Time to Evaluate: Better Training Means Better Lean Six Sigma Experts

Karan Nikhanj

Important processes can often take time to learn, but once learned and mastered prove to be invaluable. The Lean Six Sigma methodology relies on training to give process champions the tools needed to bring change to business operations. Some training is more intense than others; however, the objective is nearly the same — to ensure people complete the training and that learning is sustainable. The key to becoming proficient lies in proper training and optimizing the training wherever possible.

Xerox has trained thousands of "Belts" since starting its Lean Six Sigma journey in 2003. Nearly 43,000 employees have completed Yellow Belt training, almost 9,000 employees have completed Green Belt training, more than 1,100 employees have completed Black Belt training, and we have roughly 45 Master Black Belts. Enabling an army of Lean Six Sigma experts is no small order, and we’re constantly evaluating our techniques to make sure they are meeting employee needs. This evaluation is critical to the success of any Lean Six Sigma deployment.

What works for employees?

In 2006, Xerox Canada Ltd. tasked all permanent employees to complete the basic level of Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training. What we discovered, after an evaluation of the program, was the online training materials were not conducive to every learning style and the content was intimidating. To combat this problem, I was tasked with making Xerox Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training easier to learn so employees would not only complete the training but also retain the information, ensuring its sustainability for use in the field. In short, we needed to make using Lean Six Sigma methods second nature and a daily work process.

Over a span of four months, I led a team using the DMEDI road map to design a complementary process for learning the tools and techniques that met the primary task given to Xerox Canada employees. We also simplified the process improvement road map so that it could be followed intuitively. With a project team, we explored the idea of a template that outlined the DMAIC process and had it written out for candidates. The team found that forms already existed but were too cumbersome to be practical.

Through the project phases and collection of data, the team discovered that employees learn in different ways and that the online sessions, which were often the only way material was covered, weren’t always resonating. In addition, the geographical diversity of the employee population was an added challenge that required a solution that could travel.

Making the improvements

The team determined that retention and time savings could be improved by holding a four hour live instructor led condensed classroom session rather than solely relying on more than 18 hours of online course material. To be sure the information resonated, all Black Belt candidate instructors were required to deliver pre-scripted DMAIC process lessons.

To help simplify the process of applying the methodology and allowing for quick and easy accessibility, the team developed Project on a Page (PoaP), a document to help candidates fulfill the requirements of the DMAIC process in a quicker and simplified fashion. The document reduced the process down to one page, helping those working on DMAIC projects remain concise and to the point while having the ability to easily scoreboard improvements. When coupled with the improved training technique and new, easy-to-use PoaP, the Xerox Canada team was well versed in DMAIC thinking.

A recent workshop used PoaP to teach those who didn’t have any Lean Six Sigma background, and those who had received Yellow Belt training awhile back were taught and reminded of the process and how to apply process improvement daily. The participants found it much easier to apply the methodology using a realistic and seemingly simplistic approach. Some additional feedback from the workshop and usefulness of PoaP included the following:

"With PoaP, the process is simplified and to the point, so teams can utilize the techniques without being cumbersome or overwhelming. With very little background and knowledge of the Lean Six Sigma tools, PoaP provides insight to what is available to support the processes within the business."

"A short, sweet, and succinct way of laying out the project and viewing it at a glance."

"PoaP is easy to understand and a very useful tool. In just one page, it offers a detailed picture of where and how you get from point A to point B. There is a lot of responsibilities when onsite with a customer and not a lot of time. PoaP gives specific information and measurable data to a defined problem in a timely manner."

The success of PoaP can be attributed to a variety of different factors, including:

  • Fields to label and identify the "project" and key support resources;
  • Use of icons to visually represent the DMAIC road map at a glance;
  • Emphasis placed on quantifiably "defining" the problem using multiple perspectives;
  • Translation of the improvement into financial terms, visible on the template;
  • The ability to explore the nature of the improvement and therefore easily replicate it elsewhere in the organization;
  • Key second level diagnostic questions (in plain language) to increase line of sight to critical data points;
  • Limited space in the template to encourage the process champion to be concise by using the best tool at every step;
  • Critical self analysis at root cause identification to corroborate the problem and improvement to be realized; and
  • Stratification of which business results will be advanced using check box simplicity.

The transportability of PoaP has been a key enabler of its adoption and now sustainability. With Yellow Belt training, or even higher levels of Lean Six Sigma competency such as at the Green Belt and Black Belt levels, the PoaP template has taken away Lean Six Sigma’s complicated process stigma and simplified it to increase acceptance. Training people and applying the DMAIC process improvement roadmap with the PoaP template as the back drop allows for intuitive problem navigation.

By reviewing and adapting the Yellow Belt training course, we not only improved that particular training but also found ways to replicate its success and maximize exposure of the new PoaP technique.

Training is imperative to mastering Lean Six Sigma, but it has to be the right training. It has to be beneficial for all those involved and needs to meet the set objectives. By re-evaluating our current training, the Xerox Canada team has improved retention and results. Now, is the time to ensure your process improvement trainings are effective and the knowledge retention rate is high.