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Losing the Race in the Last Mile: Why Lean/Six Sigma Initiatives Fail (and What to Do About It)

Losing the Race in the Last Mile: Why Lean/Six Sigma Initiatives Fail (and What to Do About It)

Why do Lean/Six Sigma initiatives so often falter in the last stages? It usually comes down to capital, or the lack thereof, both monetary and human.

Let's talk about the common practice of almost spending enough. Think about the last time you bought a TV, for example, assuming you've upgraded sometime since the Eisenhower years. If, like many of us, you thought you might have liked a 55" screen a bit better than a 50" (or, God forbid, a 42") but went ahead and saved a few bucks by coming home with a smaller-screened model, you've probably wished you had gone ahead and plumped for the upgrade, at least now that pro football's back on and basketball's on its way.

If that's you (and it's certainly been me on a few occasions) you almost spent enough. So what inevitably happens after that?

Enter rationalization.

That TV would have been too big for the room. I should be doing something else anyway. Who needs to see Here Comes Honey Boo Boo even better?

And so on. But, in the end, you didn't really get what you wanted, even though you paid most of what it would have cost. So you're left with an unpleasant choice: Live with it or go back out and get what you wanted in the first place, at greater expense (assuming your TV shop's return period is up) and hassle.

The parallels to an underfunded Lean/Six Sigma project are obvious, at least in a monetary sense. As always, you get what you pay for.

But what about human capital? What about almost doing enough to make a Lean/Six Sigma initiative stick?

Here, we're talking about inertia and gravity. Not the Newtonian kind. The human kind. What it comes down to is that old habits die hard. They're hard to change (inertia), and it's hard to maintain change against the pull of the "way we've always done things" (gravity).

When change is not reinforced consistently, for an appropriate duration, which is analogous to not spending enough in the monetary realm, that great big gravity well of old habits drags your organization back into its old orbit, giving you the results you used to get, instead of the results you need now.

So how do you avoid the buyer's remorse of almost spending enough on the reinforcement of your Lean/Six Sigma initiative? Here are a few tips:

Focus on sponsor engagement and coaching.

Implement a structured change management process.

Develop a communications strategy that makes a direct connection from individual behavior to organizational goals.

Establish a feedback process on the impact and reaction to your communications.

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