All Aboard: Lean/Six Sigma is a journey best travelled with change management

By Bill Wilder, Director of the Life Cycle Institute

Lean/Six Sigma is shifting from a singular focus on implementing tools in a value stream, or small portion of it, to integrating lean operating systems throughout the enterprise.

The Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI, observes that new roles are emerging in response to these changes. The first is the individual with experience in lean manufacturing who is the leader for lean across the company. The second is the individual who is assigned the role of lean change agent.

The change agent must be effective in four areas:

  • creating a persuasive case for change
  • gaining commitment and cooperation
  • influencing without power or position
  • mitigating resistance.

Most lean initiatives fail to meet the business objective. The stories of failures because people did not “get on board” are legion. Those lean initiatives that succeed in meeting business goals are those that produce sustained behavior change through the application of a structured change management approach. They get all the people on board for the lean/Six Sigma journey.

The greatest contributors to change management success are identified in the latest study by Prosci (, a change-management research firm. Participants in Prosci’s 2012 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report identified the following factors:

  1. active and visible executive sponsorship
  2. frequent and open communication about the change
  3. a structured change management approach
  4. dedicated change management resources and funding
  5. employee engagement and participation
  6. engagement with and support from middle management.

The value of investing in the “people side” of lean/Six Sigma initiatives is widely acknowledged. At GE, the Change Acceleration Process (CAP) was implemented to accelerate Six Sigma results. In CAP, the formula for success is QxA=E (technical quality times organization acceptance equals effectiveness). Jack Welch is alleged to have stated that 50% of the time should be focused on “A” activities. In the Toyota Way, Jeffrey Liker added an eighth waste, unused employee creativity, to the traditional seven wastes identified by Toyota and targeted by lean principles. The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) now includes this eighth waste.

Lean and Six Sigma projects usually include some investment in tools and processes for managing the people side of change. The most successful lean/Six Sigma initiatives invest in the people side of lean with more than just a few tools or activities. They apply a structured change management approach.
The success in addressing the people side of change has prompted the emergence of the discipline or profession of change management. Change management is the discipline of applying proven, structured tools and processes to overcome the natural resistance to change. By mitigating or even eliminating resistance, projects increase adoption, utilization, and proficiency of the new processes and tools. This drives faster achievement of the desired business results.

In 2010, the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) was formed. This is a global non-profit organization of more than 1,000 change management professionals that is establishing international standards and accreditation for change management professionals. The ACMP serves a role similar to the role that the Project Management Institute (PMI) has served in establishing standards and accreditation for project management professionals.

Project management has long been a recognized and valuable discipline. Today there are more than 500,000 certified project management professionals (PMPs) acknowledged by the PMI, so today we find that it is common to have both a project and change lead on a lean/Six Sigma project.
Common project management approaches include PDCA, the DMAIC model in Six Sigma, ASAP in SAP, or classic project stage gates. Many organizations have established project management offices (PMOs) with well-defined project management governance processes that include stage-gate reviews of project activities and deliverables. For some of you, the organization will already have an established change management process and governance structure. If so, in most cases this will be integrated into the existing project management process.

If your organization does not use a structured project management or change management process, do the research and select one. Most project management methodologies now include some change management and most change management has some reference to project management integration.

There are many change management methodologies and tools. It is important to select a proven, research-based, structured change management approach. Making a choice to implement a structured change management process is a top success factor in those lean initiatives that meet business objectives. So do the research and pick one.

Establish the governance process and stage gates with deliverables and activities. Because this is a lean/Six Sigma project, we will use DMAIC as the project management governance process with a stage-gate review at each step (Figure 1).

DMAICFigure 1. Establish the governance process and stage gates with deliverables and activities.

In each stage, there will be project-management activities and deliverables and change-management activities and deliverables (Figure 2). In enterprise-wide initiatives, these are different people or teams. In smaller initiatives, one person performs both roles.

DMAIC ChartFigure 2. Each stage includes activities and deliverables for project management and change management.

Stage One: Define

In the first stage of the project, develop a business case that defines the business objective. Often this is documented in an A3 format. During this first stage, the change management activity includes several assessments with a deliverable of a change management strategy.

These assessments take place after the change has been defined, at least at a high level. The purpose of the assessments is to determine the level of change management effort required to mitigate the risks. You will assess the scope of the changes and the change experience for impacted groups. An evaluation of the sponsors and supervisors is included because they are the primary messengers of change.

The assessments yield a specific change management strategy that defines the level of effort required to prepare the sponsors, integrate change management with the project management activities, and drive adoption, utilization, and proficiency in the new processes and tools. A preliminary assessment of the risk of not changing and the most significant risks to meeting the business objectives is completed.

Sponsor communications should begin now. The business reasons for the change and the risk of not changing should begin to be communicated by leadership — the sponsor.

In the “define” stage, the change management activities and deliverables could include:

  • write a change management strategy
  • assess change and organization
  • identify all stakeholders (do not forget external ones) and seek out innovators/early adopters
  • assess sponsor change competence
  • create a risk management plan
  • identify and prepare the change management resources and team
  • start the communications plan.

Stage Two: Measure

In the second stage, focus on defining the current state. Project communication continues from the sponsors focused on the business need and now includes the managers focused on the individual impact. Impacted managers and employees are engaged in the process. Change management focuses on sponsor and manager engagement, identifying resistance, and communications.

The sponsor is the primary communicator of the need for change. That's why it's critical for lean sponsors, at the highest levels, to get to the gemba, actively engaging in lean activities. Sponsors are willing, even eager to do this when they are prepared. But for many this does not come naturally. They need a plan with specific directions on where to go, what to do, and what to say. The change management plans should include a specific plan for the sponsor that includes activities, dates, goals, and supporting documentation. It is common for the change agent/project manager to follow up and accompany the sponsor on these gemba walks and communications events.

Now that the business case for change has been communicated and people are engaged in identifying the current state, the natural resistance will be evident. There will be employee resistance. It is a natural reaction to change. Mitigating this resistance is the primary reason we invest in change management. Change agents and managers will assess individual reactions to the change. This data is used to identify resistance and update the communications plan.

In the “measure” stage the change management activities and deliverables could include:

  • create a sponsor plan
  • assess communication efficacy
  • identify areas of resistance
  • discover and work to win over opinion leaders
  • update the communications plan.

Stage Three: Analyze

In the “analyze” stage, design the future state and begin developing the implementation plan. Using the assessment data on communications and individual reactions to the change, design detailed plans for driving the behavior change and tracking resistance.

All the plans should now be in place. The level of effort required for communication, sponsor support, and resistance management should be scoped and planned. The investment is based on the risk assessments completed through the first two phases.

In the “analyze” stage, the change management activities and deliverables could include:

  • define survey processes and sample groups
  • create resistance plans
  • update change management plans with roles, tasks, and dates.

Stage Four: Improve

In the “improve” stage, the new system is tested and implementation begins. You will need to implement the plans developed in the previous stage and update these plans to reflect the changing reactions to the implementation.

Performance will drop initially. This is widely recognized in lean and change management circles. The objective of the change management plans is to minimize the time in this transition state of confusion and anxiety. It will feel like a valley of despair, but do not worry. You will be ready with a resistance management plan and a structured process for the ongoing assessment of individual and group acceptance of the changes.

Your change management plans will include training, but not training using the traditional event-focused, “check the block” approach. Learning is change. Change is learning. Most of the learning will take place outside the classroom, driven by accountability and support on the job. Change management will achieve this through a learning process that is integrated into the next stage.

In the “improve” stage the change management activities and deliverables could include:

  • define survey processes and sample groups
  • update resistance plans
  • update change management plans with roles, tasks, and dates.
  • create training plan.

Stage Five: Control

It is in the final “control” stage that most lean/Six Sigma initiatives fail. The project team completes the end-of-project reports and lessons learned. You will need to implement activities, systems, and structure that reinforce the behavior change.

There must be specific reinforcement plans that reward desired behavior with recognition, money, or power.

Sponsors and managers that set clear objectives, publish good information, and provide immediate feedback will sustain the changes. If the leaders aren’t interested, the followers will not be. This is one of the biggest challenges. “The three biggest obstacles to continuous improvement are top management, middle management, and first line supervision,” commented Roger Milliken, CEO of Milliken Company, 1989 Malcolm Baldrige Prize winner. 

In the “control” stage, the change management activities and deliverables could include:

  • survey employees to identify adoption and implementation issues
  • finalize ongoing training program.

Effective change management can make or break a lean/Six Sigma project. Prosci’s research has shown that, compared to those with poor change management, projects with excellent change management are:

  • 79% more likely to meet or exceed their objectives
  • 55% more likely to be on schedule
  • 31% more likely to be on or under budget.

Change management as a discipline has come a long way. Today it is empirical in nature and theoretically based. It is grounded in the practical application of the science of human behavior applied in a wide variety of industries and business improvement initiatives. Apply the proven activities and deliverables to get the people all aboard for the lean/Six Sigma journey, and you will be more likely to meet your business objectives.

Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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