If you don’t know where you started, how will you ever measure how far you’ve come? Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? But time and time again we see Lean Six Sigma professionals delivering projects that do not illustrate clearly defined benefits. They’ve made an improvement, but they can’t explain in any tangible way what the impact has been.
It is imperative that you can show the benefits of any project, no matter how small. While it makes a big difference to your ability to certify at the end of the project, more importantly it can impact your credibility in the organisation. Many people find it hard to quantify the costs or benefits for their project so they don’t bother, but I believe that this is a major mistake.
So why do Green and Black Belts struggle to collect data on the benefits? The key reasons are quite simple to explain:
- When the project first begins, it isn’t well defined – there is just a vague notion of what needs fixing. Working through the Define phase methodically and thoroughly should alleviate this issue.
- People don’t realise the importance of collecting the current situation data at the start of a project, before they have made any changes. Generating this baseline is the only way to re-measure at the end to show the benefits. This tends to lead to performance data rather than data that clearly illustrate the benefits.
- It is hard to quantify some of the benefits as the data is weak or badly collected. Belts can be disheartened and fail to collect data they don’t think will stand up to scrutiny.
- Finance doesn’t provide the data necessary either; they don’t collect the information necessary or they don’t provide the support to fully understand what the figures mean. For this reason, getting a financial representative involved early in the process is essential.
- Before seeing the results of the project, some Belts don’t fully understand the importance of the benefits data. This means they don’t put the effort into collecting it at the start, and by the time they realise it is too late.
- Sometimes it is the political nature of the data that can make a Belt hesitate: it could be related to a reduction in overtime or cutting the head count. Failing to collect this data may feel ‘safer’ but it doesn’t provide the full picture.
- Mostly, however, it is time pressure that prevents a Lean Six Sigma professional from collecting the data necessary. Often Belts feel pressured to get on with solving the problem rather than collecting data, especially if everyone agrees that the problem exists and is urgent.
There are numerous other reasons, I am sure, why data is not collected, but the process is absolutely essential.
Consider a recent delegate of mine. She works in the food processing industry and did a fantastic project which would have saved around £1.2m. However, as she’d not collected the necessary data, she couldn’t prove it. She knew her savings were significant, but she didn’t have robust data to show exactly what had been saved. The delegate was thrilled with the outcome of her project, however senior management were not aware of her efforts, she did not get the recognition she deserved and it had no impact on the outcome of her annual appraisal.
And it’s not just the personal impact. If she was not recognised for making such a great contribution to the success of the business with Lean Six Sigma, others may not be encouraged to take training in the future – and the journey towards continuous improvement could derail completely.
If we collect the right data and show the benefits then it helps us in a number of ways:
- It helps us get certified
- It helps us in appraisals as you can prove the impact you have made on the business
- It helps us become recognised in the business as an achiever
- It helps us on our CV to show what we have done
- It helps us to get our solutions implemented, as it is obvious what the return on investment will be
But it also helps the business:
- It helps to prove that the investment in business improvement is worth it
- It keeps momentum in business improvement
- Others can learn from your approach to make it easier for them to solve business issues
- It can be used for PR inside and outside the company
Speaking with data is what Lean Six Sigma is all about. Let’s get everyone to recognise the importance of collecting data that stands up to scrutiny, can be used to enhance the individual’s reputation and drives business improvement in your company.
It only takes a bit of effort at the start, and the end of your project becomes so much easier. I’d love to hear about your own personal experiences with data collection mistakes.
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