Lean Six Sigma is a type of process improvement methodology. It helps businesses reduce errors and inefficiencies by identifying areas of waste and variation and deploying teams to tackle those areas before they cause significant problems. 

While Lean Six Sigma projects can deliver incredible business results, the reality is that they don’t always go according to plan.

Today, we’re looking at some of the most common roadblocks that lead to Lean Six Sigma failures. We’ll also share how your organization can avoid these roadblocks, whether you’re pursuing an ERP implementation, process improvement initiative, or both.

A Failed Payroll System Implementation

Panorama’s Expert Witness team was retained to provide a forensic analysis and written report to the court regarding the failed implementation of a major software developer’s ERP/payroll system.

7 Causes of Lean Six Sigma Failures

1. Lack of Support From Upper Management

Unless your C-suite actively and visibly supports the Lean Six Sigma project, it can fail to gain the momentum it needs to succeed.

This is true of any enterprise-wide effort. These types of projects require dedicated team members tasked with specific responsibilities that deviate from their day-to-day duties.

Lean Six Sigma initiatives also need adequate funding. Resource and funding needs are requests that only senior management can fulfill. 

However, keep in mind that it isn’t enough to get your top-tier leaders on board. Ongoing leadership support should also come from every department. Without direct accountability, team members could abandon their project duties, money could run out, and the entire project could derail. 

2. The Wrong Focus

When you apply Lean Six Sigma principles to a specific project, it’s important to make sure you choose the right project. The ideal project is one that’s both data-based and can deliver business growth and value. 

In most cases, this means looking for projects that can help you improve:

  • Your overall business
  • Your financial standing
  • Your business processes
  • Your customer support

Many organizations apply a Lean Six Sigma approach to projects that are ill-suited for it. These projects usually lack sufficient data, don’t have a business focus, or are focused on realms that are beyond the team’s control and expertise. 

If this happens, then it’s common for projects to get scrapped early on, as the effort feels too daunting.

3. Lack of Support From Process Owners

The goal of Lean Six Sigma is to improve a given process until it doesn’t have any areas of waste, redundancy, or variation.

However, getting it to this state may require extensive changes to current workflows. 

If the process owner isn’t willing to make those changes, then the project could stall. The same can occur if the process owner is too busy to devote any time to the project. 

You need the support and approval of process owners to access process data. Without it, your project might not achieve the desired objectives. 

4. Lack of Team Member Commitment

As mentioned, Lean Six Sigma projects require the ongoing commitment of a select group of team members from various departments throughout your organization. With a cross-functional team, you have access to a variety of opinions and perspectives. 

However, if these team members fail to give the project the time and attention it deserves, this can stall the project and lead to Lean Six Sigma failure.

This reiterates the importance of an engaged and supportive management team that ensures the project remains a top priority. 

5. Making the Scope Too Broad

The goals of Lean Six Sigma can seem incredibly broad, especially when you think about applying Six Sigma to an entire product or process. Setting a goal to “eliminate variation” in a product can create a mountain that’s simply too high for anyone to climb.

With so much to do, taking the first step might seem impossible, so we recommend starting with smaller, incremental improvements.

For instance, instead of looking at the full scope of a product, seek to minimize variation in one component or characteristic.

Alternatively, you can look for ways to apply Lean Six Sigma to a current or upcoming process-related project.

For example, you can use this methodology in an ERP software implementation to minimize waste and eliminate non-value-add processes before software selection. 

6. Using a Faulty Measuring System

Lean Six Sigma requires accurate data, but it’s easy to assume that the metrics you’re using are correct, without validating their reliability. 

Moving ahead without a correct measuring system can compromise the foundation of your project. You should be able to assess if your improvements are delivering the results you expect, but you can’t do that if you aren’t tracking and measuring the correct data. 

Before starting your project, we recommend thoroughly analyzing your measuring systems to make sure they’re valid and working effectively. 

7. Lack of Team Member Training

When it comes to Lean Six Sigma, there are two ways your training efforts could derail.

First, you could fail to dedicate enough time to the training itself, leaving your employees in the dark about how the methodology works and the ways to implement it.

Alternatively, you could overwork your trainers to the extent that they can’t get any real work done. If the people who hold all the knowledge on Lean Six Sigma are always conducting training sessions, their expertise can’t be sufficiently applied to the project. 

You don’t want to rely solely on your process owners to lead your training sessions, either. It’s best to take a multi-tier approach, ensuring everyone, including your management team, understands how the methodology works. 

Often, this means allowing employees to “learn by doing.” PowerPoint presentations that cover the theories of Lean Six Sigma can only do so much. The real learning takes place when employees get firsthand experience using the methodology. 

Avoid These Lean Six Sigma Failures

Employing the Lean Six Sigma methodology can transform your company’s products and processes.

However, it’s important to approach these projects the right way. When you know the causes of Lean Six Sigma failures, you can put measures in place to avoid those missteps. 

Our business process management consultants can help you lead your teams toward achievable, sustainable process improvement, whether or not you’re implementing ERP software. Contact us below for a free consultation.

About the author

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As Director of Panorama’s Expert Witness Practice, Bill oversees all expert witness engagements. In addition, he concurrently provides oversight on a number of ERP selection and implementation projects for manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, and public sector clients.

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