Importance of Change Management in Lean Six Sigma projects


In our lean six sigma projects, too often we spend all our time on the “technical” side of a change through collecting data and undertaking different types of statistical analysis, but we usually ignore the people side of the change and how to help those who will have to change their ways of doing things in order to realise the new change. This is the most common pitfall in implementing lean six sigma projects,

The Lean Six Sigma tools and processes, including DMAIC and DMADV (for DFSS projects), can provide direction for the change, but alone they cannot ensure that you will succeed. Why? Too often, Lean Six Sigma professionals underestimate the role of change management competency to manage the people side of change. It looks very simple but it is too crucial.

That is a real shame that a few hours are spent in a whole lean six sigma training package which might take even up to 6 months. The Black Belt certification is not the end of the road in terms of certification and learning; it is simply the first step of implementing a successful project. The next most critical competency will be mastery of change management and the people side of change.

Yes, the real issue is: People! They aren’t like a nicely defined data set where we can do whatever we want with them including splitting, merging, stacking, analysing and in the end deleting if it does not work. We need to deal with People which are much more complex than a data set.”

The Black belts as the change agent must be competent in four areas:

  • Creating a persuasive case for change
  • Gaining commitment and cooperation
  • Influencing without power or position
  • Eliminating or mitigating resistance.

Participants in Prosci’s 2012 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report identified the following factors and the most important contributors to successful change management:

  • Active and visible executive sponsorship
  • Frequent and open communication about the change
  • A structured change management approach
  • Dedicated change management resources and funding
  • Employee engagement and participation
  • Engagement with and support from middle management.

How we can manage the changes effectively

Change is usually seen as “loss” for the stakeholders, loss of routines, loss of confidence, loss of job, so on. That is why “resistance is the norm, not the exception!” We need to acknowledge resistance as a universal reaction to change which can take many forms and unfortunately is not always obvious. The sounds of resistance can include:

  • Compliance: The stakeholder immediately agrees, seems to have no reservations or concerns at all, doesn’t ask what you would think would be the obvious questions, acts as if you’re a saviour, etc.
  • Avoidance: The stakeholder seems to never have time or resources, though they claim to want to help. Or they tell you that the problem is now solved…they don’t need your help after all.
  • Flooding: The stakeholder overwhelms you with details…some seemingly unimportant to the matter at hand…the more you hear, the less you know what’s going on.
  • Intellectualising: The stakeholder shifts to discussing theories whenever you want to deal with the present situation.
  • Attacking: The stakeholder calls into question your competence, qualifications, experience, etc., and generally acts as if he/she is competing with you.
  • Refusal: The stakeholder tells you straight out that he/she doesn’t want to work with you.

Dealing with this vast range of reactions to the change is a real challenge. You may take one of the following influence strategies depending on the circumstances.

  • Reward and punishment: If you have authority over the stakeholder or a powerful sponsor, you may be able simply to tell the stakeholder to support your efforts.
  • Assertive Persuasion: If you have a compelling case, you may be able to convince the stakeholder to support your project.
  • Participation and Trust: If you involve the stakeholder in designing or implementing the change, they will be more likely to support it.
  • Negotiation: If you have or can do something of value for the stakeholder, you can offer it in exchange for their agreement to support, or at least not oppose, your project.
  • Creating a common vision: If you appeal to the stakeholder’s ideals or higher values, they may sacrifice their personal or parochial interests for the greater good.

Using some tools such as stakeholders analysis or Force field analysis can be a great start point to understand their power in the organisation and influence over the project and over other stakeholders, determine their level of support, Recognise the nature of their support or resistance and finally develop an action plan to address their needs and fears. The actions could be any of the above-mentioned influence strategies.

Continuous communication of the status of the projects with the stakeholders is also critical. The role of the senior management team, particularly the project champion and their constant and continued commitment and support to the Lean Six Sigma effort, is undeniable in facilitating the change management process.

How CBIS can help you

Please contact us if you need more details on how our expert team can assists you in training on change management as a part of lean six sigma training or by itself and also developing a change management plan.

01 Jul 2021
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