Why do most Lean Six Sigma Projects fail?

Why do most Lean Six Sigma Projects fail?


Just saying the word makes us cringe. In our personal or professional lives, we`ve probably suffered through and overcame at least a couple of failures. But when it comes to Lean Six Sigma projects, there’s really nothing worse than having the entire project fail. Sometimes these projects can last months, involve a large project team, and cost companies a hefty amount of money. It can be disturbing for all involved to know that the project failed — for whatsoever the reason is.

AIG always speaks to it`s customers and practitioners in the field to better understand how they’re structuring and completing their projects, what tools they’re using, what challenges and roadblocks they come across and more importantly how are those roadblocks dealt with. AIG came across two common reasons for not being able to complete a project successfully.Those are:-

  • Solution recommended in improve phase was never even implemented.
  • There was a significant lack of communication within and between teams.   

After some drilling, we came up with 3 reasons that why proposed solution was not implemented and why there was lack of communication.

The most common reason was that the process owner was not involved in the project from the start. If teams consider the way that many quality improvement or Lean Six-Sigma initiatives are structured— with a separate quality improvement team or department responsible for completing and actually “owning” projects taking place all over the company,— it’s easy to see how a process owner could be left out of a project from time to time. Maybe the process owner is extremely occupied with the day job, and has little time to devote to the project team. Or maybe for various reasons the process owner isn’t interested in the project. Maybe the process owner wants to take charge of the process and find a solution by themselves, or maybe the project team responsible for making the process more efficient could streamline the process so much that the process owner could lose his job? These could all be reasons why the process owner never implemented the solution.

The second reason for solutions never being implemented was because the project team followed the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC methodology, but only completed the Define, Measure, and Analyze phases, and never actually made it to the improve or control phases. In other words, they handed off the project after completing the “DMA” of DMAIC, and expected the process owner to take care of the “I” and “C.”

The third reason for solutions never being implemented was because after the project team did all the work and designed the new processor even proposed some improvement solutions, and shared it with upper-level management who said something along the lines of, “This is not what we expected.” Management might nix a project solution if it’s too complex, expensive, or simply because it’s not the solution they would have come up with themselves.

How can you keep this from happening to you and your Lean Six Sigma project team?

It might seem pretty simple and obvious, but one thing you can do is to create a thorough project charter at the outset of each project. A project charter is a document, usually completed during the define phase, that answers these basic questions:

  • Why is this project important?
  • Who is responsible for the success of this project?
  • What are the expected benefits of this project?
  • What are the measurable aspects of the project success?
  • When should the expected benefits begin to accrue, and for how long?
  • Where are improvement efforts being focused?

The information in a project charter is critical for obtaining leadership commitment to provide the necessary resources for completing the project. Mostly it serves as the approval from management to move forward or it can also be considered as a sales pitch of our Lean Six Sigma Project. A project charter is one of the principle communication tools for all project stakeholders, so it’s important that it is made carefully and concisely, as well as updated with changes that may arise as the project progresses.

Remember, it is important to include process owners from the start, because they are usually the people responsible for implementing the solution that a Lean Six Sigma team recommends. If you do a thorough job on your project charter, you should be able to avoid some of the issues above, and be on your way to completing a successful project.