You may argue that many of these points are straightforward, self-evident and simply common sense. The good news is they are. The not-so-good news is that in a world where we’re often expected to deliver multiple incremental improvement projects and efficiency gains, these valuable tips are easily forgotten.
In organisations where process improvement work is only given lip service and considered a nice to have, any deficiencies are often exacerbated. As a result, the desperate struggle to keep continuous improvement on the corporate agenda sometimes overshadows systematic and thoughtful ways forward for those directly involved in CI programmes.
Andrew Slaney is a Principal Consultant, as well as a coach and trainer in Business Improvement techniques and Lean Six Sigma at BSI. Based on 15 years’ experience, he shares his personal list of top tips that could be useful for your next Green or Black Belt project, Lean activities or problem-solving task.
1. We all have customers and we all are customers
Never forget that you have customers, but that you are also a customer. If you want to succeed in any project, it’s important to be upfront about what you need from your sponsor, colleagues, process owners, related departments or other suppliers. This includes timescales for when you need their help. Always communicate these needs clearly and explain the impact on your project and the organisation should any of your suppliers fail. That way those who are critical to your success can’t adopt a ‘no impact so no problem if I don’t deliver’ mind set.
Finally, just in case you need one, have a contingency plan in place.
2. Keep your eyes open to improvement opportunities
You won’t always work on strategy changing projects, but there’s usually the opportunity to make small improvements everywhere. By regularly making small improvements, you’ll witness a significantly more capable process long term. The sum of the parts really can be greater than the whole.
Given advances in technology, best practice and changing customer needs, there will always be a better way. So make sure you are constantly looking out for these opportunities and encourage others to do the same.
3. Everyone is busy and effort requires a reason
If you want someone to go the extra mile, you’ll need to give them a good reason to. That means you have to be absolutely clear about what you want and when you want it – and match these with why you want it and the direct impact it’ll have on stakeholders (including those you’re canvassing for support).
If your colleagues don’t understand the merits of the destination you’re seeking, they won’t join you on the journey and certainly won’t help share the load.
4. Change requires you capture both hearts and minds
In a world of competing projects and increasingly finite resources, even great ideas need to be sold and sold again. Always keep your stakeholders and what makes them tick in mind, and continuously outline why your idea is attractive – especially to them.
Incorporate Pareto’s Law and create your stakeholder strategy in such a way that your project falls within the 20% of activities that will be perceived as having maximum impact. It should not be filed with the majority of change projects that won’t be taken up or explored.
5. A complex analysis requires a simple conclusion
Your analysis is your journey and your conclusions the destination. However, for business stakeholders, no matter how interesting your journey, it’s the destination they need to know. The simpler your conclusions, the quicker you’ll get their stamp of approval. Lay out our conclusions first and use your analysis to back you up. Always keep it simple and make sure your communication priorities are in that order.
6. Use an advocate to get ahead
When the going gets tough even the tough need support. With powerful advocates by your side, implementing organisational change will be easier. Ideally your advocates should include executives, senior management, project champions and sponsors, as well as opinion formers at all levels.
If these potential advocates are not on your side, you need to find out why and see what can be done to align their views with yours. This will help you to achieve your goals quicker and get the right backing from the start. Work on this as early as possible to avoid future project stalls and minimise frustration.
7. Perseverance should be admired, but only up to a point
If it takes a lot of effort and time to prove your point, make sure it’s worth it – for you and your sponsor. Persistence is an admirable quality and crucial to success, but it’s important to know when to let it go and move on. You may sometimes have to invest your passion in alternative projects to ensure long-term success, so make sure you stay flexible.
8. Communicate frequently and always seek feedback
The need to communicate may seem self-evident, but it’s important to make sure it’s a two-way process. Sometimes little or no feedback indicates agreement, but it can also mean your message didn’t get through to the right level or has simply been ignored. Not easily accepted in organisations, change is often viewed as just too difficult or dismissed without consideration.
If you need to adapt or put your ideas on hold, so be it. Delayed plans that need to be modified are better than unevaluated suggestions buried without trace.
9. Perspective is important and yours is one of many
If you don’t explore your stakeholders’ views you’ll never understand their motives. And if you don’t understand their motives, you're unlikely to engender change. It is important to take into account context, experience, politics, priorities, targets, self-interests, misunderstandings and the colour of everyone’s perspectives. Often real agendas can stay hidden.
So get to know your stakeholders, explore their perspectives and most importantly, show that you care. You may not always get the whole truth or all of their thoughts, but you’ll get closer if you ask than if you don’t.
Once you truly understand your stakeholders’ perspectives, you’re in good shape to work on points four and six.
10. Use improvement tools to add value and not just tick boxes
As with most things in life, it is important to use the right tools in your toolbox for Lean Six Sigma projects and not just use techniques for the sake of it. You’ll learn how to use tools optimally through trial and error, post-training experience and by demonstrating your grasp of techniques for Belt certification. Once you’ve selected the right tools, you’ll be surprised at the quality and speed of progress you can then make. Similarly, use DMAIC (Six Sigma methodology) only where it's warranted. If the solution's blatantly obvious then ‘just go do it'.
Although improvement projects and activities need to be robust, this doesn’t imply the need for great complexity or a deep analysis on all occasions. Simpler is better – and always remember over-processing is classed as one of the seven deadly wastes in Lean Six Sigma.
To find out more about Lean Six Sigma and how to make your improvement projects a success, please contact us on +44 345 080 9000.