10 Ways to Make Six Sigma Change Fail

Jeff Cole

Have you ever experienced a Six Sigma project failure? If not, you’re really missing out on one of life’s more vivid learning experiences. There’s something to be said for having at least one (hopefully minor) failure during your career. Not failures of BP oil leak or Toyota accelerator proportions mind you, but just enough to let you know you’re not invincible. Enough to humble you a bit. The benefit of a failure is we get to do a post-mortem, understand what went wrong, and make darn sure that never happens to us again. The lessons learned are ingrained in you at a cellular level — a much deeper learning than you’d ever receive in a classroom.

Is this guy nuts? Recommending failure? Absolutely not! I am, however, recommending learning from failure. If you’ve had a personal Six Sigma project failure, don’t feel too bad — you’ve received a potent education! For those who have not yet felt the searing pain of crashing and burning, a great deal can still be gained by observing the misfortunes of others.

This month, we’ll review 10 actions that will pretty much guarantee failure of any Six Sigma change project. With tongue firmly in cheek, I’ll paraphrase the logic used by those who advocate employing these tactics. Please don’t try this at home! Let’s get started…

1. Don’t tell people the change is coming – Ever have a surprise party as a child? Exciting wasn’t it? After all, who doesn’t like a surprise? An added benefit is that people won’t be in the hallways ahead of time talking about the change or worrying about it! Sure, they might not be prepared for the change and productivity, morale and trust may tank for awhile, but I’m sure they’ll get over it. Man-up and enjoy the surprise, I say. By the way — that person in the cubicle who is constantly twitching when you walk by has been here awhile — maybe too many surprises for him…

2. Don’t listen — just keep talking – If you just keep telling people this Six Sigma change is good for them, they’ll eventually believe it. Two-way communication is way over-rated and time consuming too. A simple memo or intranet video should do the trick. This change is coming whether they like it or not — their needs and questions are irrelevant. If you do accidentally get forced into listening to feedback, immediately defend your position by speaking louder and in an angrier tone. In addition, be certain to share how you personally will benefit from the Six Sigma change — audiences love to hear that.

3. Don’t measure or govern the rollout – People in general don’t like being monitored, so leave them alone and let the rollout unfold naturally. Everyone in the company is excited about this as you are, so I’m sure there will be no implementation roadblocks to address. Other projects, systems, and processes should naturally make way for the Six Sigma change you are installing.

4. Don’t bother your sponsor – Sponsors (or Champions) are busy people. Please don’t bother them with your whining requests that they communicate, govern, manage consequences, remove roadblocks, or really in any way get involved. That would be a sign of weakness on your part.

5. Ignore the culture – Who really knows what culture is anyway? It’s kind of invisible so it may be something that exists only in the minds of consultants. Whatever worked at your last company is bound to work here.

6. Allow multiple work-around solutions – Sure your process only works if people do things the new way. That stifles creativity. Let people do things any way they want and come to the conclusion that your new process is the way to go. Yes, this may extend your timeline a bit, or infinitely, but people thrive on variety. We’re really good at providing new stuff but really bad at turning off the old stuff anyway. Go with your strength.

7. Ignore resistance – Quite honestly, you are too busy to have to deal with people who don’t see things your way. They don’t understand, and anything you say won’t help so why bother? Steam rolling this Six Sigma change right over them is the fastest way to go. I’m sure the changes will work short term and the organization will heal in the long term. Resistors will either stop resisting or leave the company.

8. Wing it – There are way too many change methods and books. Six Sigma with its technical skills was hard enough to master. Change seems too "soft" or "touchy-feely" anyway. Anything I can’t do in Minitab is not that important. Plus, some of the best comedians around came out of Second City and they are all about improvisation. If I hit any "human" issues in the project, I’ll improvise as it comes up. I’m more worried about these p-values…

9. No consequence management – Implementing any kind of rewards or positive consequences for the early adopters of the change feels kind of like bribery. They should do it because it’s part of their job. Also, the sponsor doesn’t feel comfortable in enforcing any negative consequences for those who don’t adopt the Six Sigma change. Not much I can do about that. I’m sure everyone will rally around all of our changes in an efficient and effective manner without any intervention needed.

10. Ready or not — here it comes – All this talk of assessing the organization to ensure they are "ready" for the change is pure rubbish. We’re all overworked and there will never be a perfect time to roll out a change. If we swamp the workforce, so be it. Other Six Sigma change projects are welcome to navigate around mine. I really don’t have time to coordinate, and heck the corporate guys don’t talk to the business unit guys anyway!