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Top 10 Essentials for a Successful Lean Six Sigma Journey

It is well known truth in the business world now that Lean and Six Sigma are powerful process
improvements tools. While everyone agree on this philosophically, why it is so hard to be successful at
implementing, sustaining and excelling in this journey?
With LSSEs extensive experience in implementing Lean Six Sigma across multiple companies/industries
worldwide, we have unlocked the top 10 key ingredients for a successful Lean Six Sigma
implementation. The 10 ingredients are listed in the order of Lean Six Sigma journey, starting from year
0 to year x. No matter where you are in the Lean Six Sigma journey, this is a good list to check your
progress against to understand potential gaps.
If you look at the most successful companies, they will demonstrate ALL of these 10 essentials, not just
few of them. Many companies demonstrate only few of these and struggle to achieve the fullest
potential of Lean Six Sigma. We encourage all readers to use this as a checklist to ensure that their
organizations are on-track to achieve the fullest potential Lean Six Sigma has to offer.
1. Creating a strong sense of urgency or Setting up appropriate expectations:
The first step and probably the most important step is to set the right tone for your CI
journey. The reason for change/need for change needs to be clear, concise and well understood
across all organizations from the lowest level of employee to the executive leadership. The
leadership needs to setup the expectations. Many organizations start CI programs as a flavor of
month and it dies down without clear strategy behind it.
2. Aligning Lean Six Sigma implementation with strategic business direction/plan:
In order to achieve a successful Lean Six Sigma implementation, there should be clear
link between improvement initiatives and to the overall organization strategic plan. Some good
examples of a long term strategic goals are: to grow market share by 25% in 5 years, to grow
overall revenue by 50% in 5 years, etc. The CI initiatives then should be linked to this overall
strategy; in other words, most of the Lean Six Sigma initiatives should link to how it will help the
organization achieve its long-term strategic goals. One of the most common failure modes we
see is that, the CI function is on their own island. The root cause for this failure typically is that
there is no link between what the business needs and the CI initiatives. One real life example
would be the CI group working on solely improving 5S while factorys on time performance and
past-due is heading in the wrong direction. While 5S is extremely important and the foundation
for CI, the priorities should be balanced to support the business needs and to develop the CI
culture that is required. If the balance is shifted towards just the principles implementation
without direct link to business results, you are heading for trouble. In many cases, this shift in
balance is what makes the senior leadership back out of their commitment to CI.
In order for CI to stick, the improvement must be meaningful to business and to the
leadership. Lean Six Sigma is simply a tool set that helps organizations to get the desired
business results while creating a high performing workforce and outstanding employee

3. Setup a foundation to link LSS results to bottom-line or Link the Lean Six Sigma improvements to
Even though cost savings is not the entire reason for implementation Lean Six Sigma, it
is extremely important to be able to link the improvements to bottom-line or to the long-term
strategic goals. Many organization fail to link and struggle to show the impact of Lean Six Sigma
implementations on bottom-line and long-term strategic goals. This step becomes much easier if
the step 2 mentioned above was properly. At the end of the day, most of the Lean Six Sigma
improvements should correlate back to the bottom-line and/or how it helps organization to
reach its strategic plans and objectives. Also, this will help to ensure that the finance team is on
board with improvements planned and its expected benefits. The finance team should be part of
the planning phase of the Lean Six Sigma implementation so that the estimated savings/benefits
are calculated well before the implementation.
4. Selecting right people to run your LSS program
This one will truly make it or break your LSS journey. As we all know, truly talented
people suited for Lean Six Sigma are hard to find. Our experience shows that it is best to develop
your own internal talent than hiring from outside. However, when just getting started, you need
the outside talent to get it going. If you are new sand getting started, you should select an
internal leader who understands the business and the culture better to lead the initiative. Often,
when you hire someone from outside to lead this initiative when it is new, it takes time for the
individual to understand the operations, business and the company culture. It is much easier to
train someone who understands the operations, business and culture on Lean Six Sigma than
the contrary. Also, companies need to be careful about hiring Lean Six Sigma professionals who
are inflexible to modify their approach to suit the business and cultural needs. The Lean Six
Sigma concepts are straightforward but the application of those concepts never is due to the
nature of the business and the culture of the company. Hence, you need to select the people
who are capable of quickly diagnose and understand the business nature, existing culture and to
develop an approach that is best suited for your organization.
5. Selecting a right outside company to help you
Almost all the companies need support from an outside service provider to get them
started off in the right way. Companies should look for someone who is willing to be partner
with them to implement the principles in a way that will work with the culture of that
organization. While the concepts of Lean Six Sigma are straightforward, their application to each
company is never straightforward. Often times an outside company will help you to ensure that
your organization is protected from the falls of Lean Six Sigma implementation. Ideally, you will
need to find a partner who has lived this role, not just consulted!
6. Training the leadership first
If there is one initiative that will truly test leadership, this is it. Lean Six Sigma will truly
test your leadership skills, support, know-how and relentless follow-up and follow through skills.

It is not uncommon for people to say our CI efforts were failed due to lack of leadership support
and commitment. We challenge this, if you truly ask 5 why to this question to identify the real
root cause, it is typically, the leadership do not have the knowledge level that is required to
support these initiatives. In many cases, they truly do not know what to do or how to manage in
Lean Six Sigma world. This lack of knowledge is more often than not is one of the single most
reasons these initiatives fail. LSSE strongly recommends starting your LSS implementations with
leadership training first. After all, it is only fair to train them and then to expect them to support
7. Creating quick wins to excite the organization
In order for LSS implementation to strive and be successful, at the beginning of the Lean
Six Sigma journey, an organization MUST create quick wins. Often, the failure mode is that
companies pick the easiest thing to fix or to demonstrate the concepts which may or may not
have significant impact to the business. What we recommend is that, go for the biggest impact
project first, so that it helps the business to solve one of its most complex problem apart from
creating excitement that is required to be successful. The second failure mode is that failure to
communicate this quick win to excite the organizations. Some of the popular ways to
communicate this are company-wide newsletters, company-wide best practices sharing
webcast, etc. In summary, create quick wins that can produce a company-wide impact and
communicate that success throughout the organization. When you are just getting started, this
is one of the areas where your outside consulting company will be of great help in identifying,
scoping the right project and to successfully getting the results to excite the whole organization.
8. Expanding it to Enterprise wide
Now that you have the right people, right leadership and whole organization is excited
about Lean Six Sigma, what you do next is another important step. Most organization start
typically at one of their departments, functions in their company. For example, if it is a
manufacturing company, they typically start with manufacturing processes, if it is service
provider, they would pick one the service offerings they offer or pick of one of the groups with
their company. Organizations should move quickly to expand the application of the concepts
throughout the company before it is attached only to the function where it is started (e.g. it is a
shop floor thing, it doesnt apply to the offices). Also, in order to achieve the fullest potential of
Lean Six Sigma, the applications of these principles should be extended to suppliers and
customers of the organization. The timing of integrating suppliers and customers will vary
depending on the industry and maturity level of the organizations.
9. Leveraging the improvements to GROW the business
This is one of the single most reasons why Lean Six Sigma dies down after a successful
start. Also, this is THE biggest missed opportunity after all the hard work has been put in to
ensure successful beginning of Lean Six Sigma. Many organizations fail to leverage their LSS
success to win more business from their existing clients or acquiring new clients/businesses. The
biggest reason any company want to start their Lean Six Sigma journey is to grow market share

and profitability. One of the easiest ways to improve your profitability is to increase your net
sales with relatively same level of staffing. Lean Six Sigma, if it is done correctly, will help you to
achieve this.
10. Pay for Performance for All
Last piece of this puzzle can be explained picture perfectly with adage Put Your Money
Where your Mouth Is. All the successful organizations in CI, have a pay for performance for all
employees program. While many organizations have bonus program for certain level of
employees, it does not typically excite the entire organization. In many cases, it only sends
wrong message to the employees who are not in the bonus program (why should I work hard
so that you get more money). No matter how much we dont want to believe it behavior
follows money. Though, the level of reward will be/should be different, all employees should be
rewarded for exceptional performance apart from their regular salary. What we have seen is
that, the company that has these programs have great sense of ownership and accountability at
all level of the organization and every employee is a leader and is able to call out poor
performance when they see one.
Continuous Improvement simply means you are never done improving, so the natural next step after
these 10 steps is to start all over again; reset your bar and go for it. We hope that this article provide you
with roadmap for realizing the fullest potential of Lean Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement. No
matter where you are in the journey, this list will help you to identify the gaps that is preventing from
achieving the greatest results.
LSSE Lean Six Sigma Experts Corporation provides comprehensive support for Lean Six Sigma and other
Continuous Improvements needs from Training, Consulting, Recruiting and Software solutions. LSSEs
objective is to help our clients achieve the fullest potential of Continuous Improvement. We provide
services to support our clients in all the phases of continuous improvement to realize the fullest
potential. LSSE is headquartered in the USA and have registered offices in India and in the UK.
The author, Jayaprakash (JP) Gnanam, is the founder and the CEO of LSSE Corporation. He has extensive
experience in helping organizations implement and thrive in Continuous Improvement internationally.
He is a certified Master Black Belt, Lean Trainer/Practitioner, ASQ Certified Black Belt (CSSBB), Quality
Engineer(CQE) and Quality Manager (CQM/OE). He can be reached at or
1-800-961-9479 Ext. 9.