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

    Amrendra Roy

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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.

    picture9

    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.

    picture6

    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

     picture1

    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.

     picture7

    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.

    picture8

    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!

     

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