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Are You Spending Too Much on Six Sigma Training by Spending Too Little?

Posted: 10/14/2008
Process Excellence Network
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Costs cannot be viewed in a vacuum. They must be related to results.

Focusing training resources on results is the best and most effective cost control. Costs are incurred for the sake of a result.

No matter how cheap or efficient a training effort, it is a waste rather than a cost if it is impossible to achieve expected or promised results. And if the training expenditure was incapable of producing results from the very beginning, it must be viewed as a "match to money" initiative.

There are two ways you can spend too much on Six Sigma or process improvement training:

  • You can spend more than you have to to achieve the objectives you have set and are achieving.
  • You can spend too little, thereby making it impossible to achieve the objectives you have set out to achieve and wasting at least part of the funds you are spending.

Paradoxically, you can overspend by spending too much or too little. It's important you evaluate these situations when attempting to answer the question, "Are we spending too much for Six Sigma or process improvement training?"

Are the Six Sigma/Process Improvement Training Budget Restraints a Matter of Ethics?

Without doubt, the buying behavior of many Six Sigma or process improvement training groups is heavily influenced by budget restraints. Deep down, many training executives know the limitations of what they’re purchasing.

However, they rationalize their behavior with a statement such as: "We’re only doing what top management asked us to do. We’ll do the best we can under the circumstances."

Take, for example, the quality analysis or process analysis, improvement, control crusade. It has stalled or been abandoned in many organizations because training was ineffective. A typical episode between an internal training organization and a first-rate vendor of quality training or process improvement training programs can often be characterized by the following dialogue:

Training Group: Tell us the steps we must follow to get our quality training or process improvement training program started.

Supplier: We’d like to send in a data collection expert to generate measurements relating to specific processes and compute or obtain actual measurements related to scrap, rework, inspection, re-inspection, warranties and services and cost. From this he would develop a case study using your company’s own data.

Training Group: How much will that cost?

Supplier: We don’t really know until we review your processes. We could probably give you a better answer after the first week.

Training Group: We can’t do thatwe must know now. What happens if you tell us you need five or six weeks? Our budget is not large enough. We have to train a lot of people in quality improvement.

Supplier: We just can’t know until we study the problem. We want your people to craft solutions to actual problems. That’s the only way we can provide performance consulting.

Training Group: We just don’t have the budget for this. Let’s get started without doing these extras, then see how it goes. Maybe we can convince our management to go along with what you suggest, but not now.

Supplier: Again, our training program also involves performance consulting. We go out on the plant floor with the employees. We first teach them what to do and how to do it. Then we ask them to do it under the guidance of a real pro, of course.

Next, we work with them to do the required analysis and implement the needed changes. We repeat this process several times until we’re sure they’ve got it. This is what we call training. It’s a lot more than education or awareness.

Training group: Doesn’t that extend beyond the three days we’ve specified in our RFP?

Supplier: Yes, but how else are we going to train your people? We don’t want to provide "hit and run training." Great lectures produce smiles, but smiles are not enough. Lectures are just a preparation for real learning.

Training Group: We’re sure you’re right. But we can’t afford it. You’ll just have to do it the old fashioned way. If management wants 645 people in the quality improvement training program, we must bring down the price to an affordable per-student cost. Maybe you can throw in the extras. Remember, we’re going to be training 645 people. And if it works, maybe 2,000 more employees.

Supplier: But how can we make the program problem-specific and relevant to each group? Each group is involved with different processes. We could use textbook examples. But our experience indicates that doesn’t really work when it comes to teaching quality improvement via the use of control charts.

Also, performance support and just-in-time training usually implies solving real problems. How can we generate real problems if you don’t have a budget for it? Wouldn’t it be better to "pilot" a program? Let us do it for just one group, then, we can "dollarize" the before-and-after performance measurements. You can prove to yourselves and your management that there’s a big payoff if done right.

Training Group: Our management doesn’t want to hear this. They want us to train employees in quality improvement and process improvement at the lowest possible price. If you can’t do it the way we want, we’ll get somebody else.

Supplier: OK, we’ll do it your way. But just think about what we just discussed; perhaps we can run an experiment. Let’s see which one has a greater return.

Training Group: Fine, but when can you start training our first set of employees?

Supplier: We’ll begin the education process next week.

Whether or not this is a matter of business ethics, budget restraints or incompetency is not for us to judge. But we do believe the vendor was correct in his assertions. And, ultimately, the quality improvement and process improvement training programs proved ineffective.

Thank you, for your interest in Are You Spending Too Much on Six Sigma Training by Spending Too Little?.