For organisations that are striving for operational excellence using Lean Six Sigma principles, what differentiates the companies who are forging ahead from those that are just going through the motions?
Over the years, during our Lean Six Sigma work with many different companies across numerous industries we have been constantly searching for the "must do, can't fail" practices that are found in organisations that are successful. Here are some musings about 2 of the critical ingredients for success.
Firstly, long term success relies on the rigorous and repeated use of a scientific approach to problem solving, supported by a culture where problems are seen in a positive light and embraced as opportunities for improvement. In this culture, Problem Solving becomes more about learning than about fixing problems. In businesses successfully applying Lean Six Sigma, the definition of a "problem" is expanded to include the situation whenever there is a gap between the ideal state and the actual state for any process. In this environment, problem solving becomes much less reactive and more a way of thinking. Problem solving occurs at every level and for every activity in the organisation, at the root cause and in real time.
Secondly, in the successful organisations the leadership are actively coaching teams to master problem solving. In this culture the leadership philosophy is "follow me and we'll figure this out together". The leader is responsible for keeping people in the problem solving cycle, and in this way becomes a "transmitter" for developing improvement thinking. For this to happen, managers will be both confident and knowledgeable in the selected problem solving methodology, and demonstrably able to lead, challenge and support team members to take ownership of the problem solving process.
The overarching culture is one where people are given the responsibility to propose countermeasures to problems they actually own, with managers and leaders developing people by becoming coaches and facilitators.
So here we have 2 critical ingredients (among others) for sustaining and developing a culture of continuous improvement using Lean Six Sigma.