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Are You Ready for Lean/Six Sigma? Five Questions (Plus One)

Company executives' answers to these five questions will help determine whether a continuous improvement effort can succeed.

In my previous article for IndustryWeek, “Would Dr. Deming Have Been a Black Belt?” I mentioned that before accepting a new request for improvement assistance, I ask five questions of the company executives.  The first question -- "Does your company leadership team understand and embrace their role and are they willing to learn what lean and Six Sigma are all about?” -- was covered in the article.  I received several requests from readers wanting to know if I would share the remaining four questions.  They are:

2) Does your company utilize cross-functional, multilevel teams to get things done?  (See my article “Why Do Silos Form and How Can We Knock Them Down?” for more insight into this question)

3) Have you mastered the basic problem-solving tools throughout the company, driving to root-cause corrective actions?  (The article “Is It Worth the Effort to Teach Improvement Tools to All Employees?” can help answer why this question is on the list.)

4) Do you have accurate data systems (gauge repeatability and reproducibility) that are easily accessible to the workers closest to the process, and does this data drive your improvement actions?  (See “What Drives Wedges Between Management and Workers?” for more insight into this question.)

5) Are the employees empowered to shut a process down if an out-of-control condition occurs, and are there resources instantly available to help the employee identify and implement corrective actions to get the process back up and running? (The article “Are We Just Going Through the Motions?  The Role Culture Plays in Improvement” might explain the purpose of this question.)

I have been using these five questions for the past 20 years or so when beginning an engagement with a company’s leadership team.  If the answers are not satisfactory -- and there is no indication of the willingness to change -- I will explain my reservations and walk away.

It may be necessary to add a sixth question to the list…

6) Is the financial community willing to participate in the improvement efforts, assist in the calculation of the financial impact of the improvements and help reshape the accounting systems to more accurately reflect reality?

To learn more about the importance of this last question, be sure to join me on Tuesday, May 3, in Rosemont, Ill. (Chicago) at the IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo.  I will be leading a workshop titled, “Show Me the Money!  How to Get Lean/Six Sigma Buy-In from Upper Management.”  This interactive, hands-on workshop will be full of useful information to help tie improvement initiatives with company profit goals.  We will also use a simulation that participants will be able to take home to help illustrate these powerful points in a fun, visual way.

I hope to see you in Chicago.

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