Top Ten Critical Success Factors For Six Sigma

Top Ten Critical Success Factors For Six Sigma
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1. Cultivate a Zero Defect Mentality

The effectiveness of a Six Sigma program depends on developing a mindset that refuses to accept or accommodate defects. As Kevin Weiss, CEO of The Capability Group and Philip Crosby Associates opines, “It’s important to create a culture of prevention, which causes people to prevent defects and non-conformities.” Philip B. Crosby in his book, Quality is Free, states: “The quality manager must be clear, right from the start, that zero defects is not a motivation program. Its purpose is to communicate to all employees the literal meaning of the words ‘zero defects’ and the thought that everyone should do things right the first time.”

Defects cost money, waste time, and frustrate managers, and building and sustaining a prevention-oriented culture requires driving away both defects and non-conformances.

2. Understand Customer Requirements

Quality is a moving target that is defined or judged by the customer. Six Sigma places the highest priority on customer input, and adopts a customer-driven quality approach to anticipating, meeting, and exceeding customer requirements.

The best Six Sigma project is where the design team understands customer requirements and predicts whether the proposed (or the existing) design meets customer expectations. The project objectives should focus on aligning critical to quality customer requirements with the company’s business strategy.

3. Address the Root Cause

One critical factor on which the success of a Six Sigma program rests is whether the analysis of the problem treats the root cause of the issue or the symptoms. Treating the root cause allows for the successful resolution of the problem and a permanent fix, whereas addressing the symptoms means that the root cause remains and will manifest itself later.

A successful Six Sigma program root cause analysis must ask the question “WHY” the process or product is defective and proceed from there to try to find answers. Repeatedly stressing the “Why” after each answer allows you to peel away the layers of symptoms, eventually leading to the root cause of a problem.

4. Data Based Approach

Mikel Harry in his book “Six Sigma: The Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations” opines, “It is only by measuring that we can know the value of something, and we can’t improve what we don’t measure.” Without measurement there is no way to know how a process is performing, and therefore no way to improve it.

Any good Six Sigma program is steeped in data collection and analysis. Six Sigma emphasizes gathering data, and then analyzing the same to identify problems, measure changes, and verify whether the changes lead to the desired improvements.

5. Use the Correct Tools

Critical Factors for Six Sigma Success

The success of Six Sigma implementation depends on using the most effective tools for the DMAIC stages. Some tools that work best are:

  • Fishbone Diagram, or the cause-and-effect diagram, which provides a list of possible causes of problems and allows visualization of the relationship between factors.
  • Pareto Chart, or a representation of the relative importance of process causes or defects, based on the rule of thumb that 80 percent of all problems result from 20 percent of the causes.
  • Brainstorming, or encouraging th participants to generate a large volume of creative ideas as possible solutions
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are quantifiable measurements that reflect the critical success factors of the project.
  • Process Mapping, a hierarchical method for displaying processes to illustrate how a product or transaction is processed. It represents either the work flow within a process or an image of the whole operation.
  • Gantt Chart, a bar chart that shows planned work and finished work relative to time. Each task in a list has a corresponding bar, with the length of the bar depicting the expected or actual duration of the task.

Success, however, depends on not just making such tools available, but also ensuring adequate training and awareness about the potential applications of such tools, so that the team members can use such tools well.

6. Enlist Top Management Support

Having senior management fully on board from the start of a Six Sigma program allows for the smooth execution of Six Sigma protocols. This, however, does not always happen, and many improvement efforts start at the middle or lower levels before finally coming to the notice of the top management. In such situations, success of the initiative remains in doubt, for without top-level acceptance and support, a Six Sigma program will ultimately fail. For best results, you must involve the top management from the very beginning.

Getting the buy-in of managers is indispensable in order to:

  • Prioritize projects and allocate resources.
  • Develop a strategic plan.
  • Draw up a Six Sigma implementation team.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities for team members.
  • Establish supporting policies.

7. Enlist Local Process Owner Support

Successful Six Sigma implementation requires making local process owners a stakeholder in the scheme of things.

Implementation of Six Sigma projects carries the risk of alienation of the process owners. Many front-line and area managers display frustration when Six Sigma experts offer unsolicited help to solve a problem in their area of expertise. Strangers from “quality” or a Black Belt swoop down from on high, put together a team, find a solution, and take the recognition and reward for the same. They then swoop away to work on another project regardless of the long-term viability of their solution. In other instances, the solution may have been obvious to the local process owner, who has never had the support of the top management to implement the same.

The only way to avoid such alienation is by enlisting the support and cooperation of local process owners up front.

8. Involve the Rank and File

Quality improvement through Six Sigma is not the responsibility of a specific team or department. Successful implementation occurs only when the rank and file take up responsibility to implement the required Six Sigma interventions in their work domains. Such a mindset comes only when the rank and file perceive the benefits of the change. Benefits come only when the organization develops leaders and empowers people to become valuable contributors to the organization’s success.

9. Manage Resistance to Change

Six Sigma is in its purest sense a change management initiative, for it involves changing from a defective stage to a perfect state. Just as all change attracts resistance, Six Sigma interventions also attract resistance to change, which may manifest as employees ignoring new processes, disagreeing with the benefits, making stringent criticisms, and more. Success depends on how effectively the leadership rises to the occasion and manages resistance to change.

Ways to overcome changes involve proactive leadership that lends clarity and removes doubts, effective communications, a carrot-and-stick policy, and more.

10. Leadership

Finally, effective leadership is a decisive factor in the success of any project. The Six Sigma project leader needs to lead from the front by displaying competence in the key methodologies, adopting a hands-on approach in the actual implementation, selling the project to the top management and other stakeholders, striking a rapport with key functional heads, overcoming resistance to change among the workforce, and more.


This post is part of the series: Top Ten Critical Success Factors for Six Sigma

This is the first article in a three-part series that focuses on the the Top Ten Critical Success Factors for Six Sigma.

  1. Follow These 10 Tips for Successful Six Sigma Implementation
  2. Top Ten Critical Success Factors for Six Sigma: Part 2
  3. Top Ten Critical Success Factors for Six Sigma: Part 3