Why Do Continuous Improvement Programs like Lean & 6Sigma Fails.

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Most of the times continuous improvement programs in an organization  gradually cease to exists after consultants leaves. This really disappoint me because, it fails despite the fact that, everyone in the organization knows its benefit. The importance of these initiatives are well known across all industry and this is vetted by the number of vacancies for lean and 6sigma professionals on any job portal. (check it on LinkedIn and other job portals).

The main reasons that I have experienced are following

  1. In order to drive a lean or a 6sigma program, you need to be an external consultant or you need to be at some authorative position within the organization (this will ensure that you get the job done). The main purpose is to have a backing from the higher management.
      1. External consultant will be in direct touch with management hence, people would cooperate
      2. Higher position ensures that your message percolates down the line very well.
      3. If you are at middle management, it is going to be difficult for you to implement these changes even if you have the backing of the higher management (unless they are fully involved.


  2. Above scenario can be well understood by drawing an analogy with the stretching of a spring. As long as consultants are there, spring (employees) remain stretched and as soon as they leave, spring comes back to its original position. Hence, these initiatives should focus on changing the mind-set of the employees and have their buy-in prior to the start of any initiative. So, focus of these initiative should be cultural change rather than focusing on the short term financial gain.

    “The quality of an organization can never exceed the quality of the minds that make it up.”                                                                        Harold McAlindon

    It took Toyota 30 years to implement, what is now called as TPS!

  3. Usually, these initiatives are not the part of business strategy but, are usually initiated during the crisis situation and once the crisis is over and consultants leaves, it’s over! Spring regains its original state!
  4. Another reason is the lack of trained man-power in the area of  lean and 6sigma. I remember when we were searching for a 6sigma black belt, HR team gave us a list of ~65 candidates claiming to have 6sigma/lean expertise. Believe me, we could find only two persons (requirement was ~10-15) out of 65 having the required skill set.
    1. Out of the curiosity we kept on asking people “from where they have got the certification?” Most of them answer that they have undergone 3-5 days of classroom training followed by the examination to get their black belt! That’s true in most of the cases but, I wonder “how a five day course can qualify a person to be a black belt unless you really sweat at the shop-floor with your team?
    2. There is also a lack of trained people within the organization, who can really interview such candidates. Imagine that I want a black belt for my company to drive the initiative, either I have to believe that a candidate knows the concepts or I have to hire someone who can really interview these people. Latter option is much better! These days QbD has become a buzz word in the pharmaceutical industry, just include that in your CV and you will get an immediate raise.
  5. But the main reason that I experienced was the compartmentalized view of an organization, where right hand doesn’t know what left hand is doing.


Let’s assume that the whole company is excited about the initiative, even then it fails! The major reason being the presence of many compartments/departments within the system and they are habituated to work in silos! They remain committed to their KRAs and their work-flow and doesn’t know much about the processes of the department from where they are receiving the inputs or how their processes affects the processes of the next department (internal customer). These silos are becoming the vertical coffins for the organization. Before we go any further, let’s understand “what is business?” or “How business is being carried out to generate revenue?”

The central planning team, based on the monthly forecast, gives the targets to all vertical coffins for that month. All vertical coffins then perform their duty in silos to complete their target.


Now, if we really look at the business, it is not the departments that makes the product and generates the revenues instead it is the culmination of a process-flow encompassing the entire organization. In order to give a clarity, let’s look at the following example


It is just a flow of the process across the departments that adds value to the raw material for the customers. The most important point is that these processes are being performed by the shop-floor people and not by the management. What I meant to say is that, the material flow happens in horizontal direction at the bottom of the pyramid but processes are being managed vertically and in silos. As a result there is an information gap between the decision point and the execution point. So the shop-floor people are no better than the robots who are busy in meeting their targets. In this scenario we just can’t implement the continuous improvement unless these vertical coffins are dismantled and the gap between information and the material flow diminishes. This can only be made possible through delegation and by empowering the shop-floor people.

Wait a minute! What are you talking about? If we are going to delegate our duty, then what we are going to do? What will be our role? These are the thought that may pop-up in the minds of higher management.


My dear friend, just leave these daily operation to the middle management, do something new, read something new, think something new or make some new strategy for the company. Give some new direction to the company with your vast experience. This is because if you get involved in day-to-day operations, then there is no difference between a shift in-charge and you! If you act like this, ideally your CTC should be added to the overhead of the product! Isn’t it?

Get a right person in the middle management and just get the daily updates from him, interfere when needed. I read somewhere (can’t recall) that as you grow higher in the management, you should distance yourself from the  day-to-day operations and focus more on mentoring and drawing future roadmap for the company.


Once this conducive environment is established i.e. delegation and empowering the shop-floor people, it would easier to implement any continuous improvement initiative in the organization, and this is because the real action (process, value addition) happens at the shop-floor. Even if you look at most of the lean and 6sigma tools, you would find that it is being implemented successfully at the shop floor by the shop floor people!


7QC Tools: Flow Chart, Know Your Process Thoroughly

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Picture52Rightly said by Deming, if we really want to improve our processes then there are two thing to be taken care of. Firstly, we must know our process to an extent that even if someone ask us in the middle of the night, it should come instantaneously from out mouth as if we have witnessed the process every day. Second most important thing is that we must have some measurement system to evaluate our process

Picture53We will deal with measurement in some other day, let’s talk about the process for the time being.

We all must have seen the organizational chart or an organogram that describes how the various departments are arranged within the organization. This chart is valuable in the sense that it enables us to visualize a complete organization, by means of a picture.


Similarly, every organization have business processes that give a pictorial view of the work flow within the organization for delivering a product/services. This helps employees to visualize the movement of men/material/services from department to another. This is also called as process map as it shows the sequence of events/task that are there in performing a given process.

For example: on a macro level, department ‘B’ in an organization has to do some work (adding value)  as shown below by the block diagram


But, for adding some value to the work, department ‘B’ must get some input from some other department say ‘A’ and once ‘B’ has added the value to the input received from ‘A’, it has produced some goods or services which becomes output from department ‘B’. This output in turn becomes input for some department ‘C’ or for an external customer. Same thing is depicted by the block diagram shown above where the flow of goods/services between the departments within the organization is shown.

For example, purchase of raw material by production can be represented by following flow diagram


This is called as flow diagram. The example given above is the flow diagram at macro level. Now let’s see the complete work flow or the flow chart at the sub-macro level for the process “order to dispatch” of some product.


In the above flow chart, we have tried to link the activities of various departments to fulfill the common goal of producing some goods/services for a customer. Point to be noted here is that, each block above represents a separate department hence, it represents a sub-process within that department which is required to be executed by that department in order to achieve the organizational goal of delivering the goods/services to the customer on time.

The micro level flow chart shows the entire sequence of events of a process by using some standard symbols with some specific meaning as shown below


Let’s look at the process of getting the raw material from the ware house for the production at micro level using flow chart


We can see that, it take almost 6 days to release a new batch of raw material for the production. In order to understand it further, the process of “analysis by QC” is investigated as shown below

We can see that the raw material reaches QC on second day, however the raw material is approved/rejected on on the sixth day! Why it is so? let’s get an answer from investigating the QC process


Now we can ask ourselves following questions

Why analysis starts at 3rd day when raw material is submitted on 2nd day itself? whether it is a manpower or machine constrain?

Why review of the QC would require a whole day?

If we can resolve the above issues, we can reduce the approval time by two days.

What we have done above is called as value stream mapping (VSM) of the process, thereby eliminating the non-value adding steps to increase the efficiency of the process.

Above example shows the power of flow chart/process mapping. But irony is that we seldom map the process and in absence of it, it is difficult to start any improvement program. This is because we need to have a baseline for the existing process in order to propose a improvement.

Other outcome of the flow chart is that we can make some decision about the root causes of a problem. Hence, flow chart in combination with fish-bone diagram is a very powerful tool to screen out most probable causes.

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