Faster Six Sigma Change With Simulation-Based Training

Jeff Cole

We’re always interested in little tricks to make our Six Sigma process changes either go faster, or ensure the changes "stick." This month I highlight something I have seen to be very effective time and again — simulation-based training.

Depending on which author’s methods you follow, you will pilot your project in the Improve or Control stages of DMAIC and follow that up with a full-scale rollout. As part of this effort you have to conduct training on any major process change. (Minor changes can sometimes be handled by a self-paced tutorial, e-mail, or demonstration at a meeting. However, DMAIC is not about making minor process changes.)

By this time you have accumulated a number of artifacts that feed nicely into your training, including before and after process maps, value-analysis, operational definitions, FMEA, an out-of-control action plan (OCAP) or process control plan, perhaps a Monte Carlo analysis, etc. Often you will also have new tools, forms, job descriptions, reporting relationships, HR changes, or other such collateral that has been created in the Improve stage.

You know the drill on traditional training by now — tell them why you made the change, the benefits (vision and burning platform), what the change was (featuring the old and new process maps), how the change was made and by whom, and then focus on what they should do now. You may even run them through a mock-trial process to demonstrate. Sometimes you provide a quiz at the end to ensure they know what to do. When you are done with your training, hopefully they are all capable of using the new process.

Resistance to using new processes comes in two general forms — ability and willingness. The difference between simulation-based training and traditional training is that you can proactively address both issues. With a simulation-based approach, you supplement the traditional approach with some "test drives." To the extent possible, you give the process users some scenarios and process input and have them actually follow the new process with you there to monitor. Run the process and ensure it is executed properly and the output is timely and correct. Since there may be a learning curve, you’ll want to run through the drill several times. Use the actual job aids, new forms, etc. to make this as realistic as possible.

You may already be doing this. Here’s the difference. If you are learning to fly and the instructor puts you in the flight simulator, he doesn’t just have you take off and land cleanly all the time. He takes you to 30,000 feet, blows out an engine and sees if you can recover. In real life, your students will encounter some form of glitch along the way. In this approach, you use your FMEA, OCAP, and control plan as input to construct some scenarios where things will go wrong. After the students are comfortable with running through the "clean" process several times, toss in these failure scenarios to ensure they can handle the exceptions properly. This is most important for the process owners to ensure the control plan and OCAP will be followed in real life. This will enhance their ability far beyond the traditional lecture method.

Other simulation-based best practices for enhancing ability include turning things around at the end and having the students train you (or a volunteer from another organization). According to the NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science (creators of the "Learning Pyramid"), students retain 30 percent of what they learn if they see a demo, 75 percent of what they learn if they practice, but retain 90 percent of what they learn if they teach someone else!

To ferret out potential willingness issues include one of these approaches:

  • After everyone has had a chance to see and use the new process, have them anonymously, on post-its, write down answers to the following questions:
    • What do you like most about the new process?
    • What annoys you most about the new process?

You can then use an affinity or force-field based approach to synthesize the output and dialogue from there.

  • Have a discussion like this: "You’ve all seen the new process and done a fine job in handling the scenarios we provided. Many people worked hard on this process change and the organization wants it to work smoothly. We’ve looked at several ways this process could fail. I’m not convinced we have them all. What do you think? What are some ways this process might break?"

With either of these approaches you have created a safe environment for people to voice their concerns or complaints. People who might be unwilling to use the new process may likely give you clues as to how they intend to navigate around this and still do things the old way. Feedback from these sessions can be studied and integrated into the process governance plan.

Following these approaches will help lock in a more successful and timely change. If you have any other training best practices, I’d love for you to share them using the comments feature below.