A Few Thoughts on Six Sigma Change Management

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Jeff Cole

Welcome to the Street Smarts for Change Management column where we will do our best to address some of those "textbook vs. reality" issues that seem to rear their ugly heads during Six Sigma and DMAIC projects. Specifically, we’ll focus on issues of change management. First up will be some high-level tips, with future articles drilling down into various risk areas and addressing specific tactics. Until then, here are a few tricks to get your thought process started.

Whether you’re new to Six Sigma or a seasoned veteran, being able to manage the human side of a process change is vital. Heck, some say that’s 80 percent of the battle in many DMAIC projects. You and I can create the best process in the world, but unfortunately there’s no button inside Minitab or Excel that we can click to get the workforce to engage. If the people who need to follow this new process don’t do so, you’ve lost your investment. The body of knowledge for change management rivals that of Six Sigma—it is both broad and deep. Use these tips to help weave change management into your next project.

Recognize the Need for Change Management

Think of the need for change management as a spectrum ranging from 0 percent (no need) to 100 percent (definite need). Any project that impacts people has some need for change management—the question becomes "How much?" As part of your project risk assessment, consider the extent to which your process change potentially impacts others. If you’re conducting a small-scope Green Belt project on a process you personally own and you’re the only person impacted, you likely don’t need the full arsenal of change tools. If, however, your project potentially impacts a number of people, recognize that the need to formally address change increases.

Start Change Management Initiatives Early

Don’t wait until the control stage of a DMAIC project to start addressing change. It begins in Define and should be integrated into all steps. Start early on by identifying who might be impacted and understanding what their concerns or issues might be. Ask questions such as: What are the best ways to communicate with those impacted? How can we establish two-way communications? What should our messages be? Who should they come from? How often and in what format? How will we involve those impacted in the project so they feel a sense of ownership?

Select a Change Management Method

When you enter the world of Six Sigma it’s hard to avoid running into methods like DMAIC and DMADV. It’s nice to enjoy standard, proven ways of fixing broken processes or building new processes. When you read the books on change management, however, there is no one industry-standard. There are many methods. If you’re just starting out, read several books and pick one. Personally, I’m partial to anything by Daryl Conner, although there are many other useful authors. One client had a best practice—they evaluated several leading change methods and used a Pugh Selection Matrix to build their own hybrid approach.

Don’t Make Human Change a Separate "To-Do" Item

Integrate your efforts in managing the human side of the change into your plans for managing the technical side of the change. Try to weave change management into the fabric of your DMAIC and DMADV efforts rather than tacking it on. Apply your existing Six Sigma tools to the human side as well as the technical.

Anticipate Resistance to Change

In any project where you may need to tell someone to stop doing things the old way and start doing things a new way, you can expect resistance. While you can’t eliminate resistance, you can minimize it. Understand where resistance may come from, and why people may resist. Is it ability—they’d like to follow the new process but can’t? Or is it willingness—they can follow the process but choose not to? Tools such as force field analysis, FMEA, CT trees and C/E diagrams all help you proactively understand this so these issues can be addressed.

In a methodology that’s jammed with technical aspects such as degrees of freedom, residuals and p-values, it’s easy to get absorbed in the technical side of a process improvement while the human element gets short-changed. More than a few projects have crashed and burned because of this. However, managing change in a Six Sigma project becomes second nature after several times and helps ensure success.