No-Nonsense Project Management

Is Your Six Sigma Project a Top Priority for Your Company?

Thomas S. Ostasiewski, PE, PMP
Posted: 11/09/2009

The economic news may be getting a little better, but these are still fairly turbulent times. Joblessness is at its highest point since the early 1980s, companies large and small continue to scale back in nearly every way imaginable, and Six Sigma projects remain under extremely tight scrutiny. In this situation—perhaps all situations—how do you select the best Six Sigma projects to start or continue? How do you decide which ones get cut? Which ones get the resources and which others die slow deaths? These may seem like top management decisions—and to a large extent they are—but everyone involved on a Six Sigma project team should know these answers.

For Those Who Have Strong Strategic Plans

Organizations that have robust strategic planning processes in place are at an advantage. They know their priorities and can judge most activities against these top criteria. Simply having a solid strategic plan isn’t enough though. We need to have a direct, tangible relationship between each Six Sigma project or program and that plan. As long as the priorities don’t change dramatically, and the Six Sigma project is directly and clearly tied to a clear organizational priority, it should survive the knife. Can you clearly articulate the relationship between your project and corporate strategy? Share this with your team at the start of the project, and periodically throughout its course.

For Those Who Do Not Have Strong Strategic Plans (Or Don’t Know)

For organizations that do not have the best strategic planning, we can still add some logic and direction to Six Sigma project selection. The difference is that the Six Sigma project manager now has some added work to do. Here are some steps we can take to be sure we’re working on a top priority:

  1. Ask the question, "Why are we doing this project?" Ideally this is in the charter, but not all organizations formally charter Six Sigma projects. The project manager should be able to have this frank discussion with management, and elicit clear enough answers to proceed or generate enough debate to clarify the scope or even stop the project.
  2. If the explanations are reasonable, then proceed with scope and metrics discussion to ensure you’re all working with the same expectations. This requires excellent interpersonal and facilitation skills. The more effort spent here the better—it will define the rest of your efforts, and set the conditions for the team’s success!
  3. If the explanations are not reasonable, then you must continue this discussion until you refine the expectations, or cancel the Six Sigma project.
  4. Share this information with your team. It will give them confidence that the effort that they are about to invest has been well thought out and debated, and that it survived that scrutiny.

A word of caution here—do not be a naysayer! If the expectations are not clear, and tied to company priorities, these should be the topics of discussion. Be careful not to simply dismiss the Six Sigma project or pooh-pooh it heavily as it may be very near to someone’s heart that can impact your career. Stick to the facts, get clarity and try to understand why this is important.

What Will This Do For Me?

Many project managers and Six Sigma practitioners reading this may be wondering, "Why is this important to me or my team? I have to run whatever I’m given anyway." The clear tie of your Six Sigma project to the strategic direction of the company and the priorities of senior management is vital. You can use this information on your projects with your team in several ways.

  1. You personally know that your Six Sigma project is important to the company’s future, and to your senior leadership.
  2. You can use this information to ensure your team members are committed. As individuals, they want to know that their work is important. Since this may be added work to them with no added pay, they can at least get a non-financial reward.
  3. When resources are pulled to do other things, all involved know the importance of their contribution to the effort and can make informed judgments or at least understand the consequences.

In conclusion, understanding the relationship between your Six Sigma project and your organization’s priorities can be a huge help with how you lead the project. It can mean the difference between an energetic team and one that "does what they can to help." It can provide the basis for saving your project or its resources from being pulled, and to promote the importance of the project. It can also show upper management you understand the importance of strategic alignment, not a bad thing to be known for.

Thomas S. Ostasiewski, PE, PMP
Posted: 11/09/2009


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