Your quick step-by-step guide

Gaining support to implement and sustain a continuous improvement program is an oft-voiced concern within organisations. These concerns reflect frustration in both senses of the term – feeling frustrated personally and encountering attitudes that frustrate the effectiveness of the program.

Three sets of skills and methods have shown success in gaining buy-in. They are:

  • Using a proven step-by-step process for leading change.
  • Recognising and overcoming resistance to change.
  • Applying influence principles to engage resistant stakeholders.
  • Step-by-Step Process for Leading Change

Step 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency – Confronting Reality

People tend to feel comfortable with their current situation and naturally resist change – unless there is a good reason for change. The outcome of Step 1 is, in effect, a compelling business case for change. Why is this change necessary? Articulating that compelling reason – the issues with the current reality that drive an individual, a group or a company to drive others – is a critical first step.

For an individual project, the project charter – approved and supported by key stakeholders – can provide this compelling reason, this urgency. For a broader initiative, such as implementing an entire Lean Six Sigma (LSS) program, the substantial effort might be required to identify major issues holding the organisation back, and thus provide compelling motivation for change.

Step 2: Form a Guiding Coalition – Early Stakeholder Engagement

Implementing change by yourself is not only lonely and frustrating – it is also ineffective. It may be appropriate to combine Steps 1 and 2 to form a guiding coalition that shares your sense of urgency and then brainstorm ways to clearly articulate the “burning platform.”

For an individual project, the team is the obvious coalition – with the addition of a management sponsor or

Champion committed to the success of the project. For a LSS program, key stakeholders such as management sponsors or Champions would make a good guiding coalition – especially if the LSS program can be shown to align with achieving their own goals, the organisation’s “must-do’s” going forward. In that sense, the LSS program provides the how for achieving the goals.

Step 3: Define the Vision

Defining the vision for improving a process or developing a new product can be a team-building activity that leads to a vital deliverable: for a smaller-scope project, a compelling business case for the project; for a larger-scope program, the compelling vision that the stakeholders (the guiding coalition) would share with the larger organisation for how the LSS program aligns with achieving the goals of the organisation.

Team building with the guiding coalition is part of the desired outcome, and the development of the vision should involve the stakeholders so that they feel ownership of that defined vision. The vision could include such concepts as doing things right the first time, dramatically reducing new product development time or ensuring that the voice of the customer (VOC) is heard and heeded.

For a smaller-scope project, the vision can initiate and establish the project charter. For a larger-scope project, an effective set of steps for defining the vision could be:

– The senior manager/executive clearly articulates the burning platform. The stakeholders then brainstorm the issues, starting with the issues from Step 1.

– brainstorm keywords, phrases and terms that seem to capture the direction they would like to take.

– Either the team begins to construct a first-pass vision statement, or a stakeholder or a pair of stakeholders volunteer to work on a first draft of the vision statement for the team to review, amend or replace.

– The team reviews, edits, modifies and finalizes the vision. The vision should be easily remembered, brief, clear and compelling – powerful!

Step 4: Communicate the Vision

If the vision has been polished so that it is brief, clear, compelling and easily remembered, then it has fulfilled the first part of the equation: Quality x acceptance = effectiveness

This equation explains that the effectiveness of a proposed change within an organisation depends not only on the quality of the change and the preparation for the change, but also on the receptiveness of the organisation to accepting and even embracing the change.

Some key elements required for communicating a vision well include the following:

– Simplicity

– Analogies and examples

– A variety of media: meetings, memos, lunches, emails and newsletters.

– Some of these allow for a two-way communication, which is more powerful than simply talking “at” people and allows messengers to address questions and concerns.

– Repetition

– Leadership by example. Nothing undercuts a vision like having leaders undercut the message by inconsistent behaviors or snide or counter-message remarks. Even expressions of lukewarm or contingent support undermine the credibility of the message, and subsequently its acceptance. Communicating the vision is a time to show leadership, not hesitancy.

– Addressing of seeming inconsistencies, which otherwise might also undermine the credibility of said vision.

Step 5: Empower Others to Act on the Vision

The term frustration is unusual in that it defines both the symptom and the cause. If people begin to feel frustrated and discouraged, it probably means that something seemingly or actually beyond their control is preventing them – frustrating them – from accomplishing the goals.

The Champion’s role is to help individual project leaders and Lean Six Sigma ‘Belts’ remove roadblocks in their projects.

Step 6: Generate Short-term Wins

Short-term wins help a team in a multitude of ways. They:

– Provide evidence that supports and provides justification for the project or program.

– Deliver a sense of accomplishment.

– Convey helpful feedback for the leadership team.

– Undermine cynics and critics.

– Strengthen support from the managers.

– Help build momentum.

DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) Lean Six Sigma projects lend themselves to low-hanging fruit. They find opportunities for quick wins in the Define and Measure phases through process mapping and the identification of non-value-added activities. Beyond that, team-building activities such as brainstorming and fishbone diagramming can achieve visible, if small-scale, success. From small acorns grow…

Steps 7 and 8: Consolidate Gains and Anchor the New Approach in the Culture

People rise to challenges if they trust that:

– Leaders care about the project.

– The team will be supported.

– Individual successes and the full team’s success will be recognized.

People also feel recognised when they are encouraged to share their successes, through presentations to management and elsewhere within their organisations as well as through presentations to other organisations. Media such as staff meetings, newsletters, bulletin boards, posters and banners can be used to recognize people and teams and celebrate success.


Keith Parsons

Managing Director

Dembridge Lean Six Sigma Training and Consulting

Tel: 0870 034 2203

+44 (0)190 551 3015


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