Recipe for Success with Six Sigma in Healthcare

As I was waiting for my oil change, I flipped through a magazine and came across a photo of perfectly baked bread made from scratch. It reminded me of my first experience baking bread, and I realized that process was very similar to the process or implementing Six Sigma in healthcare. When I first decided to try to make bread, I was overcome with anxiety, nervousness and fear. When you are new to Six Sigma you might share the same feelings.

Successful Six Sigma Implementation: Key Ingredients

There are some key ingredients to making bread such as flour, yeast, oil and water. Some key ingredients to be successful in Six Sigma implementation are: commitment, adequate resource allocation, working on the right projects, communication and accountability. For bread making, as for Six Sigma, the ingredients need to be added at the right time, in the right quantity and under the right conditions.

Corporate Leadership and Corporate Culture for Six Sigma

For successful implementation of Six Sigma, there needs to be commitment to business process change or business process improvement from the senior leadership. The top management commitment to this business change should be apparent in the culture of continuous improvement mentality in the organization (as opposed to a culture of blame), an environment for learning, training and empowering employees to be change agents, clear goals and resources to achieve goals. Leadership commitment also means that the leaders are active listeners and ask insightful questions to tackle the right issues. Good leaders should be able to remove bottlenecks such as lack of buy-in from middle managers, eliminating the silo mentality of the functional groups and providing resources to ensure success. The senior leaders should show unrelenting obsession with failure, elimination of waste, inefficiencies, work around and non-value added activities.

Project Selection for Six Sigma

Project selection is vital for sustaining the Six Sigma program. Early on in Six Sigma implementation, it is very important that the projects are selected to succeed. Scope the Six Sigma project appropriately to ensure it is completed in a short time frame (one to three months) rather than a multi-year Six Sigma project. Using facts and a data-driven process will help in prioritizing Six Sigma projects with a high linkage to strategic goals and the voice of the customer. It is also important to have a process to track the project(s) progress and to document the learning to improve the Six Sigma project selection process.

Communication for Six Sigma

Communication is often overlooked in Six Sigma implementation. I have not come across a Six Sigma project yet that identified over-communication as an issue. The common theme in "what we can do better for the next project" is usually "need more communication or need to communicate earlier." It is important to communicate early, and often, to provide updates (weekly, daily) regarding facts, progress and next steps.

Time Frame for Six Sigma

Six Sigma implementation does not happen overnight, and it takes time to imbibe the structured problem solving in the work place culture at all levels. Usually organizations struggle with Six Sigma if it is used to fix short-term issues.

Additional Ingredients for Six Sigma Implementation Success

There are several other factors that are important, such as execution of the plan, alignment to strategic goals, customer centricity, benchmarking, skills, data-based decision making, training, education, project management skills and incentives to name a few.

Six Sigma implementation does not happen overnight. It takes time to imbibe the structured problem solving in the work place culture at all levels. Usually organizations struggle with Six Sigma if it is used to fix short-term issues. The full benefits of Six Sigma are obtained by applying a rigorous, unwavering in the intermediate to long term.