Lasting Success

Last week I visited a couple of plants in in North America and participated in some “Define” sessions aimed at uncovering Six Sigma project opportunities and identifying leaders for those projects.

I was in a conference room with the plant staff looking at the 2012 project deck when a question came up on the savings carry-over from a 2011 project. The project had addressed a problem that ranked third on the Pareto chart in the August timeframe of 2011, and was led by a shop floor auditor who had been trained in the DMAIC methodology.

During the discussion around this particular project, the plant manager asked, “So are we still seeing benefits from that project?”  At that point the quality manager left the conference room and looked at the current Pareto chart for the assembly area in question.  When he came back into the conference room, the quality manager reported, “The defect is no longer on the Pareto chart, which means it’s no longer in our top twenty defects for the assembly area.”

The above case reminded me of what Six Sigma and its DMAIC process are all about:  lasting success.

I thought back on the project and remembered how it was almost guaranteed to be a success from the start, based on a few vital factors:

A Motivated Project Leader

In this case our project leader had a high school education and was trained in the basics of the DMAIC methodology.  This training was essential for keeping her on a successful path, and her personal drive to make a difference was equally important.    There were many obstacles along the way, including data collection and obtaining support from engineers and mechanics, and the project leader’s tenacity pushed through all of these barriers.


The management team had solid quality metrics in place for the shop floor, and was confident that this project was worth supporting.  When it came time to request capital funds for equipment upgrades, the financial justification was easy, thanks to the metrics that were in place.

Management Support

This is the single most important factor in continuous improvement.  In this case, the plant team set up bi-weekly project reviews with all of the Six Sigma project leaders, and also invited the engineers and technicians that are typically so essential in identifying/implementing solutions.  As a result, the shop floor auditor who led this project received full support during and between meetings.

My plant visits were a refreshing reminder that Six Sigma projects, when actively supported by the management team and led by capable individuals, yield tremendous results.  In this particular case, our auditor/project leader realized a savings level of slightly more than ten times her salary on this one project.