of paper saying you’ve completed something it’s worth a thousand words sometimes to employee.

Okay, statistical training. All kinds of statistic techniques are taught using software like Minitab, sigma excel and others without understanding how they are derived. What-if software like Minitabs stopped giving the estimate of p-values. How would it… you know how would the black belt or green belt go on is basically what they say. How could you do it if you didn’t understand where things were derived from? So how would you avoid this dilemma so to speak? Well it truly is a dilemma because Six Sigma is full of compromises. We take this mix of different subjects and we pick and choose things to put together a skillset to create change agents that are able to go out into the workplace and get things done and make productive change for the organization. But we also can’t put everything in there. So if you’re a project manager you’re going to know more about project management that we teach in black belt training. If you’re a psychology major you’re going to know more about small group dynamics and facilitating teams. If you’re a statistician you’re going to know more statistics than we teach black belts or even master black belts. So we have a problem and the problem involves deciding where to draw the line. Personally in my training classes, what I try to do is to teach some of the basic formulas where I’ll actually show a graphic of the formula and explain what the terms mean and explain what the formula itself means of the equation. So for example, I’ll show the mean and illustrate that it’s a center of mass. Show the standard deviation and variance and explained where they come from. But I don’t teach how to derive all of these sums of the squares and main squares and F tests that are presented in an ANOVA table. Instead I really count on the student to understand how to interpret the results of the ANOVA table and the regression ANOVA table without knowing in great depth and detail either the formulas themselves or all those formulas derived.

Cornelia mentioned, “I don’t think the user needs to know all the formulas behind. You don’t need to be a car mechanic to drive a car.” I think that’s kind of what you were talking about Tom. It will give them some understanding to what’s happening but you don’t necessarily need to know the all in details and stuff in some cases. Prymaat comments, “Focus more on visual six sigma techniques. Understanding the basic concepts is the key as compared to statistics.” That’s true. The true power of statistics is the use of analytic methods as opposed to innovative statistical methods. Those are large geographical things like scatter plots and place of regression analysis are very common even though we do teach regression analysis the black belts it’s not always necessary to get the job done. Control charts etc are also more common. Richard says, “Aren’t there various levels of statistical use that can be geared to white yellow green etc.” Yes Richard that’s certainly true. You know we do tend to save the most advanced things for the master black belts and go in terms of complexity downward in the teaching of statistics until at some level. White belts for example will get a very basic pretty much graphical toolkit. Tee points out, “Minitabs built-in help and step guide provide more detail in statistical insights to those that need it.” That’s true. There’s also an e-learning handbook available on the internet. There’s a link to it in our forums and on my blog. It’s free and it’s paid for by taxpayer money, so it’s yours you might as well enjoy it. Karen says, “When I was teaching stats I required the students to do simple examples by hand and did not allow computer usage until we had gone over the techniques. I believe that they do need to know the formulas to have an ability to interpret results clearly.” So Karen it sounds like you’re kind of old school. I’m kind of a mix I use to be in your shoes but I’ve backed off a little bit and relying more now on technology than I used to. Blame has a very practical approach he says, “When I’m stuck on stats I pick up the phone.” Matt says, “More important to understand how to collect the right data and how to pair that with the right analytical tools and how to interpret the result and output by p-values.” I agree with you Matt. William says, “As stated earlier not everyone needs to be an exam statistical guru.” Certainly true. And I think that both the software kind of standardized a lot of things like the earlier commenter made. Most of them also have some type of helping guide in explaining what it means and understand. So I think a little bit of the training, like she mentioned simple examples and then the detailed stuff. Maybe you’ll understand where more of the complex stuff is coming from. I like Williams comment, when I’m stuck on stats I pick up the phone. So he calls… that’s a good idea you know when you get stuck on some stuff let’s pick up the phone and call somebody who might be able to answer the question.

Shoddy certification. Because there’s a huge demand for certified black belts and green belts in the job market, every organization searching for employees with the Six Sigma background looks for certification. That leads to job seekers gravitating toward low cost easy to get certifications. So how do you avoid a shoddy certification? I think both issues to address here is not just some job seekers but the organization’s looking for employment. As Steven says, “Stick to Six Sigma or Pyzdek Institute.” I like that idea, but yeah. Matt comments, “What is needed is a trustworthy authoritative and objective voice who can help candidates qualify providers in advance.” Damien says, “What do you think about black belt certification from companies?” I think it is worth it for green belts from my personal experience. Richard says, “As a PMP, a project management professional, I understand why they are so protective of their license. I would have thought an organization such as ASQ, as a well-known brand, would have taken the lead. As a fellow of ASQ Richard, I agree with you. However, ASQ had revenue problems and they decided that they would pursue the commercial path so they now provide training. As a training company I don’t believe they’re eligible or qualified to accredit other training organizations which would after all be competitors to them. William says, “Certifications and recertifications, regardless of the profession, seem to be a revenue perpetuation scheme. Even across companies with great reputations there are some less than stellar practitioners.” Very true Richard. Matt says, “Related topic. Some certification providers, provide lifetime certification while others do not. What are the pros and cons?” We provide lifetime certification. However, there are others who require that you maintain professional development. We simply don’t want to be in the business of being sure that you get the adult education and professional development training. But of course we do recommend it. However, a pro would be of course that you’d at least be continuing your education. A con would be the cost, the problem, of reapplying every so many years for certification and assessing the relevance of your training visa be your certificate. Are there any institutions braiding the organizations providing certificates? Other than the ISAAC the International Association for Six Sigma certification and their website is Isaac.org. There are none that I know of that assess the organizations providing Six Sigma certificates. The universities are assessed as Universities, so their accreditation body is looking more at bureaucratic processes than they are content. Can anyone provide a list of shoddy providers to avoid? Well Matt, maybe someone else on this group can do that you may be can start a chat in at SixSigmatraining.org, all spelled out. Starting a post to forum, post the blog and see if you get any conference on that. I don’t want to get into that of course because I’d be assessing competitors and I don’t think I can be objective. Damien comments, “In France people can certify through accredited consulting but delivered by our top engineer schools.” So that’s, you know, certainly some benefit if you have access to that with the caveat being that you don’t want them to be too focused on academics. What about ISO for standards or checklist? ISO does have a draft Six Sigma standard. It hasn’t been issued yet but it does define the body of knowledge and it’s pretty much what ISAAC has defined. Matt comments, “Villanova is a reputable University yet folks stated earlier they do not include the entire body of knowledge. This is frustrating for those seeking more training.” Agreed Matt and unfortunately you’re going to have to assess the institution’s. Yeah my comments were kind of… I like where this discussion is going because if I, I’m going to go ahead and bring up the other ones that I had. It’s similar to what I said before about you know green belts and black belt training being short or long. Certifications the same way. I think it needs to… in this case show the demonstration of skills. So I think that’s what certification does and a continuation of that. Matt asks, “Can anyone provide a detail checklist to use to evaluate providers.” I did see a checklist that looked at several providers Matt. It was at the website, www.world-class-manufacturing.com. Pat says, “The Lean Six Sigma group at LinkedIn did have a recent discussion of recommending Six Sigma training.” That’s true it was very lengthy and very thorough and in-depth. I thought it was very well done. Someone’s asking for draft ISO standards, I’ll make a note of that. As far as details of checklist to evaluate providers, I think the best thing I can think of is there are places that the body of knowledge for any particular level are out there. ASQ has one, they are in several books. I think that’s kind of the checklist for if you’re getting a good overall training and certification.

How about the next one. High attrition rate. As organization implements Six Sigma, the demand grows for qualified black belts and green belts. Hence, retaining certified black belts and green belts is a challenge for every organization especially IT and business process and outsourcing industries. How would you address this high attrition rate? I’m going to real quick… because I know people will comment. I’m going to talk about organizations need to reward and recognize black belts and green belt successes. I mentioned pay raises stock options but I also have a book that’s called up 1001 ways to reward employees. So it doesn’t always have to be a monetary value but I think if they’re not recognized and rewarded for being successful in the company they have a tendency to want to leave. Find somebody that does recognize that. Matt comments, “This is nothing new.” William says, “Retention could be proportional to the rewards. Many organizations think loyalty is a one-way street that leads only to their doors.” Matt says, “Another option is to pay them a percentage of either the cost reductions or the profit growth that their project produces.” Cornelio comments, “Give the green belt or black belt management responsibilities and replace them with new ones.” That’s a great idea Cornelio. You know that was the way to the Lean Six Sigma got its start. These were temporary change agents that moved back into the organization after two or three years. That had the discipline advantage of putting Lean Six Sigma thinking in two key places and into the organization’s DNA. Formod says, “Career plan versus opportunity and organizations for black belts.” I have back, where again I used to wear the Raytheon, is I’d suggested to upper management that the black belts be awarded ten percent of the cost reduction that they happened upon. That would be an incentive for the black belts to perform well or they decide they’re not really that interested in doing that type of job. But that didn’t go over either. Father says, “Career plan versus opportunity in organization for black belts.” That’s a good point. A lot of places have to develop, if you’re going to have green belts and black belts in the organization, some career paths or a plan for those folks. How they grow and move in an organization. All right. I guess I’ll go out to the next one.

Relying on Gemba. In most Six Sigma projects, the implementation team performs extensive brainstorming sessions and identifies as many potential causes that can create variation in critical to quality characteristics. These potential causes need to be validated based on data collected from the process. But, due to the difficulty of collecting and analyzing data, many teams try to use gimbal as a validation method for the causes. So how would you avoid using Gemba as a validation method for causes? I mean as people are thinking about that I’ll go in here. I mentioned that the Charter should have measurable metrics and those metrics are what we need to work toward. Brainstorming tends to give us opinions but I always like to talk about what Six Sigma really is about. It’s collecting facts and data to give us results the back before don’t back the opinions and that are related back to the metrics of the Charter. Steve says, “I don’t understand this point.” I agree with Steve. I don’t see where Gemba is exclusive of data collection. I think the two are complementary activities. I think when you go to see what the customers doing you do take notes and you do record data and you do quantify your observations, as well as, learn just what the customer is doing and as well as developing a qualitative appreciation for what the customer is doing. So qualitative and quantitative observations need to be undertaken when you’re involved with Gemba. Which by the way for those who don’t know that’s just going to the customer and seeing what the customer does. I tend to agree with you. When I saw this I kind of thought, well Gemba’s  you should usually you’re going out there with some type of a data collection system because you want to see how and capture what’s going on in the process. But, I like what he was implying here, is that they didn’t really collect anything. They just went out and saw that, aw did this work or didn’t it or would this work made some opinion without facts and data. William says, “I use availability of data as a project qualifier. He goes on to say no data no project.” Richard says, “My projects require ROI evidence.” Richard says, “Is this point equating Gemba to empirical evidence rather than quantified evidence.” That could be what he’s getting at they’re just all qualitative it’s not good enough. Matt says, “One can never have too much voices, the customer and should use it to drive an understanding and what they are doing with their projects.” Or to give them a first order thinking, 80% effective is what Gemba said. Yeah we would… I would go back in and find another data source. I mean I’d use valid data to validate causes. We use Gemba a lot of time to do our initial data collection. But when you’re validating causes I’d want something I’d want to be able to collect some data to do that. I use check sheets a lot for that. Yeah, yeah. I haven’t personally, no. I have. I’ve gone out and collected information or data basically. With a check sheet as a Gemba process. You know as you’re walking out there in the floor and seeing if this happens or that happens or whatever. Even collecting defect information on a particular product as it’s rolling off a line. You know as the inspectors going through you can’t market is what type of defects are coming off there. Some other comments. From Steve, “Not only do I rely on Gemba, I spend 90% of my day Gemba and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Matt says, “Brainstorming without VOC is useless.” Cornelio says, “Rigorous data collection in Gemba is essential but you can’t always rely on the operators to do the job.” True, I think that the team members who are doing it but need to perform that role themselves.” William says, “I’ve seen that number of workplaces where data is not collected on a routine basis.” Hard to believe. Hard to believe but I’ve seen it too William. Richard says, “It seems to be better.” Larry says, “I would never use Gemba to validate causes.” Bricks points out that, “Anecdote is not the plural of data.” So anecdote plural is not data. Stephen says, “But don’t we collect the best data at Gemba. I think we have a problem with semantics here.” Could very well be. We do get our best data firsthand. There are no filters there are no second parties involved. Matt says, “Seems to me one can integrate data collection and validation into the Gemba activity and vice-versa.” I agree entirety with that Matt. Finally, Damian says, “I think one should follow and not take shortcuts. Follow the Six Sigma methodology which we all know includes validating or nullifying hypotheses about the validation of CTQ or the relevance of them. This next to Gemba activites in data collection.” So yes it’s not an either-or situation Damion, I agree. It’s an and situation. You do both. Well it’s a little after 10:00 or close to 10:00. Tom, so maybe we should arrange to do the rest of this some other time. If folks are interested in that.

So I see that there is a great deal of interest from the comments. Let’s go ahead and schedule a follow-on webinar. We’ll do that a week from today at the same time and you all get a link to it. We’ll see you for part two of the “11 ways to sink your Six Sigma project.” Thank you for attending.”

If you are interested in Six Sigma Certification and Training, contact Pyzdek Institute today!

 

Update 2/8/2012:
Click here to view the recording of the webinar 11 ways to sink your six sigma project-the sequel. Length 21:48. Click here to see the chat log. This webinar covers points 8-11.

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