When Lean/Six Sigma Succeeds

By Mike Niedenthal on April 25, 2016

Last week I had the opportunity to be a part of the 3rd annual Continuous Improvement and Innovation Conference (CIIC) at Kansas Wesleyan University.  We covered a wide range of topics, one of which included “The Benefits of a Sound Foundation for Lean,” a topic designed to address why so many CI/Lean programs fail and how to avoid it.

In my 25 years of assisting Kansas businesses, I have long recognized that organizations that successfully implement and sustain Lean/Six Sigma or other Continuous Improvement programs don’t get that way by accident.  These “success stories” involve companies that don’t so much make a commitment to an improvement “program” as they build improvement into the way they operate on an ongoing basis every day.  In other words, they operate on a set of business principles that they re-visit each and every day, and one of the key characteristics or bed-rock principles upon which they sustain their CI program is to fully understand “WHY” they wanted to become Lean in the first place.  This, I strongly feel, is what can make or break a successful and sustainable continuous improvement program – before doing anything else, answering the question “why?”

Do you really understand why you are thinking about implementing a program of continuous improvement, be it a Lean/Six Sigma program or some other approach?  If you aren’t clear about the why, your decisions about doing what you think needs to be done and how you think you need to do it are highly likely to come up short.  If you don’t know “why?”, nothing else matters.  When the leadership team in a company doesn’t understand this basic fact, there is a low ceiling on sustaining any improvement initiatives.

As obvious as this may sound, don’t become another failed Lean/Six Sigma program because you failed to think through the “why?” question before you started committing resources to your effort.  Making sure that you are clear about the answer to this question will help you develop and implement a sustainable continuous improvement program.