Four lessons from our research stand out.
First, the extended involvement of a Six Sigma or other improvement expert is required if teams are to remain motivated, continue learning and maintain gains.
If the cost of assigning an improvement expert to each team on a full-time basis is prohibitive, one improvement expert could be assigned on a part-time basis to several teams for an extended period of one to two years. Later, managers could be trained to take over that role.
Second, performance appraisals need to be tied to successful implementation of improvement projects.
Studies point out that raises, even in small amounts, can motivate team members to embrace new, better work practices. Without such incentives, employees often regress to their old ways of working once the initial enthusiasm for Six Sigma dies down.
Third, improvement teams should have no more than six to nine members, and the timeline for launching a project should be no longer than six to eight weeks.
The bigger the team, the greater the chance members will have competing interests and the harder it will be for them to agree on goals, especially after the improvement expert has moved on to a new project. And the longer it takes to implement improvements, the greater the chance people and resources will be diverted to other efforts.
Fourth, executives need to directly participate in improvement projects, not just “support” them.
Because it was in his best interests, the director in charge of the improvement projects at the aerospace company created the illusion that everything was great by communicating only about projects that were yielding excellent results. By observing the successes and failures of improvement programs firsthand, rather than relying on someone else’s interpretation, executive can make more accurate assessments as to which ones are worth continuing.
Dr. Chakravorty is the Caraustar professor of operations management at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA.
The above article content © copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.