Critical Success Factors For Lean Six Sigma & Process Improvement Projects

Multiple organizations worldwide are now widely exploring various strategies for quality and process improvements, especially Lean Six Sigma (LSS), to stay competitive in the current business market and meet customer’s expectations. However, to deploy these initiatives successfully, adhering to the critical success factors when implementing them is paramount.

14 December 2023

Critical Success Factors For Lean Six Sigma & Process Improvement Projects

Multiple organizations worldwide are now widely exploring various strategies for quality and process improvements, especially Lean Six Sigma (LSS), to stay competitive in the current business market and meet customer’s expectations [1]. However, to deploy these initiatives successfully, adhering to the critical success factors when implementing them is paramount. 

Critical Success Factor (CSF) can be defined as the areas that can ensure a successful performance if they are fulfilled at a satisfactory level. Simply put, these CSFs can increase the success rate of a project; thus, improving quality, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction as well as reducing waste and cost [2].

That is why it is important for people aiming to deploy LSS projects in their organization to be aware of what these CSF are and make sure they are fulfilled [1].

So, let’s get to it!

Engaging & Committed Leadership

Unsurprisingly, having a committed and engaging leadership from the top is one of the most critical factors to the successful deployment of an LSS project [3, 4]. That is to say that receiving full support from top management will not only increase the chances of successfully amalgamating LSS methodology into an organization; but will also boost employees’ morale and inspire them to embrace the culture change of continuous improvement and assimilating it into their work practices [3, 4].

Top management, at its core, is responsible for establishing the organization’s vision and strategic direction on top of cultivating a culture that fosters ongoing improvement to enhance sustainability outcomes [3]. Ergo, the role of management is highly significant when it comes to selecting and prioritizing LSS projects, providing and controlling necessary resources, and establishing objectives that best align with the organization’s goals [5, 6].

Likewise, having an effective project leader is key to any project’s success as they are tasked with organizing business activities appropriately. Since they are the ones directly involved in the project implementation, they bear a great responsibility to ensure the availability of resources and support for a smooth production start [3].

Ultimately, without these parties’ full support and committed participation, the project may encounter ongoing challenges such as limited resources, resistance to change, limited communication, and a lack of clear direction and accountability.

Project Planning, Prioritization, and Selection

As quoted by Benjamin Franklin, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. This holds true since planning is another critical factor in the success of a project. An LSS project team should initially establish project goals, aiming for measurable improvements within a short time [3]. Similarly, an LSS project should be both organizationally and financially viable with a strong customer focus and emphasize data-driven implementation aligned with fundamental business and financial objectives while enhancing customer satisfaction [4, 7, 8]. 

For proper project identification and selection, the teams must organize workshops on a regular basis and establish dedicated project sponsors for each selected project to oversee and approve the projects’ business benefits [7, 8]. After the projects have commenced, teams need to track and monitor all progress and constraints as well as the performance of the LSS tools utilized. If necessary, offer further guidance and make adjustments in cases where the projects are not meeting the intended objectives [7, 8]. Simply put, LSS projects must be meticulously selected, planned, reviewed, and tracked to maximize the benefits of implementation.

Regardless, as significant as setting up a controlled and structured plan is, it should not be too rigid and must have room for different variations within the project implementation. Some flexibility, leeways, and autonomy within the scope of the plan should be allowed in case of any unexpected circumstances and to build creativity among team members [9]. However, this should not be confused with neglecting the whole project plan itself. Failure to properly concentrate on the planning, selection, and prioritization of projects may result in projects that are deficient in data and are not business/project-focused. This can result in scrapped projects leading to a waste of money, effort, time, and resources. 

Competent Project Team

While having a good team leader can drive a successful LSS project implementation in general, having a good project team is equally crucial in driving “change”. For effective project management and implementation, team members should possess adequate technical and problem-solving skills, relevant expertise, and knowledge and be formed according to a careful task allocation analysis [3. 5, 6]. Most importantly, team members should be knowledgeable of LSS and competent to utilize the right LSS tools and techniques in the project. 

For lack of other words, team members should be carefully chosen based on their skills, departmental expertise, and LSS Belt ranks (if applicable), ensuring they are well-suited for project tasks [3]. This can help top management, especially project managers, to assign them the right tasks accordingly. Randomly choosing team members without careful selection could cause the entire project into disarray since it would not have the right people to handle specific jobs or issues that require specific skills and knowledge [4]. 

Aside from that, involving employees from each level and department and creating a cross-functional team can be beneficial for a diverse range of viewpoints and insights that would be useful during project planning and implementation. At the same time, keep in mind that the team composition must be aligned with the project objectives. [5].

Training & Education

As mentioned, individuals require the proper skills and knowledge to participate in LSS projects and increase the chance of successful deployment. Given that LSS involves complex tools and techniques that require prior knowledge and experience, jobs become easier if the project team members are already Lean Six Sigma certified [3]. 

The complex statistical tools, terminologies, and jargon within LSS can lead to confusion; diminishing overall efficiency and effectiveness. Problems can emerge when teams lack a comprehensive understanding of these tools and attempt to apply them in situations where they may not be suitable. 

Therefore, to create human capital competent enough to execute LSS or process improvement projects, organizations must provide sufficient training and education to their employees on LSS. Prioritizing the most commonly used and essential tools as well as arranging regular workshops and simulations can help employees to practice applying the tools and techniques in various situations [3, 6, 7]. This can encourage and ease their effort to assimilate to LSS. 

In addition, having employees attend an LSS training based on their different key roles and responsibilities can categorize them according to the LSS Belt system (White, Yellow, Green, and Black) which can help project managers allocate project tasks accordingly whilst driving a seamless project establishment and execution [7]. 

Effective Problem-Solving Approaches

Now, with adequate training, team members are well-equipped with LSS knowledge and skills to effectively initiate the projects. When project team members select the right tools, they are more likely to deploy LSS, address problems, and enhance processes successfully. 

LSS training covers the theory, typical applications, hands-on practice of the DMAIC methodology, and various process and quality management tools that they can choose from to apply in their projects (e.g., Value Stream Mapping, SIPOC, Fishbone Diagram/Ishikawa Diagram, Poka Yoke, FMEA, Kanban, Drill Down Tree, Process Mapping, 5 Whys, Pareto Chart, Kano Model, etc.) and statistical tools (e.g., Process Capability Analysis, ANOVA, DOE, histogram, box plot, regression, Chi-square test, etc.). 

Through DMAIC methodology, after a process improvement is Defined, LSS teams can then systematically proceed with the Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control phases with the appropriate tools to identify the root cause of problems, eliminate waste, reduce variations, improve processes, and monitor the improved performance. 

In addition to that, while the DMAIC method is the prevailing method to utilize in LSS projects, project team members should also be adept in utilizing numerous other process improvement techniques and tools to effectively implement the project, solve complex problems, and meet the objectives (e.g., Design Thinking and Agile) [5, 10]. Be that as it may, it is critical to select the most suitable and right method with the proper resources that fit the problem at hand [5]. 

Committed Involvement of Project Team Members 

Successful execution of Lean Six Sigma, process improvement, and organizational change requires committed and active participation and engagement from all team members [5. 6]. Therefore, every involved individual must have a firm grasp of their roles and responsibilities within the projects whilst possessing skills that complement and support each other’s capabilities. 

Not only that, but it is also important for team members to share a common goal, mindset, and degree of interdependence in order to achieve continuous improvement and enhance quality [5]. When a project team has an effective team dynamic, it can ensure budgetary, functionality, and timeline goal achievements on top of enhanced problem-solving capabilities and overall work performance [5].   

Over and above that, for an organization to revamp its operation and culture that focuses on continuous improvement and quality-driven, all employees from the bottom up must be committed to the change and put effort into reconstructing their own mindset and work environment.

Involvement of Lean Six Sigma Experts 

The major involvement of LSS experts is also a critical factor in achieving a successful implementation of an LSS or process improvement project. When project team members are unfamiliar with the concept of LSS and others related to it, guidance from LSS experts in these projects plays a big role as they keep projects from derailing from the main objective [11]. It is known that the lack of project management skills, unclear project roles and responsibilities, and failure to establish and maintain ground rules are common causes of Lean Six Sigma project failure. 

Hence, these experts, often ranked as Black to Master Black Belts, can provide coaching and guidance to teams in project management, objective setting, project selection, prioritization, and the application of process improvement and Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques. Plus, they can help offer suggestions, monitor the project’s progress, ensure performance is consistently linked to observable improvements over time, establish an environment where people continue learning with ongoing training, and maintain resources [11].

Encouragement & Acceptance of Cultural Change

For an LSS or process improvement project to completely be successful in the long run, it is important for an organization to have their employees be encouraged and willing to accept a cultural change in their work environment. Despite how challenging that can be as some may be resistant to change, organizations should support their employees to attain a deep and clear understanding of the nature and aim of “change”.  This can be achieved through clear communication channels, motivation to address resistance, change management training, and education on the positive impact of change and LSS on both the organization and employees [7]. 

To illustrate, some strategies can involve having LSS experts share the statistical results, the strategies, the challenges, the costs, and the benefits brought by LSS projects; which has been shown to help teams adopt the most promising approaches for their projects and make fewer errors [7]. Additionally, it is also important that top management ensure good communication with employees about work culture change, highlighting its benefits and actively seeking and addressing their feedback to overcome resistance. This will not only inspire and motivate employees to embrace change but also build trust in the process [6].

Effective Communication

What sets a successful project apart from a failed one is how those involved can effectively communicate with each other; be it from the top or the bottom. While having a competent leader and committed team members are significant factors in a project’s success, a slight miscommunication can cause the whole project to go haywire. Building and maintaining effective communication with every party in a project is vital to ensure high productivity, clear understanding among all parties (i.e., project team members, project manager, top management, stakeholders, etc.), aligned workforce towards corporate expectations, and good relationships with customers and clients [6]. 

As such, managing the communication within the project is a must. This includes setting standardized and clear modes and mediums of communication between all involved project parties, establishing requirements for the frequency of communication (e.g., providing updates once a week, discussing possible solutions through regular meetings, etc.), and ensuring that all stakeholders are well-informed throughout the project’s lifecycle.  

Unclear and inconsistent communication results in all those involved in the project focusing on priorities that have little to no relevance to the organizational focus. Also, building on Factor No. 8, it is the role of effective communication that can help employees understand the importance of Six Sigma quality and how the method works to drive out employees’ fear of change and not measure up to the new standards.

Recognition & Autonomy

Finally, it is crucial for the organization to ensure that individuals are empowered, motivated, and encouraged to express their creativity and insight. Thus, showing acknowledgment and appreciation play significant roles in this regard; and in turn, employees would be more motivated to align their efforts with the company’s strategy to effectively implement LSS [3]. 

Recognition and rewards hold a crucial position in the quality improvement process, serving as key drivers to unlock the full potential and engagement of employees. By doing so, they are more willing to contribute to the company’s pursuit of excellence. Furthermore, organizations must prioritize empowering their staff, fostering motivation, and nurturing creativity. In this regard, recognition plays a pivotal role, in motivating employees to align their efforts with the company’s strategies for achieving success [6].

Conclusion

To sum up, LSS is an effective methodology that can bring numerous benefits to an organization. However, if half of these CSFs are not fulfilled, failure will likely happen and would cause a waste of resources, time, money, and effort. That is why if your organization is keen to deploy an LSS or process improvement project and establish “Change” in your work environment, then you must ensure that most of these CSFs are fulfilled for successful implementation and reap the rewards.


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References

[1] V. Swarnakar, A. R. Singh, and Anil. Kr. Tiwari, “Evaluating importance of critical success factors in successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma Framework,” AIP Conference Proceedings, vol. 2148, no. 1, pp. 030048-1-030048–9, Sep. 2019. doi:10.1063/1.5123970 

[2] “Success factors of Lean Six Sigma,” Pan Learn, https://www.panlearn.com/articles/quality-management/success-factors-of-lean-six-sigma (accessed Nov. 17, 2023). 

[3] M. N. Mishra, “Identify critical success factors to implement Integrated Green and lean six sigma,” International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 765–777, 2018. doi:10.1108/ijlss-07-2017-0076 

[4] “Top 10 reasons lean six sigma projects fail,” https://www.cbisco.com.au/top-10-reasons-lean-six-sigma-projects-fail/ (accessed Nov. 17, 2023). 

[5] J. Antony and S. Gupta, “Top ten reasons for process improvement project failures,” International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 367–374, Jul. 2018. doi:10.1108/ijlss-11-2017-0130

[6] R. Elboq, M. Hlyal, and J. El Alami, “Lean manufacturing and six sigma critical success factors: A case study of the Moroccan Aeronautic Industry.,” International Journal of Supply Chain Management, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 2051–3771, 2020. 

[7] F. T. Anbari and Y. H. Kwak, “Success factors in managing Six Sigma projects,” in Proceedings of the PMI Research Conference: Innovations., London, U.K., July. 2004. [Online]. Available: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/success-factors-managing-six-sigma-projects-8293

[8] A. Chandra, “5 six sigma deployment mistakes – and how to avoid them,” isixsigma.com, https://www.isixsigma.com/getting-started/5-six-sigma-deployment-mistakes-and-how-avoid-them/ (accessed Nov. 20, 2023).

[9] A. Sohal et al., “Success factors for Lean Six Sigma projects in Healthcare,” Journal of Management Control, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 215–240, 2022. doi:10.1007/s00187-022-00336-9 

[10] D. Galloway, “10 lean Six sigma deployment success factors,” Continuous MILE, https://www.continuousmile.com/leadership/10-lean-six-sigma-deployment-success-factors/ (accessed Nov. 20, 2023).

[11] D. Galloway, “10 lean Six sigma deployment success factors,” Continuous MILE, https://www.continuousmile.com/leadership/10-lean-six-sigma-deployment-success-factors/ (accessed Nov. 20, 2023).

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