Before hitting the road with Lean Six Sigma, it is necessary to start the engine. To do this, three vital components are required – a spark, fuel and air.
The spark in an engine delivers electric current from an ignition system to the combustion chamber to ignite the compressed fuel and air. The power of the explosion pumps the pistons and keeps the engine going. The fuel powers the engine and the air provides the component required to ignite it.
You could compare these components to the requirements necessary to make a Lean Six Sigma programme work! The spark is provided by Leaders in the organisation. Their stimulus ignites the system by bringing the other essential components together. This releases the energy and ultimately, the ‘engine’ of Lean Six Sigma is powered and the wheels begin to turn.
The fuel represents the methodology and also the knowledge to apply it. This could come from inside the organisation, from external expertise and input, or from both – external experts used to build the knowledge and capability within the organisation required to make it work.
The air represents the people in the organisation, without whose input nothing will work.
If the leadership spark for Lean Six Sigma isn’t strong enough, it won’t bring the system to life. If on the other hand there is too much heat, the ‘bang’ will be too big and the system could burn out. The spark from leaders needs to be consistent and timely, and it needs to be sustained. In an engine if the spark halts or misses a beat it will stop. In the organisation using Lean Six Sigma there will be the same effect!
Too much fuel can also be problematic, as the system gets ‘flooded’. This is true of Lean Six Sigma deployments. Too much theory and technical jargon can get in the way of practical focus and distract us from the real reason we’re using it – to deliver our goals, be effective, and be efficient. Futhermore, too many ‘external experts’ crowding out the system can have the effect of stifling input from the organisation’s people. Never let Lean Six Sigma get ‘done to you’ – always seek a partner who’ll work collaboratively with you.
If you have driven a vehicle with a manual choke you might recall having to pull out the choke to let more fuel and air into a cold engine. Putting the choke back in too early (reducing the fuel and air) will stop the engine. Withdrawing resource (your experts and your people) from Lean Six Sigma activities too soon can cause the same effect.
Of the three essential elements, air (people!) is the only one that if increased, can increase overall performance. This is called the turbo effect! When the engine is turbo charged it will become more efficient. It doesn’t require any more spark than it already has, and draws just as much fuel as it needs.
Now the engine is running…so let’s go!
This extract is taken from our book, Lean Six Sigma for Leaders.