A couple years ago we sponsored a research report by the Aberdeen Group on best practices in Six Sigma deployments. You can download a copy of the report, and a companion white paper that I wrote for the report called “Leveraging Technology to Transform Culture.” For me the most astonishing thing about that 2006 report was the disconnect between the challenges people say they face in their Six Sigma deployments and their responses to those challenges.

Most of the challenges people face are cultural:

Lean Six Sigma Challenges
Challenge % Selected
1. Significant culture change required 68%
2. Data collection challenges 44%
3. Resistance from knowledge workers and
middle management
4. Continued commitment from top management after initial stage 26%
5. Sustained company-wide training and certification program 20%
6. Cost of training and certification programs 20%
7. Excessive time spent “scrubbing” data 19%

Most people respond to those challenges directly by doing a checklist of initiatives: train employees, introduce change gradually, assign senior management as champions, engage outside consultants, steal talent from the competition, and so forth.

Responses to Challenges
Response % Selected
1. Train employees 68%
2. Introduce change gradually 49%
3. Assign senior management champions
accountable for quantifiable results
4. Engage Outside consultants 33%
5. Deploy IT solutions in support of quality
6. Recruit qualified/certified individuals from
outside the company
7. Implement automated data collection 19%

This frontal assault has been going on for years and it isn’t working. That’s the forehead smacking part of this.

Years ago I realized that making data more visible and accessible changed the way people look at themselves, the people around them, and the problems they face. Somehow just making the data visible takes away the personality and political dimensions – the cultural barriers – and helps people focus on solving problems.

Making the data very accessible – visually on the screen in a control chart or a dashboard – and making it available in real-time is a huge benefit. It breaks down all kinds of barriers.

My customer, Royce Binion, then Director of Operations at BAE Systems Controls in Fort Wayne, put it most succinctly when he said to me years ago “Real-time access to accurate, actionable data is the number one tool that has enabled us to move to a data driven culture.” This was way back in 2000 when his plant won the Industry Week’s 10 Best Plants award, and a few years before they would win the Shingo Prize.

This came up again for me this week when I attended a webinar hosted by the Aberdeen Group. They’re doing follow up research to see what has changed in the last 2 1/2 years, and they wanted to share their preliminary findings on best practices in Lean Six Sigma deployments. 

What struck me as I heard this briefing is how little has changed. Cultural challenges are still at the top of the list, followed closely by IT and technology challenges. People still don’t seem to be connecting the dots.

Today I wrote to Cindy Jutras, the author of this research, to get her take on it. She wrote back:

in spite of all the data and IT related challenges from the previous slide (about the challenges people face in Lean Six Sigma deployments), there was not an appropriate response to those challenges. I agree that visibility is key. And our results support that. In general we found those with True Six Sigma have 110% better visibility than Industry Average and 580% better visibility than Laggards. Not surprisingly, they deploy far more IT tools than those not performing as well.

How about you? Are you using real-time access to accurate, actionable data to transform your culture? You can leave a comment, tweet me, schedule a conversation, or call 800-958-2709.

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