The Continuous Improvement Blog

6 things that need to go right when implementing Lean and Six Sigma

Written by Colin McArdle on 01 Nov 2017

implementing_lean_sixsigma.jpgProductivity and performance have always been a priority for businesses. But in today’s global marketplace where the consumer holds all the power, there’s a need to be more productive, more effective, and more competitive than ever.

By implementing Lean and Six Sigma, organisations can see significant and lasting improvements in their KPIs and financial performance.

But Lean and Six Sigma is not a foolproof solution. Deploying it across your business needs to be done right.

In this blog post we outline the six key ingredients of a successful Lean and Six Sigma implementation plan. 


Having a strategy and vision in place is key to the success of any business improvement programme. You need to know what you’re doing, and why.

All process improvement initiatives should be based on the strategic focus of the business. Stakeholders and everyone in the C-suite should be on board and aligned with the same goals.


Attempting to implement Lean and Six Sigma without the right training and expert support means projects are likely to fail as soon as they encounter unexpected challenges or obstacles.

Best practice is to train senior leaders and management in the fundamentals of Lean and Six Sigma, and how to apply the tools and techniques to solve problems. As the saying goes, “you only learn how to drive after you have passed your test”. To gain application knowledge and wisdom you must ‘do the doing’.

Training shouldn't just be for managers. You need to train employees at all levels, particularly those that impact process design, and make sure they are part of improvement initiatives. And as changes to processes are rolled out, make sure your workers are given sufficient training on the new ways of working and best practice. 


Selected leaders must own, drive and inspire Lean and Six Sigma initiatives. They need to be clear and consistent in their messaging and engage wider teams.

A good leader will work with employees to fix problems and boost productivity. And they should listen! Leaders need to provide a simple process for workers to raise problems and put forward ideas for solving them.

You might decide to hold weekly meetings, or have an ideas wall so people can flag problems at any time as they come to mind. However you do it, there needs to be a standard process to capture responses, and leaders should respond quickly and with respect so employees are encouraged to share their opinions.


This is arguably the most important aspect. Your people are your number one resource when driving process improvement. One of the main reasons initiatives fail is because not enough focus is given to the cultural side; changing habits, ways of working, and belief systems.

You need to create a culture where everyone in the business can see and embrace process improvement; to see waste and remove it, to question everything they do, and to work together, so that your operations work efficiently and effectively.

Don’t expect this to happen overnight. To influence ingrained culture takes time, years in fact.

But how do you do drive this culture? The Four Levers of Influence Model provides a good framework. It states that to influence mindsets and behaviours you need these four things:

  • A compelling story - “I understand what is being asked of me and it makes sense.”
  • Reinforcement mechanisms - “I see that our structures, processes, and systems, support the changes I’m being asked to make.”
  • Skills required for change - “I have the skills and opportunities to behave in the new way.”
  • Role modelling - “I see my leaders, colleagues, and staff behaving differently.”

Change management

To engage your workforce with process improvement initiatives, you need to communicate your vision and strategy so that they understand what is driving the change.

First you need to understand the existing culture, so you can build emotional commitment by appealing and responding to their needs.

Your workforce should feel involved in the process, and that their views are valued. Empower them to take action, and provide support by offering feedback and recognising progress.

Using a staggered approach to roll out projects means you can build momentum with quick wins. By setting aims that are easy to achieve, in bite-size chunks, your workforce will see the positive impact of change early on. And in doing so you'll create a buzz and positive energy around further change.


Improvements you make to your processes need to be sustainable, and piloting projects ahead of a full roll out will make sure change sticks. This way you can measure impact and identify any problems before making lots of changes all at once.

Teams need to be clear on new processes and follow procedures correctly, so be sure to document best practice, and provide comprehensive training and audit mechanisms so your teams are clear on the new processes.

You should establish ways for workers to give instant feedback on the new processes, so that any problems that emerge can be resolved. Finally, make sure you communicate the impact of changes to everyone across the business. Post ‘before and after’ metrics so your workforce can see their hard work paying off.

With a pragmatic and heuristic implementation, a Lean Six Sigma approach is a powerful way of improving your manufacturing performance. By following these six tips, you’ll be sure to get a greater return on your investment. To find out more about how to implement Lean Six Sigma, download our eBook below.

The Operations directors guide to improving performance eBook

Topics: Business Improvement, six sigma, lean

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.