Keys to a Successful LSS Project: Part 1 of 3: Project Selection Guidelines

By: Chris Meeks, LSS Instructor (Intro by Russ Aikman, LSS Program Manager)

A common question of new LSS practitioners – whether Black Belt or Green Belt – is “What do I need to do to be successful?” Because Lean Six Sigma is a project-based approach to continuous improvement the real question is “How do I ensure that my project will be successful?”

There are three types of activities which have a major impact on whether a LSS project is successful:

  • Project Selection Guidelines – Project success starts with choosing good projects. In this month’s blog TMAC staff member Chris Meeks provides some guidelines on selecting projects that will greatly increase your chances of success. Please keep in mind that project selection occurs before the formal project ‘kickoff.’
  • Project Management & Execution – Once a project has started the focus shifts to executing the project plan and managing project activities. For LSS practitioners with past project experience these activities may seem straightforward. But even experienced practitioners could use a reminder of best practices in this area. Our May blog we will address this topic.
  • Project Support – In addition to the two major areas outlined above there is a third area that is critical to not only achieve success but also sustain results: Project Support. This includes activities such as Project Coaching, Training (and coaching) for Project Sponsors, Developing & Implementing a Formal Project Selection Process, etc. This will be the subject of the LSS blog for the month of June.

Keys to a Successful LSS Project: Part 1 of 3: Project Selection Guidelines

The process of selecting a project can sometimes seem daunting – especially when there are many problems which need to be solved.  Here are five tips compiled by TMAC staff thru years of reviewing literally hundreds of Lean Six Sigma projects.

Strategic Alignment

The project should one that is of strategic importance to the organization.  In other words, Lean Six Sigma Projects are not ‘Flavor of the Month’ projects.  The project should link directly to one or more of the annual company objectives.  Using this approach is key to establishing a belief that the LSS Program helps achieve a firm’s long-term goals. This ensures that upper management will support the project which leads us to…

Upper Management Buy-In

The project should have upper management buy-in or else failure becomes a very likely outcome.  Anyone who has ever worked on a project without buy-in from upper management has surely experienced the frustration stemming from a lack of resources – and a lack of visibility.  Engaging with the Project Sponsor – and other stakeholders – during project selection can help to ensure management support.

Financial Impact

Most projects are deemed successful if they result in a significant financial impact.  That said, it’s important to remember that ‘Significant’ is relative and affected by numerous factors such as the size of the organization, scope, type of process / service / product, and experience level of the Green or Black Belt.  TMAC uses the following ‘Rule of Thumb’ for annual financial impact when picking new projects:  Green Belts Projects ($25k to 75k) and Black Belt Projects ($75k-250k).  All that said, it is important to remember that some projects should be chosen despite the fact that there will be no – or minimal – financial impact. Examples include projects to address safety issues or regulatory requirements. One rule of thumb is that such projects should represent 5 to 10% of all LSS projects.

Root Cause and Solution Unknown

For traditional DMAIC projects both the root cause and solution should be unknown.  If the root cause and solution are already known, there is no need to deploy a structured problem solving strategy such as the DMAIC process. This consideration is an important one to use in discussions with Project Sponsors who may have a solution already in mind when a project is chosen. It should be noted that for other types of projects – such as a kaizen event or a replication project – this is not a requirement. For those types of projects the solution is often partly known.

Timeframe & Scope

A common mistake of new Green Belts, Black Belts, and Project Sponsors is to choose a project that has a scope which is too large. Such projects tend to drag on over many months, frustrating GBs, BBs, and project teams. As one LSS Champion told me years ago ‘You never want a project to have a birthday’.  To maximize your chance of success work with the sponsor to develop a project scope which is a small enough to be completed in a 3 to 6 month timeframe but big enough to still have a significant impact on the business process.

Click here to read Part 2 of this blog.

Click here to read Part 3 of this blog.

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