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Viewpoint: Six-Sigma Success Requires Top Team Support

Kevin Grayson, Kevin Grayson, Industrial Extension Service (IES) of North Carolina State University

Every year at North Carolina State University we coach hundreds of "belts" in Green Belt and Black Belt Six Sigma methods. ("Belts" designate specific Six Sigma certification levels.) We show them how to follow the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) approach, use statistical software to analyze data, and how to apply the Six Sigma methodology to important projects within their companies. They even must pass a written assessment to ensure they understand these principles.

However, I'm always disappointed by the low number of top team and management team members we train about their roles within Six Sigma. Entrepreneurs leading manufacturing firms often send belts to class without a sturdy Six Sigma support structure, or they have a top team that is new to Six Sigma.

The top management team plays a critical role in the success of the Six Sigma process, and lack of awareness can result in one or more of the following:

  • Projects that don't match company strategy: If managers don't understand how Six Sigma can be used to accomplish key strategic objectives, projects that are assigned to the belts (or in many cases selected by the belts without management involvement) are not aligned with business needs and business strategies. Thus, even if the project is completed successfully, it may not have a significant impact on company operations.
  • Projects that done have the proper resources: It is not unusual for us to see belts struggle with completing projects due to inadequate resources. Often the belts themselves do not have sufficient time allocated to work on and complete the project. Projects continue past targeted completion dates, and the company often loses interest or perhaps changing business conditions make the projects unnecessary.
  • Projects that are not periodically reviewed: Many belts don't have a champion or sponsor for their project, so their work is seldom reviewed internally by their management team. Roadblocks and resource issues are not identified early enough or, when identified, resolved on a timely basis.
  • Projects that lack adequate financial measurements: While we train the belts in the "cost of poor quality," they still need resources to help identify the true financial impact of their projects. Many of the more meaningful and substantial results may be harder to measure and require superior knowledge of company financial statements.

While managers may be adept at monitoring and managing operations or budgets, they may lack the skills or dedicated time necessary to lead a successful Six Sigma deployment. They may not even recognize their roles and responsibilities, which are too numerous to completely mention here but include:

  • Setting the expectations for Six Sigma within their organization.
  • Communicating the expectations for Six Sigma throughout the organization.
  • Defining and providing Six Sigma infrastructure.
  • Establishing appropriate financial measures for implementation.
  • Selecting training resources, Black Belt and Green Belt candidates, and training plans.

These activities may be accomplished by an executive oversight committee, a deployment manager, "project champions," or a combination of the three.

The good news is that more and more entrepreneurs are recognizing the need for management involvement and are training their top teams during the early stages of deployment. At NCSU, we like to conduct "champion training" at company sites so management teams can begin to build company-specific strategies, including selecting their first projects. We usually do this over two days, and it more closely resembles facilitation than training.

So as you are developing your Six Sigma plans, don't forget to include one of your most important player groups — your top team.

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