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The greatest challenge with six sigma is not in the way it is designed, but in the way it is implemented. Six sigma is a powerful, flexible approach to maximizing process quality and customer satisfaction, but recognizing its full potential takes some work. Systemic barriers in the organization that surrounds any change effort as well as the assumptions and prejudices about the application of six sigma can offset its potential strengths. Overcoming these challenges takes structure, discipline, and a strong implementation model that both recognizes the barriers and directly addresses them.

Williams Alliance did not create six sigma; we specialize in making it stronger and more vital for our client organizations.

The four challenges that hinder most organizations from getting the full potential of six sigma are:

  1. The organization chart itself. Six sigma and its projects are implemented within the functional silos used to manage, control and direct. Projects are launched in relative isolation to one another. "Boundaryless improvement" sounds good, but it takes more than slogans and a few cross-functional projects to make it reality.
  2. Skip-delegation; middle management has long been declared a roadblock to change. Avoidance, and removal have been the common responses. In six sigma they are relegated to team leadership positions. The results are the same; mid-level managers are marginalized. They are expected to meet production budgets while their employees are given a new priority; one they are ordered to support but have no ownership in.
  3. Lack of focus; one frustrated CEO put it this way: "We have a lot of team projects working, we put a lot of time into it. Many of them proclaim major measurable gains. But we never see results against the company's strategic goals or our bottom line. It's very frustrating." Lack of focus looks like a lot of teams working very hard, learning and applying six sigma tools and methods, lots of small victories, but still winning the battles never seems to add up to winning the war.
  4. Segmentation; we manage and implement six sigma within the organization chart, but an organizations key products and services are produced and/or delivered via processes, large cross-functional processes. Project teams work within relative isolation, reporting up to the executive team, but out of contact with each other. Suboptimization takes over, projects make some measurable improvements to pieces of these processes but the whole does not improve.
  5. Resource management; change consumes resources, large scale change consumes resources big time. Resources are always limited. Managing and focusing them to projects most likely to succeed, and to get the most results from the resources committed is not an integral part of most six sigma implementation efforts.

Our approach:

  • Start carefully and realistically at the top, to educate senior managers on what six sigma requires from them and their organization in order to really deliver the needed results
  • Align priorities, educate middle managers on their roles and responsibilities (and they have key ones)
  • Directly involve middle managers in major projects, not just as team leaders but as knowledge creators, analysts, communicators, and leaders
  • Focus and manage large scale change efforts, in order to act where and when priorities and resources will best offer success and where successes will best add up to strategic victories.
  • Take the time to ensure that changes can become permanent
  • Spread and expand from there
  • Move as quickly as understanding allows


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