The No. 1 Reason Why Continuous Improvement Projects Fail

In a previous article I wrote about the reasons why so many lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, and other improvement programs fail. In this article I’m going to expand on reason No. 1: the Academy Award Syndrome.


Academy Award Syndrome

The Academy Award Syndrome is where a program or project is launched to much fanfare, ceremony, and expense, but six months later all that remains is a bunch of faded posters on the wall, boxes of expensive and unused workbooks, and an even more cynical and jaded bunch of employees than we had before.

In our society we are generally becoming more cynical. We are certainly overwhelmed with the launches of new initiatives from our politicians, from companies that are trying to sell us new products, and the daily media cycle that supports these launches.

Within a company our new project or initiative that we are all enthusiastic about is probably not the first that has ever occurred. If previous initiatives have been launched and then abandoned, our employees can be very cynical, and this can cripple our program.

When we launch a big initiative in the textbook way, as prescribed in many books written about the Toyota Production System, we have top management announce it to show their commitment. We have training, we have posters, T-shirts, lunches, and videos. I’m not kidding here; I have seen it happen, sadly more than once.

Two distinct effects are produced

1. A lot of time and money is spent designing the right T-shirt, video, and poster, so that all the brand themes are consistent and cultural subtleties about appropriate colors are observed. The list of ways to paralyze the program before it begins is long. The knock-on effects are to delay the start of the program, spend money before we have made it, and frustrate the people who ultimately have to do the work to make it all happen. Meanwhile your focused, effective competitor is six months further down the track, and you have not even organized the kick off BBQ!

2. Your employees having seen improvement programs come and go like the four seasons, can adopt the following behaviors:
• Sit back and wait to see if this thing will die the same way as all the others.
• Actively resist just to be proven right.
• Have a negative perception about the project before it has started.

All of these things spell death!

What do we do differently?

The effect we want to generate is a change in behaviors that quickly produce improved results. That’s it! Then we want to repeat that effect every hour, every, day, forever.

We start by just introducing one or two changes in how we work, staying focused on those changes until we see the effects we want to see appear. Then we introduce a few more, and a few more.

The point here is that we go about this in a low-key, results-focused, and supportive fashion.

The ultimate compliment you can be paid is when one of your people says something like, “Production, quality, safety, and housekeeping just seem different, better, cleaner, quieter. Not sure what is happening differently.”

Actors collect their Academy Awards after the movie is released successfully. We should do the same.

Comments are welcome and encouraged.

In my next article I will deal with the No. 2 reason why lean manufacturing and Six Sigma projects fail to deliver a spectacular return on investment: the Magic Wand Disease.



Ten years ago today, quality improvement lost one of its most important pioneers.

Joseph Juran, the famed author and quality improvement expert, died February 28, 2008. At the age of 103, Juran had single-handedly done more to create the foundation for modern process and quality improvement methods than any other person.

His contributions came in many forms.

Juran took the Pareto Principle – the top 20% of any country’s population accounts for 80% of its economy – and translated it into business. He developed the Juran Trilogy that addressed the planning, control and improvement of quality in products. He completely upended the traditional early 20th century approaches to making operations more efficient.

Juran’s Background

Quality planning consists of developing the products and processes required to meet customer’s needs.”

 Born in Romania in 1904, Juran immigrated to the United States when he was eight. His family settled in Minneapolis, Minn. Juran did well in math in school and became an expert chess player. After high school graduation, he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota.

He worked at Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works, eventually moving into Bell Lab’s statistic-driven quality control department. His job involved working with a team that tested quality improvement innovations. This early work essentially set the course of his life.

In the 1930s, he rose to the position of chief of industrial engineering. He also earned a law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, but never practiced.

During World War II, Juran worked for the government’s Lend-Lease Administration, focused on streamlining shipment processes. But, more importantly, during this time he came across the works of 18th century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto’s Principle

“The vital few and the trivial many.”

By the time Juran had left regular office work to become a consultant on quality improvement, he had developed a theory that Pareto’s 80/20 principle could be applied to any organization’s operation.

For example, he argued that most defects are the result of a small percentage of the causes of all defects, according to the Economist. For another, 20% of a team’s members are going to make up 80% of a project’s successful results. And 20% of a businesses’ customers will create 80% of the profit.Pareto Principle

Juran felt organizations, armed with that knowledge, would focus less on meaningless minutiae and more on identifying the 20%. That means eliminating the 20% of mistakes causing the majority of defects, rewarding the 20% of employees causing 80% of the success and serving the 20% of loyal customers that drive sales.

In a way, Pareto’s Principle puts numbers to the idea that in business, as in life, things are not evenly distributed. Pareto was studying land ownership in Switzerland. But Juran saw that it applied to business, as well.

A Focus on People

“It is most important that top management be quality-minded. In the absence of sincere manifestation of interest at the top, little will happen below.”

Despite his expert knowledge in math and statistics, Juran emphasized people. He learned early on that the biggest roadblock to process improvement is not the tools of the trade, but rather the need to make a cultural shift among the people involved.

That started at the top. Juran felt a major impediment to quality improvement is a disengaged upper managementset in its current ways.

As usual, the highly quotable Juran summed up the situation well. In addition to the quote at the start of this section, Juran also had this to say about the need for leadership at the top of an organization:

“Observing many companies in action, I am unable to point to a single instance in which stunning results were gotten without the active and personal leadership of the upper managers.”

Juran Trilogy

“Goal setting has traditionally been based on past performance. This practice has tended to perpetuate the sins of the past.”

In his focus on people and how they work in processes, Juran took a different approach than others working in the growing quality improvement field. In doing so, he completely changed how companies looked at reducing inefficiencies.

Juran found the hidden costs in how companies tended to deal with defects. In the early 20th century, that often meant dealing with the issue after it had occurred rather than focusing time and money on making quality improvements to keep defects from happening.

He also felt that the resulting poor product quality cost companies more than they fully accounted for, including damage to a company’s reputation that led to a loss of customers.

He also advocated for creating operations that ran efficiently without the need for costly inspections.

He developed the Juran Trilogy, which involved three principal areas:

Quality planning – This involves identifying your customers, determining their needs and developing products that respond to their needs.

Quality improvement – Develop a process to create the product and then optimize that process.

Quality control – Create a process that can operate under minimal inspection.

The Juran Trilogy was formally published in 1986 and quickly became established as a must-read for those involved with quality improvement around the world.

Visit To Japan

“All improvement happens project by project and in no other way.”

In 1954, Juran made a trip that literally changed quality and process improvement forever. He spoke to business leaders in Japan about his ideas on quality improvement and control. While he had done this in other places, the Japanese took his message much more seriously.

In the subsequent years, Japanese business leaders developed the ideas that led to Six Sigma and Lean. They instituted process improvement methodologies that have since been copied around the world. While these Japanese leaders deserve the credit for developing these ideas, Juran also deserves credit for sparking the ideas.

Over the years, Juran also wrote books. Further insight into his ideas can be found in the pages of the “Quality Control Handbook,” “Juran’s Quality Handbook” and “Managerial Breakthrough: A New Concept of the Manager’s Job.”

In 1979, Juran established the Juran Institute in Connecticut. The institute is a training, certification and consulting company that focuses on quality management, including Lean and Six Sigma.

One of the best quotes about Juran comes from Joseph De Feo, the CEO of the Juran Institute, upon Juran’s death. He said: “Dr. Juran recently told me that he wanted everyone to know he had a wonderful life and hoped that his contributions to improving the quality of our society will be remembered.”

Of that, there is little doubt.


At some point in the last decade, employers around the world turned the corner when it came to project management. The time when project managers were a luxury and not a necessity seems a distant memory.

A new salary survey of those working in project in management reflects the emphasis organizations – private, nonprofit and governmental – have put on project management.

A large majority – 70%  – of project management professionals surveyed in the 2018 Project Management Salary Survey conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) reported an increase in salary the previous 12 months.

The survey also shows the impact of earning Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification. PMP®-certified project managers reported salaries that were, on average, 23% higher than those without PMP® certification across the 37 countries included in the survey.

Higher Salary Potential

To gather information on current salary levels in project management, PMI® surveyed 33,000 project management workers around the world. While 37 countries are included, about a third of all respondents work in the United States.

PMI segmented project management workers into eight different job descriptions, ranging from entry-level positions to senior executives in project management. They also asked respondents to report their education level, industry, size of company and whether they had earned PMP® certification.

With all figures expressed in U.S. dollars based on current exchange rates, the 10 countries with the highest median salary for project management professionals are:

  • Switzerland – $130,966
  • United States – $112,000
  • Australia – $108,593
  • Germany – $88,449
  • Netherlands – $86,292
  • United Arab Emirates – $84,930
  • New Zealand – $84,480
  • Qatar – $82,314
  • United Kingdom – $81,227
  • Belgium – $78,035

In the United States, only 22% of project management professionals reported that they their salaries remained the same or decreased (just 3% decreased). The other 78% saw gains, with 29% reporting an increase between 1% and 2.9% and 18% reporting gains of 3% to 3.9%.

Salaries varied widely by position. At the top end are those working as the director of a project management office. They earned a median salary of $141,000. For those at the project manager level, salaries were segmented into three tiers: project manager I ($87,426); project manager II ($96,500) and project manager III ($110,000).

Certification Impact

Across all job descriptions and in almost all countries, having PMP® certification corresponded with a higher salary. The lone exception in all the 37 countries surveyed was China.

PMP® holders also reported that, as expected, years of experience led to higher pay. But they also reported having higher median salaries with PMP® certification across all years of experience.

In the U.S. alone, the median salary for PMP® holders was 25% more than those without. In South Africa, the difference was a staggering 58%.

The importance of certification is shown in those findings. And that’s important to know for those who work in project management as both demand and competition ramps up in the profession.

How big is the demand for skilled project management professionals? Over the next decade, organizations will need 88 million people to work in project management roles, the study found.

Or, to look at it another way, the 2017 Project Management Job Growth and Skills Gap report found that 2.2 million new project-oriented employees will be needed each year through 2027.


The healthcare industry, which faces more financial and regulatory pressure than ever before, is a prime target for the application of Six Sigma methodology.

Many leaders within healthcare are beginning to see the improvements the methodology can bring to their operations. A recent example comes from South Florida, where a cancer center at the University of Miami has seen positive results from implementing Six Sigma.

The initiative has not only made short-term gains, but also instituted a new long-term outlook at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the university’s Miller School of Medicine.

Lauren Gjolaj, MBA, BSN, RN and director of clinical operations at the center, told Oncology Nursing News that Six Sigma has not only helped fix current problems but also created “long-term, sustainable solutions.”

She added that “creating collaborative solutions that make it better for everyone are the keys to success.”

Oncology Nursing Challenges

Gjolaj is an oncology nurse, a profession that offers both rewards and challenges.

Nurses who work in oncology have a close relationship with cancer patients, as well as their families and caregivers. In addition to providing treatment for patients, they educate them on managing their condition. The job also requires a healthy dose of support and encouragement for those facing one of the toughest times of their lives.Oncology nurse

They also must frequently monitor a patient’s conditions and coordinate their cancer treatments. They typically serve as the “middle person” between patients and doctors, relaying information between the two.

One of the key issues with cancer patients is that they face sudden, potentially life-threatening events. Prompt medical treatment can often mean the difference between life and death. One of the areas where improvements can be made is cutting down the wait times for cancer patients who arrive at a hospital with neutropenic fever.

That’s why Gjolaj and her team focused on this area, applying Six Sigma tools and techniques.

Cutting Down Intervention Time

Six Sigma tools such as the Five Whys help organizations identify areas where errors are occurring in a process and then perform root cause analysis to find what needs to be changed or eliminated. The team in South Florida followed a similar path.

They focused on cutting down the time it took between patients with neutropenic fever entering an emergency unit and getting intravenous antibiotics. The project required a collaborative effort from people in many different departments. But eventually a systematic, Six Sigma-driven approach paid off.

The center first gave patients a neutropenic fever alert card that they could present to medical workers when they entered the hospital. They also added a question on the emergency room sign-in sheet to give patients an opportunity to identify neutropenic fever.

They then formed a neutropenic fever alert system and created a team to quickly respond when such a patient was identified.

Gjolaj credits the changes with saving hundreds of lives. The team that created the system also won two awards: Overall Showcase and Greatest Customer Impact at the 2017 Florida Sterling Conference Team Showcase competition.

Cutting Wait Times

The University of Miami medical team used the same approach when addressing long wait times in oncology units.

They cut the wait time for laboratory results by 53% and overall wait time by 26%. The results: more satisfied patients.

Gjolaj said breaking the silos that exist in so many organizations is one of the keys to success with Six Sigma. She offered some tips on how to approach process improvement in healthcare, including:

  • Picking a change that will impact patients
  • Mapping out the process
  • Getting input from the customers and stakeholders
  • Forming teams with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives
  • Defining clearly what you want to improve
  • Defining clearly the steps you need to take
  • Completing the steps and track the results, making changes as needed

The success at the University of Miami cancer center is one among many in recent years involving healthcare and Six Sigma.

Healthcare and Six Sigma

A recent study from HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience Survey reported that 87% of healthcare organizations that implemented process improvements saw major improvements in scores given to them by patients.

One example of this is from Boston-based Shields Healthcare Group, which used Six Sigma practices in developing a healthcare software system that works across different departments, facilitates communication and meets the different needs of departments within a medical operation.

In an environment with more regulation and financial pressures, healthcare organizations are increasingly finding that process improvement and Six Sigma are helping them not only survive, but thrive.

Gjolaj has become a believer not only in using Six Sigma at the cancer center, but in sharing its best practices among other healthcare organizations. She said, “I would like to continue to spread awareness and share our best practices with the other cancer centers and hospitals to expand the lives saved.”

Voice of the Customer (VOC): Because Your Customer Is Your Top Priority

Have you ever been on websites such as Yelp, Google, or HomeAdvisor? Well, these websites are all fall under the umbrella of VOC, or Voice of the Customer. This is how important VOC has become to future consumers. Unfortunately, you don’t want to find out that your business doesn’t add up by looking on Yelp or any of these sites, because once your business earns a bad name, it can be very difficult to gain back your reputation. A bad review is hard to forgive by future customers.

More Conventional VOC

Here are a few more traditional versions of VOC you are probably familiar with.

Surveys: Send out a small survey to your existing customers or even potential new customers. This is very cost effective, but unfortunately many won’t take the survey.

Market Research: These can be focus groups you can conduct or one-on-one interviews done in person or on the phone. If you have ever been at the receiving end of a quick interview, you know that feeling of wanting to get away. It is for that reason this has some weaknesses. Focus groups are excellent, as people are usually paid for it so they will answer questions, but answers might be too general.

Direct Customer Comments: This could be in the form of emails, letters, calls or customer ratings from websites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor or any of the 3rd party websites. These are usually the best because the ratings are from actual customers that have used your product or service.

Always remember, the very core of Six Sigma methodology is keeping your customers satisfied. They are why you are in business, and should always be a top priority to your business.

Why do you think you often hear this at the end of your flight? “We realize you have your choice of airlines, and so we thank you for flying XYZ Airlines.” Your customer is your business, without customers you don’t have a business.

Critical to Quality (CTQ) is in the Six Sigma DNA

Critical to Quality, or CTQ, is a very important tool when designing a new product or service for your business. CTQs are the measurable data that is needed on a product or service that your customers have specified as being a very important requirement.

The reason for this? CTQs will dictate the processes involved, the risks, and just about everything that goes into the designing and manufacturing of the product or creating the service.

The need to establish CTQs is at the core of why you are in business. In other words, it is extremely important. This information will make sure your business will stay at the top, because what your customer deems as important key requirements are being met.

One tool that is crucial in defining the CTQs that are important is the QFD (Quality Function Deployment). This tool is a template that helps prioritize the processes of the product or service to best meet the customer’s needs.

Basic Steps Needed in CTQ 

  1. Identify who your customers are
  2. Collect VOC (Voice of the Customer) data
  3. Analyze the VOC data that you collected
  4. Create a list of CTQ requirements
  5. Pick one CTQ requirement and make a CTQ tree* for that particular one

*Note: A CTQ tree is a tool that can help prioritizing non-specific customer requirements precise requirements. A separate CTQ tree must be done for each CTQ requirement.

Remember that collecting more data will make this process more valuable, mainly because you will be able to predict risks and other factors with accuracy and be able to address them.

We can’t stress the importance to customer satisfaction enough — this at the very core of the Six Sigma philosophy.

Process Improvement in the Age of Smart Manufacturing

Process improvement projects have typically been a labor-intensive and imprecise process. Labor-intensive in that capturing the as-designed vs the actual current-state process required facilitated meetings, interviews, surveys and analyzing operational data over an extended time period. Imprecise in that workers will typically act differently when they know they are being watched and measured. The Hawthorne effect was first described over 50 years ago and predicts that workers will typically improve a process while being observed as part of a process improvement project, but will revert to their pre-project behavior once the project has ended and the observers departed.

In my experience of running dozens of process improvement projects over a 30-year period, sustaining improvements is always the most daunting challenge.

  • Six Sigma practitioners will admit that the final control phase of the five step DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) process is its weakest link. The reason is pretty obvious. Six Sigma projects have a beginning, middle, and end. Even though the Control phase is designed to include the business owner taking responsibly for sustaining the project, little is in place to monitor the sustainability of the improvements.
  • Lean advocates a continuous improvement process designed to overcome the problems with a project-based approach, but the Hawthorne effect is very much in play limiting the sustainability of improvements.
  • A common problem with all continuous improvement initiatives is the very dynamic nature of today’s business environment with ever shrinking product life cycles, and rapid developments in automation, mergers and acquisitions. The result is the improved process may become obsolete in a matter of months.

Now consider the new age of process improvement with “smart manufacturing.” Much has been written about the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) creating significant opportunities to capture operational data from machines and equipment. While this will assist in improving processes, it is limited to reading machine metrics, with few insights into how people interact with machines and products. It is not well understood that people are a key element to Smart Manufacturing – empowering them with more robust operational information, helping them eliminate bottlenecks and solving tough quality issues.

Adding passive, non-obtrusive, sensor technology to continuously monitor operations – people, machines, and products – provides a much greater opportunity than merely making machines smarter.

Process and Value Stream Maps

  • The Past: Labor-intensive process and value-stream charts only capture a qualitative and subjective snap-shot in time that typically can vary from day-to-day and from person-to-person.
  • The Future: Continuous hard data capture over extended periods using unobtrusive sensors watch the interaction of people with machines and products. The Hawthorne effect is defeated by the subtle nature of the observation tools and their permanent nature.

Gage R&R (Repeatability and Reproducibility)

  • The Past: Gage R&R is most difficult challenge in every process improvement project I’ve tackled because of the major discrepancies from the as-designed process when comparing one person to another and comparing one day to another. The variation typically grows with the complexity of the process and skill level of the people involved.
  • The Future: With continuous monitoring of several people over several days and weeks, all variations are captured for analysis. Best practices, bottlenecks and training opportunities are much more easily discovered.

Sustaining Process Improvements

  • The Past: Because of the labor-intensive, qualitative/subjective and snapshot nature of process improvement efforts, a majority of them fail according to a Wall Street Journal article.
  • The Future: Because monitoring is on-going and not obvious to people, variations from the improved process are easily identified in real-time via alerts and dashboards. There is no need for complex reports or expensive consultants to interpret them.

Associate- Wealth Management Operations

Job Description

Incedo is looking for associate will be responsible for
Wealth reports, effective audit of workflow to ensure accuracy
Conduct proactive audits of various work types and review of exception reports
Work together in a team environment to eliminate/reduce opportunity for errors.
Audit using the companys internal systems as per defined guidelines
Return defective units to operation team for correction
Daily reporting
Other duties and responsibilities as assigned

At least 1-6 years of Auditing experience (Preferably in Financial Industry)
Strong communication and organizational skills, detail oriented, self-motivated, high-energy, and self-directed problem solver, with an execution focus
Ability to resolve problems through root cause analysis
Financial and operational acumen
Ability to read, interpret and comprehend financial documents
Working knowledge of Microsoft Office
Demonstrate a structured and methodical approach
Process improvement and commitment to quality mindset
Flexible and open to multiple shifts

Six Sigma certification (nice to have)

Interested candidates need to send resume on or call on 0124-4345928/ 8076549674

Salary: Not Disclosed by Recruiter
Industry: Banking / Financial Services / Broking
Functional Area: Financial Services, Banking, Investments, Insurance
Role Category: Operations/Processes/Finance/Legal
Role: Operations Officer
Employment Type: Permanent Job, Full Time
Keyskills: Operations Management, Process Improvement, Six Sigma Certified, Root Cause Analysis, Operation Team, Wealth Management, Problem Solving, MS Office, wealth reports.

Spring Cleaning Fancies Lean Six Sigma 5S

There is something awe-aspiring about having a home and garage that is neat and clean. It goes beyond having a beautiful or expensive home; it actually brings more value to who you are as an individual or a family. As an individual, it says you take pride in your home, and as a family it says we are all working together in harmony.

Luckily, Six Sigma has a magic tool to help you achieve a clean, well-organized household. It is the Lean 5S tool.


The Ease of The 5S Tool Applied to the Home

Here’s a quick breakdown of the 5S tool as applied to your home:

Sort (Seiri): Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, so choose one small area at a time to tackle. Choose an area that has been particularly bothersome and start. Let’s take your home office. Label three separate boxes Trash, Donate, and Give away.

Categorize anything you haven’t used in the last couple of years or don’t have an interest in, such as old fax machines, books on topics that don’t interest you, old cellphone cables…you get the idea. Also categorize any paperwork that doesn’t serve you any longer (mainly because of online and internet storage). This excludes tax returns for the last seven years — those you must keep in a safe place!

Straighten (Seiton): Organize the items you have decided to keep in such as way that the frequently needed items are easily obtained. For example, keep trays for:

  • Unpaid Bills
  • Paid Bills
  • Important to Remember — You can use a fill-in calendar to accompany the important to remember tray.

Shine (Seiso): Clean, dust, and organize so that the easy to get items are easily obtainable and everyone can see where they are located. This will eliminate the waste of buying something over again.

Standardize (Seiketsu): This Lean Six Sigma tool works great in a garage, where storage takes place. Many times, the garage is where you store items not frequently needed, so until you really need them, they are buried and hard to get. This Lean SS tool could be used to have a more efficient and effective way of location placement of such an item.

Sustain (Shitsuke): Everyone in the family is held accountable for maintenance. This could include the once-a-month chore of making sure all items are well organized and in their place. The Sustain part of the Lean SS tool is easy as long as there is consistency in the chore.

Inspired yet? For more information on our Six Sigma training courses or services please visit

Introducing Agile Sigma

When it comes to selecting the “right” business process improvement methodology, many CEOs, CIOs and COOs have a wide array of options available including Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma and ISO9000. The selection process then typically focuses on evaluating business drivers and deciding on an improvement methodology that closely matches their needs to improve business process performance and meet changing customer needs.

That’s where the challenge typically occurs for many executives – to find the methodology that consistently delivers significant impacts for customers and business operations while also doing so nimbly, innovatively and with agility. In other words, business executives today need a business process improvement methodology that enables significant, sustainable and customer-centric process improvement results – quickly and cost effectively.

Business executives feel the need for speed to remain competitive.

Existing Process Improvement Methodologies

To find the right methodology, the evaluation of available options typically includes the widely used approaches listed in Table 1, including pure and hybrid methods that have evolved over time. Specific attributes for each methodology are also listed, for comparison of the various approaches.

Table 1: Widely Used Business Process Improvement Methodologies and Their Attributes

Table 1: Widely Used Business Process Improvement Methodologies and Their Attributes

While Six Sigma programs have consistently delivered significant, sustainable and financially accountable results, the methodology is known as being “too slow” and “too stodgy” as well as relatively expensive to implement and grow. Further, Six Sigma improvement projects are typically designed to be one and done – to deliver a singular improvement in the process performance (sigma) level. Six Sigma projects then use controls to maintain and sustain that gain for at least a year, which by definition leaves process optimization opportunities on the table.

In contrast to Six Sigma, Lean principles and techniques have been employed in a variety of business process improvement programs, predominantly in manufacturing to deliver rapid improvements with little investment. Criticisms of lack of sustainability and financial accountability have been leveled at the Lean approach.

Lean Six Sigma is a hybrid approach that evolved as an option to utilize the synergies between the pure Six Sigma approach of reducing process variation and defects with the Lean principles of improving flow and eliminating wastes to improve process performance.

Developing Agile Sigma

The synergies between these two approaches – Agile and Six Sigma – to deliver more value together are apparent. Six Sigma provides significant and sustainable results, but takes too long (typically). On the other hand, Agile is fast and effective, using an iterative Scrum-based improvement approach leveraging team and tribal knowledge to meet users’ needs.

To benefit from that synergy, the best of Six Sigma and Agile have been combined into a single methodology – Agile Sigma. Development of the new methodology began in 2016, and Agile Sigma is now ready to be used by any type of business to improve their processes significantly and quickly to deliver increased value for their customers.

Agile Sigma can enable businesses to deliver improved processes more quickly and effectively.

The new Agile Sigma approach is a four-phase adaptation of the standard five phase Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology – to provide a streamlined process for more efficient execution and results.

Figure 1: Overview of Agile Sigma

Figure 1: Overview of Agile Sigma

The four phases of Agile Sigma as shown in Figure 1 are:

  • Phase 1.0: Assess and plan
  • Phase 2.0: Measure and analyze
  • Phase 3.0: Improve and validate
  • Phase 4.0: Iterate and optimize

Agile Sigma also preserves and includes the most effective attributes of the Six Sigma DMAIC approach, including customer-centric process and metrics analysis, statistical analysis-based decision-making, financial accountability and sustainability of results.

Figure 2: Standard Agile Model

Figure 2: Standard Agile Model

The Agile Sigma method also integrates the Scrum team approach, sprint cycles and iterative process improvement techniques of the standard Agile development method (as shown in Figure 2) to deliver significantly improved processes more rapidly. Agile Sigma uniquely applies the iterative sprint cycle concepts to the Six Sigma project approach, to initially achieve and validate an improved process Sigma level as the first level of improvement (i.e., moving from a baseline of σ0.0 [baseline] to σ1.0 [new improved process performance level]) before transitioning to the Control phase.

After the initial improvement, when most Six Sigma projects would be going for closure, the Agile Sigma team then continues to improve and validate the process iteratively via additional sprints to deliver optimized process performance before closing the project and sustaining the results and financial benefits for 12 months.

The Key Differences

Streamlined Process to Deliver Projects Effectively and Quickly

Agile Sigma streamlines the standard DMAIC approach for process improvement by combining, replacing and refining activities, while also identifying activities that could be accomplished concurrently. In Agile Sigma, iterative team-centric processes are used to improve and validate processes prior to statistical testing. In contrast, on Six Sigma DMAIC projects, large amounts of time and effort are expended by the team to identify, prioritize, collect, analyze and package possible process inputs that may affect the outputs significantly.

Iterative Processes that Leverage Team Expertise and Knowledge for a Quicker Path to Improvements

Agile Sigma uses iterative processes for multiple sprint cycles to deliver improved process performance. Within each sprint cycle, there are iterative Scrum-validation team cycles to enable identifying and using key contributing factors to improve, and then test and validate the improvements. The Scrum and validation teams use their expertise and knowledge via this iterative cycle to improve the process to meet the sprint objectives prior to statistical testing and analysis.

In Agile Sigma, through use of this iterative Scrum-validation team cycle, nested within an iterative sprint cycle, the teams hone in on and “tune” the improvements that make a difference to the users and customers of the process prior to statistical testing and rollout when significance is demonstrated.

Optimizes Processes – Iterate Until Optimized, No One-and-Done Improvements

Once the improvements have been rolled out in a Six Sigma project, the results are maintained and sustained for 12 months to achieve the financial benefits projected based on the initial improvements. One and done. No further improvements are typically implemented once in the Control phase.

In contrast, on an Agile Sigma project, once the initial improvements have been rolled out, then the Scrum and validation teams continue to iterate and optimize the process (in the final project phase) to achieve ever-higher process sigma performance levels (e.g., σ1.1, σ1.2, σ2.0, etc.), iteratively and incrementally to achieve project goals (see Figure 3 below).

Figure 3. Iterative Achievement of Optimized Process Performance (as Measured by Process Sigma Level)

Figure 3. Iterative Achievement of Optimized Process Performance (as Measured by Process Sigma Level)

Existing Process Improvement Methodologies, Including Agile Sigma

With the introduction of Agile Sigma as an option available to business executives, there is now an alternative that provides all the benefits of Six Sigma, while retaining the rapid delivery of benefits attributes of Agile. Agile Sigma offers business executives and managers an option that:

  • Delivers results quickly: Improves processes iteratively, satisfying the need for speed
  • Enables data-driven decision-making based on statistics: You’re making “good” decisions
  • Delights your customers: The methodology, metrics and tools are all customer-centric
  • Provides financial accountability: You’re getting the actual benefits on the books
  • Uses the existing team’s knowledge and expertise: To deliver improvements that matter more quickly

Table 2: Widely Used Business Process Improvement Methodologies and Their Attributes, Including Agile Sigma

Table 2: Widely Used Business Process Improvement Methodologies and Their Attributes, Including Agile Sigma