The Ten Accelerators of Lean Six Sigma Results

There are more global opportunities for improvement and competitive success now than at any other time in history, says Terence T. Burton, President of the Center for Excellence in Operations. In the second of a series of articles, Burton examines the ten accelerators you can use to get best results from your improvement programs.

There are two certainties about waste. First, waste is dynamic and everywhere and the growth rate of waste is proportional to executive behaviors and strategic choices about improvement. As the world accelerates, so too must the "process of improvement." Second, when waste is left unattended, it spreads like a cancer through organizations. When people have the perception that improvement is not a priority and follow suit with reactionary behaviors, the organization fails to recognize the obvious: the only way to get better is to improve the current state.

Unfortunately, the expediency of impulsive executive actions has trumped the propriety of logical improvement thinking, resulting in a dazzling display of illusive success. Many of the reactionary and inconsistent executive behaviors are symptomatic of the new global challenges organizations are facing coming out of the 2008–2011 meltdown and recovery (as I explored in part 1 of this series).

Like it or not, these challenges are not temporary—these are the new norms of business and life in general for the next decade and beyond. Nevertheless, the short term scattered leadership and survival tactics have accomplished nothing more than generate more waste and hidden costs, and increased the need, magnitude, and urgency of strategic improvement. You can be sure that the Piper will demand payment plus consequences from organizations who continue in this modus operandi.

The new economy demands the mastery of developing and implementing successful strategic and continuous business improvement initiatives, transforming culture, and enabling organizations to "improve how they improve." The Improvement ExcellenceTM framework recognizes this need for dynamic and adaptive strategic improvement, continuously evolving to specific market, customer, and enterprise needs. Strategic improvement is deeply engrained in culture where organizations proactively strive for a desired rate and level of improvement via cost reductions and growth as the major enabler of a desired level of business and financial performance.

The Ten Accelerators of Lean Six Sigma Results

As we mentioned back in Part 1, the Improvement ExcellenceTM framework includes three major elements of formal infrastructure: Strategic Leadership and Vision, Deployment Planning, and Execution. Within each of these elements are new and adaptable approaches to rapid and sustainable improvement such as Scalable Lean Six SigmaTM and the Ten Accelerators.

The Ten Accelerators of Lean Six Sigma are the basic building blocks found with the Strategic Leadership and Vision, Deployment Planning, and Execution infrastructure. Below is a very brief overview of these accelerators.

Strategic Leadership and Vision

Accelerator 1: Reset deployment leadership, strategy, and vision

This accelerator helps executives rationalize business strategy, understand gaps between current and desired performance, and aligns Lean Six Sigma improvement activities with business strategy. Right up front, executives must prevent Lean Six Sigma from becoming another fad or an improvement-for-improvement’s-sake program with illusionary results. Interest and enthusiasm alone without substance allow these initiatives to roll out of the gate on a wrong course. This accelerator includes the following objectives:

  • Recognize and define strategic improvement needs
  • Establish stakeholder engagement and commitment
  • Build a leadership deployment infrastructure
  • Assign a formal executive leadership team and a balanced deployment core team
  • Identify executive sponsors
  • Create a shared sense of executive knowledge via champion-level Lean Six Sigma education, and executive coaching and mentoring
  • Establish a formal process to scan and identify high-level strategic improvement needs

In short, leadership chooses the level of success and sustainability of Improvement ExcellenceTM by their direction, commitment, and actions. Behavioral alignment and in particular, best practices leadership behaviors is a large part of the Strategic Leadership and Vision element of infrastructure.

Deployment Planning

Accelerator 2: Develop a robust deployment plan

This accelerator identifies the major themes of improvement required to meet or exceed the business plan. It also involves a formal process for stepping down the major strategic improvement themes into specific targeted project opportunities, and then aligning strategic needs and improvement activities through a formal process of policy deployment. We have developed several effective templates to guide our clients through this process. Although the use of these templates is covered extensively in the book, we will introduce you to them now:

  • Macro Charter– A template used to collect and identify potential project information such as problem, probable root causes, cost of quality or waste, proposed project name, objectives, improvement goals, benefits, and deliverables. This is the dynamic hopper of strategic improvement opportunities. These opportunities are pre-scoped in terms of a specific problem statement, improvement objectives, baseline performance, improvement goals, and estimated future benefits. Opportunities are also validated "up front" with real financial, marketing, or operations data. This serves as a major accelerator because it allows teams to avoid floundering around with a vague assignment and get right to work on improvement.
  • Project selection– This template allows executives to evaluate projects against each other relative to business plan contribution. Projects are scored and ranked against attributes such as Voice of X urgency, cost reduction, growth, level of resources, time, availability of data, capital investment, etc. The object is to remove subjectivity or executive preference, and to focus on the organization’s highest impact opportunities while managing the level of effort, resources, and targeted activity.
  • Project and resource alignment– This simple template evaluates potential participant resources against a variety of required skill sets and direct experiences, facilitates in the identification and selection of team leaders and team participants, and helps to align people to projects with a level of objectivity. This also serves as a key enabler talent development.
  • Team assignment– Another objective within deployment planning is to spread and develop critical mass as much as possible. In our deployments, we exercise the one-resource-one-team-rule, which forces a deeper development of bench strength. When everything needs the involvement of a handful of people in the organization, something is definitely wrong.
  • Improvement charters– This is the team’s reference document for their specific project. Project charters define a specific team leader and team, executive sponsor, and the project title. Project charters also include a crisp problem statement, probable root causes (clue data), project objectives, scope, boundaries, performance metrics, current baseline performance and COPQ data, improvement goals, quantified benefits, expected deliverables, and a rough timetable for the project.

Accelerator 3: Provide customized education and development

The objective of this accelerator is to shy away from the traditional train-the-masses approach and develop the custom-tailored curriculum and module content that delivers the specific skill-set needs of a particular client with a specific set of challenges and projects.

Our Scaleable Six SigmaTM model is focused on a more time-phased targeted approach with the practical and most widely used improvement tools. In addition, this customized education includes skill-set development on the soft non-tools side of improvement such as project management, performance measurement design, teaming and team dynamics, change management, and other improvement leadership topics. Certification is viewed as a longer term professional development goal, rather than a prerequisite to begin improvement or a "punched ticket" credential.


Accelerator 4: Communicate, communicate, communicate

There is no such thing as too much communication, as long as the message is consistent and value adding. More often than not, the purpose of communication and the messaging strategy to various organizationl units is not well defined up-front. The most important part of communication is to establish the recognition of the need to change, and to recognize why the organization must embrace change.

The why of change is often inadequately explained or explained with emotional reasons. Well-executed and frequent communication builds commitment and trust, reduces confusion, sets expectations, builds continuity and interest, removes fear of change, provides a medium for publicizing success and recognizing people, and builds momentum for larger successes.

Accelerator 5: Launch with the best in mind

This accelerator means simply putting the best of everything into the deployment: best projects, best leadership, best team leader, best team members, best innovative approach, best implementation plans, best use of limited resources, best use of time and capacity, best implementation path, and best results. "Best" insinuates that organizations have the best available and ready, and this is where talent development is integrated into the process. Although some organizations have attempted it, improvement is not something to be assigned to less desirable people with time on their hands. We want to pull in these people and develop their expertise at some point, but not at the front end of the deployment. Sports teams do not begin with their third string—they go with their best players, and develop bench strength. The same holds true with Lean Six Sigma and improvement in general.


Acclerator 6: Provide strong extensive mentoring support

These activities are the most important in a Lean Six Sigma deployment, and mentoring expertise does not come with a belt. There is a significant opportunity to reduce project completion cycle times and results, while still developing people in the improvement methodologies and tools. This requires a process called leveraged mentoring which combines the competencies of executive and project leadership, key technology and business process experience, deep knowledge of improvement methodologies and tools, and significant experiences with the same or similar projects in a variety of environments. Leveraged mentoring reduces the "time to improvement realized" substantially because teams are mentored down the critical path with the critical skills.

Accelerator 7: DMAIC the deployment process regularly

Variation exists in all processes, including the Lean Six Sigma deployment process. There is no magic mantra for success; the series of events that happen during a deployment are unpredictable and therefore subject to course corrections. Things such as project delays, a team pulled and assigned to an important customer issue, the departure of an executive or team member from the organization, misunderstandings in project objectives, shifting in priorities, problems with acquiring data and information, workload conflicts, absenteeism, dysfunctional behaviors, poor team performance, a trip to a supplier, unexpected quality or engineering development problems, and thousands of other events introduce variation and disruptions to the implementation process. Organizations typically allow these unforeseen events to stall a team’s progress or derail the improvement initiative. Successful Lean Six Sigma deployments require the creative leadership, DMAIC thinking, and know-how to recognize these detractors and take the right swift actions to reset the course. This accelerator is simple: If the rate and magnitude of improvement is not being achieved, then recognize the root causes and change the process of improvement.

Accelerator 8: Accelerate individual project paths

This is the evolution of Accelerators 2 and 5. One of the largest challenges for teams is refining and targeting the true scope of their projects. Even a good job on defining and scoping out projects in Accelerator 2 results in a funneling down in direction once the onion layers are peeled back and data drives the team to the true, prioritized root causes. The objective here is to guide teams and projects down the 80/20 path—where 80 percent of the problem can be improved by focusing efforts on the 20 percent of the root causes. As we have previously mentioned in Accelerator 5, implementation know-how and experiences count more than self-proclaimed knowledge through training on individual improvement tools.

Accelerator 9: Complete the C in DMAIC

In the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) cycle, C is the most important step. This is the actual point of implementation and process owner handoff. There are several important activities that must take place to ensure a smooth transition from a team project to the improved process norm. Some of the major categories of C include validation of improvement, sustaining measurement systems, team and process owner transition, new improvement opportunities, knowledge repository, lessons learned, recognition and rewards, and celebration.

Accelerator 10: Practice concurrent continuous deployment

The traditional rollout of a Lean Six Sigma deployment occurs in waves, similar to groups of soldiers completing basic training and military boot camp. The term wave refers to a sequential process for developing people and completing projects. There is a defined start and end time to a wave, and a deadline for certification. Between the so-called waves, a lot of progress and momentum can be lost. In contrast, concurrent deployment is the development of people and constant completion of improvement projects, and is based on current critical needs.

Concurrent deployment embraces projects, priorities, and resources that are always ready to go. Opportunities are continuously targeted and prioritized, individual project launches are deliberately staggered and scheduled based on resource availability, and improvement capacity is managed. The deployment process is targeted, concurrent, and continuous – thus avoiding the activity for activity sake in most improvement initiatives.

Collectively, the Ten Accelerators of Lean Six Sigma Results provide a proven implementation architecture for the new economy, and lasting sustainable strategic improvement. These accelerators are not limited to Lean Six Sigma; many of the accelerator concepts are directly transportable to other strategic initiatives such as outsourcing strategies, mergers and acquisitions, building a new facility in China, or rationalizing global supply chain processes.

The Convergence of Technology and Strategic Improvement

In the new economy, competitive success is dependent upon how well organizations integrate existing and emerging enabling technology with their strategic improvement initiatives. The emergence of transactional enterprises has created an urgent need to integrate the entire customer-to-supplier value stream via the integrated information architecture. The other aspect of this is the rapid emergence of new enabling technology.

Today, most people cannot figure out how they worked 25 years ago without their laptops, e-mail, iPhones, iPods, Blackberrys, iPads and other personal devices. Whether we like it or not, IT has grown to become the largest enabler of connectivity, integration, information exchange, strategic and tactical improvement, business controls, performance management, and general global success.

Figure 2 provides a visual graphic of this convergence.

Leadership provides the strategy, vision, and unwavering commitment to Improvement ExcellenceTM. Leadership also defines the specific Deployment and Execution details (including the integration of enabling IT), and then removes the barriers of Improvement ExcellenceTM.

Technology is the front door, the touch points, and all entry and exit points of enterprise and extended enterprise transactional processes. Technology provides the enablers of process in the form of the integrated enterprise architecture and other fully integrated applications. Technology also replaces perceptions and opinions with a single integrated version of the facts. These are enablers because they are the means of adding in and building IT infrastructure and value for Improvement ExcellenceTM.

Improvement provides the integrators of Improvement ExcellenceTM including people, best methods, standardized procedures and policies, change management, and performance management. Improvement also provides the process for removing the detractors of business performance including inefficiencies, waste, process quality and capability issues, time, cost, and social barriers to change. It is this correct fusion and deployment of enabling technology and strategic improvement that drives Improvement ExcellenceTM which leads to sustainable best practices and benchmark performance.

Executives can no longer lead successfully without this convergence of enabling technology and strategic improvement. Today, many successful organizations are improving their root-cause problem solving capabilities via enabling technology. The new economy is driving the need for more immediate attention and more immediate response. The combination of technology and improvement is enabling organizations to build real time, interactive supply chains where they manage by a process that we call SIDAM, which stands for sense-interpret-decide-act-monitor.

Another capability that many organizations have already put into place is visible real-time, event-driven metrics (We refer to these as walk-around metrics or good-day-bad-day metrics). The objective of these real-time performance dashboards is to communicate performance and potential issues in real time so that organizations can "SIDAM" in more of a prevention mode.

The impulsive leadership actions to the 2008 meltdown are a natural response to disaster, leaving executives and organizations vulnerable to bad choices. The silver lining to the recovery is that there are more global opportunities for improvement and competitive success than any other time in history. Some organizations "get it" and are well into their new journey of Improvement ExcellenceTM or improving how they improve, with targeted and scalable, fact-based, fast-track improvements using real time data, accelerated root cause thinking, and instant feedback. This is the future – and an exciting future of accelerated and sustainable strategic improvement with unlimited possibilities, and unlimited competitive rewards for success.

Author’s note: This article and a previous article (Part 1) have been created from a newly released book, Accelerating Lean Six Sigma Results: How to Achieve Improvement ExcellenceTM in the New Economy.