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Ten Top Tips for Successful Lean and Six Sigma Implementation – RiverRhee Consulting – February 2011

RiverRhee Consulting1 has several conference engagements and workshops on Lean and Six Sigma coming up in the next weeks/months, together with some recent and forthcoming publications on this theme, so we thought it would be timely to share with you some of the top tips for implementing Lean and Six Sigma that we will be discussing.

1. Effective Lean and Six Sigma implementation is about behaviour as much as the tools

Elisabeth Goodman, Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, is part way through reading ‘Influencer’2: VitalSmart’s insightful overview about how to successfully implement change.  Like VitalSmart, we believe that changing behaviour is central to effective implementation of change.  For Lean and Six Sigma, a key behavioural change is people’s willingness to relentlessly address problems as they arise, rather than simply work around them.  This is one of the core competencies that RiverRhee Consulting has been coaching one of its clients on through a series of improvement projects. Once people have committed to changing their behaviour in this way, then the tools come into their own. Without this change in behaviour, training in Lean and Six Sigma tools is simply academic.

2. Integrate Lean and Six Sigma into organisational strategy and core methodologies

As delegates attending Elisabeth Goodman’s presentation at IQPC’s ‘Business Process Excellence in Pharmaceutical, Biotech and Medical Devices’3 conference will learn in April, Lean and Six Sigma implementation will be at its most effective when integrated into the organisation’s strategy and goals.  Without that, it will just be another initiative with an associated short-term life.  What’s more, if an organisation has a core methodology which is integral to its way of working, then integrating Lean and Six Sigma into that will also increase it’s chances of success.  This is a theme that Elisabeth Goodman, and RiverRhee Consulting Associate John Riddell will be exploring in a workshop with the APM (Association for Project Management) that is being scheduled for the spring.

3. Make sure all leaders and managers are engaged with, supporting and reinforcing Lean and Six Sigma

Although it can be tempting to start applying Lean and Six Sigma in a bottom-up approach, our experience is that it is well-worth the effort to engage middle and senior managers. Not only will their engagement facilitate the implementation of ideas and improvements, but, by modeling and reinforcing associated behaviours, they will cause an exponential adoption of similar behaviours by others.  Without the engagement of middle and senior management, adoption of Lean and Six Sigma will flounder and die.

4. Start with some Lean and Six Sigma champions to lead the way and show how it will work

In any organisation, there will be some people who are more eager to explore new ideas and ways of working than others.  Rather than spend a lot of time and energy at this stage trying to convince the skeptics, we’ve found it best to start with a handful of people who will help to lead the way in exploring how Lean and Six Sigma can bring benefits to their work.  Others will become curious about what their peers have been doing, and the word can then start to spread through the champions’ internal networks.

5. Start with some high profile and quick win Lean and Six Sigma projects

This point builds on the earlier ones.  Pick early projects that support the organisation’s strategies, are endorsed by middle and senior management, are led by champions, address something that people care passionately about and will bring some early tangible results.  Our 1-day UKeIG ‘Getting Better at Everything You Do’4 workshop for Library and Information Professionals, helps people to identify just these kinds of improvement opportunities.

6. Recognise that people will have different styles and preferences in their adoption of Lean and Six Sigma

Elisabeth Goodman is part-way through her MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) accreditation and it has confirmed our experience so far that people will take to the Lean and Six Sigma tools and approaches in different ways.  For example, some will enjoy the clearly structured step-by-step DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) approach, others will want to make more use of their intuition or of their creativity. Elisabeth has summarized many of her earlier blogs on this topic in the recently published “How people (individuals) are integral to business process improvement”5 See also her most recent blog on intuition and Lean Six Sigma6.

7. Recognise that organisations will have cultural differences in their adoption of Lean and Six Sigma

Each organisation has its own distinct culture and our experience is that cultures will differ between countries (we have experience in the US, UK and France in particular) and between different kinds of organisations (e.g. international vs. local, corporate vs. small or medium, private vs. public or government).  So we’ve found it important to try to put aside assumptions about how Lean and Six Sigma will be adopted and certainly to avoid using the ‘jargon’ unless this is what an organisation wants, and look for ways again to integrate with the language that the organisation uses.

8. Encourage your organisation to keep records and measures of impact and benefits of Lean and Six Sigma projects, and to prioritise them accordingly

Once people start realizing the power of Lean and Six Sigma, there can be a rapid proliferation of improvement projects.  We’ve found it important to work with middle and senior managers to prioritise these projects and assessing the potential strategic benefits of the projects can help with this.  We encourage participants to define measures (both tangible and intangible) to monitor the actual impact of their improvements, and also to keep a central record that again will help with the wider communication to the organisation.

9. Ensure that there is ongoing communication to engage the wider organisational community in Lean and Six Sigma

Our experience is that there can never be enough communication, and that this needs to be in as many different forms as possible to ensure that people a) receive the communication (see it, hear it etc.) and b) absorb it in a way that will lead them to either reflect or act upon it.  Small group, face-to-face communication with opportunities for discussion always seem to be more effective for example than mass e-mail communications. Our clients have also used local displays with updates on work in progress and visual summaries of forward plans or targets to be achieved as a way to help with engagement.

10. Create Communities of Practice and other knowledge sharing approaches to help sustain Lean and Six Sigma in your organisation

This last theme is one that we will be exploring in our pre-conference workshop for IQPC in April3, and also one that Elisabeth Goodman will be speaking about at IQPC’s SmartLabs7 conference in Berlin.  Knowledge Management techniques have a lot to offer Lean and Six Sigma practitioners to learn from each other’s experience, continuously improve their skills in applying the principles and tools and generally sustain the application of Lean and Six Sigma in their organisations.

If you have any views on this newsletter, do let us know.  And if you enjoyed it, feel free to pass it on to others, and/or sign-up to make sure you don’t miss future issues on https://riverrheeconsulting.wordpress.com


  1. RiverRhee Consulting enhances team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting (http://www.riverrhee.com), and about Elisabeth Goodman (http://www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethgoodman) and John Riddell (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/johnriddell)
  2. Influencer – The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson et al, McGraw Hill, 2008
  3. Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, 6th-8th April, London (running workshop and presenting) http://www.bpe-pharma.com/
  4. ‘Getting Better at Everything you Do’ UKeIG course, Tues 28th June 2011, Birmingham, UK
  5. How people (individuals) are integral to business process improvement In: Supply Chain Management in the Drug Industry: Delivering Patient Value for Pharmaceuticals and Biologics, by Hedley Rees, Wiley, 2011 pp. 372-376
  6. Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma (Part 2 of 3 blogs)
  7. SmartLabs Exchange, Berlin 28 Feb – 2 March 2011 Creating the right Knowledge Ecosystem to drive Operational Excellence http://ow.ly/3VNVE
  8. Readers may also be interested in: Lean and Six Sigma in R&D and Service Delivery – opportunities and challenges; Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners; and High performing organisations: interweaving process improvement, knowledge management and change management.

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