The People Side of Lean/Six Sigma

“They’re not doing it. They’re no longer using the new process the team created just a few months ago at their Kaizen event. What’s going on?” Michael McCarthy explains . . .

Mike McCarthy: "Here's how you can sustain your gains . . . "

When a Lean Sensei or Six Sigma Black Belt leads a team to design an improved process, he or she believes that the project is completed. The fallacy is “when you do it once, you’re done,” like machinery repair. Your mechanic says, “Your brake pads were worn out. We replaced them. Done. Good to go.”

The Lean or Six Sigma project is complete and the project leader tells you, “Your old process was worn out. We replaced it with a new process. Done. Good to go.”

WRONG! You’re not done. Sustaining your gains takes weeks and months. Why? A new process is done by people. A new process means a new set of behaviors: habits. Old habits die hard. Only practice, feedback, and reinforcement will accelerate adoption of a new habit.

Don’t believe me? Try writing with your non-dominant hand. It would take you months, if not years, of daily practice to become as proficient at writing left handed as you did with your right hand. It can be done, though.

When your team has been trained on the new process, they’ll do it initially. If they encounter problems, or if nobody seems to care how they do it, they’ll revert to doing it the “old way.” Within six weeks, it will be as if the Kaizen Event or DMAIC project never happened.

Sustaining your gains requires COACHING. No football coach thinks “I showed them this play once. We don’t need to practice.” They practice the new play daily, and the coach gives feedback on how well they did. He praises them when they execute the play correctly. He does it over and over until it becomes a habit.

These are the two key elements of coaching: many iterations of feedback and reinforcement. The supervisor should treat each day as “football practice.” She needs to be out walking the floor observing, giving feedback, and reinforcing correct execution of the new process. In 60 to 90 days, it will be a habit, and she can reduce the frequency of her coaching.

This is the People Side of Lean/Six Sigma, and without it, your hard-won gains won’t be sustained. For more on this subject watch for my new book, Sustain Your Gains ~ The People Side of Lean/Six Sigma. More information: