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Watch this 1-hour Intermediate Webinar and you’ll learn about some process improvement project bloopers and blunders and how we can avoid them.

Webinar Level

  • Intermediate


  • What process improvement bloopers and blunders are
  • Examples of bloopers and blunders (like pushing the work to others and pet projects)
    • Bloopers
      • Future Divorcee
      • The Fool’s Hero
      • My Little Pony – aka Pet Solution
      • Passing The Buck
      • The Wrong Stuff
    • Blunders
      • Glory Hoarder
      • The Lone Wolf
      • Team Member Mishap
      • Self-Proclaimed Super Hero
      • End-Gamers
  • How to avoid process improvement bloopers and blunders
  • Q&A

Webinar Slides

Q&As From the Webinar

Webinar Transcript

Karlo: Hi everyone! Welcome to’s webinar. Lean Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods you find leading companies all over the world to minimize costs, maximize revenue and develop their teams all while creating happier customers.

Every month, we crack webinars just for you, our global learner community. We invite you and your teams to join us each month as we simplify the concepts and tools of Lean Six Sigma so you can apply them more easily and be more successful.

Today’s webinar is titled, “How to Avoid Process Improvement Bloopers and Blunders.” Let’s do some introductions.

Our Expert: Tracy

My name is Karlo and I’m a managing partner at Today’s presenter is also a managing partner at, my colleague, the intelligent and constantly knowledgeable, Tracy O’Rourke. Tracy is a Master Black Belt.

Tracy: I appreciate that. Thank you. Go ahead.

Karlo: Sorry about that. So Tracy is a Master Black Belt. She began her career at GE. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Motorola, BP, Cisco, the State of Washington, and many others successfully applying Lean Six Sigma. Tracy lives in San Diego with her husband and two boys.

Just to give you housekeeping notes before we begin, during the presentation, all attendees will be on listen only mode. There will be a question and answer following the presentation but please feel free to ask during the presentation at any time by entering questions into the questions area.

We’ll also ask you to participate in some polls. If we don’t answer your questions during the webinar, please be sure to visit our website afterwards at where you can download the presentation as well.

Tracy, the floor is yours.

How to Interact

Tracy: Oh great! So guess what? The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to show you how to interact. So, you can actually raise your hand, ask a question by typing in the question area right here and then you will be answering some of the polls. So those are really ultimately how we’re going to ask you to interact.

Let’s Interact!

And so the first thing that we’re going to have you do is we’re going to actually have you type in that chat or question window where are you from because I love to hear where all of our participants are. Wow! Some of you guys are fast typers. We already got a lot of responses in here. So Karlo, where are they coming from?

Karlo: So we got right in California, Rochester, Miami, Seattle, Florida, Dallas, Georgia, let’s see, Hawaii, aloha.

Tracy: Aloha!

Karlo: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Costa Rica, Spain, Madrid, Spain. Let’s see.

Tracy: Nice. I love Madrid! I’ve been there. It’s really nice. I’m jealous.

Karlo: Yeah, I heard the food is awesome. Nova Scotia, San Diego, Michigan, San Francisco, Sacramento, Irvine, Croatia.

Tracy: Nice. Hey, I never heard of Sandwich, Illinois. Hey, William! How are you? Are you guys known for sandwiches? You probably get that a lot, huh! San Antonio is beautiful too. I’ve been there. Really nice.

Karlo: Awesome.

Tracy: Sounds great. So thank you very much, Karlo, for helping us go through that.

Who Is

So let’s talk a little bit about because I don’t know if some of you are brand new to being exposed to but I have to say that one of the biggest things we believe is that we want to simplify complex concepts. We believe that complexity just confuses people and we believe that effective training is practical, accessible, and enjoyable.

So really, it has been our mission to try to bring easily Lean Six Sigma and its concepts to our customers. And so what we did was we actually created a training organization called the Bahama Bistro and it’s a dreamy, relaxing facility and it’s a place that we created so that we can actually teach you about Lean Six Sigma concepts fairly easily. So a lot of our training is happening at Bahama Bistro and most people can relate to restaurants and that makes it nice.

We’ve Helped People From…

So, that’s a little about us. And here are some of the people that we’ve helped so you can see that many of our clients, they really believe that we do simplify the concepts and you can see that there are brick and mortar and online companies and there’s lots of diverse industries here such as healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, state government. Why?

Well, because Lean Six Sigma is really about solving problems. And organizations never run out of problems to solve. And guess what? They’re always looking for people that can solve problems well, which I think is one of the reasons why people are always looking for Lean Six Sigma training because that’s really what we’re doing, is we’re trying to build better problem solvers all over the world.

So, you guys, we appreciate because that just means the world will be a better place. So thanks for joining us.

Today’s Agenda

And today’s webinar I’m really excited about. Our agenda really is simple. It’s really just to talk about process improvement bloopers and blunders, and maybe some ways to avoid those because unfortunately, you don’t want your project to be a blooper or a blunder. And so, we want to talk a little bit about this.

And where do we get this? Well, a lot of it is from our experience. I’ve been doing this almost 20 years and Elisabeth also who is my partner in crime at And we have seen a lot of blunders and bloopers unfortunately that we’ve heard about or that we’ve seen people do and we really want to try to share that because we want you to be successful. We want people to be successful in their project and in their process improvement efforts. So let’s talk a little bit about what they are.


So there are lots of types of bloopers and blunders. As a matter of fact, we could probably put together a long list of these things and even create some funny videos even like that show, America’s Funniest Home Videos, except they would be bloopers and blunders of process improvement.

But we’re going to focus on two kinds today. One of them are bloopers and we’re going to say that those are really mishaps related to project selection. So, we’ve seen this a lot. These are really the two big categories we see in terms of bloopers and blunders a lot, how people go about selecting projects and how people approach projects, which I think is actually the harder one. And we’ve got the top 5 list for each of these. We’ve got the top 5 bloopers and we’ve got the top 5 blunders. And we’re going to share those today in true David Letterman style if you ever watch that show.

Blooper #5

Let’s do a countdown and start with number 5. We’re going to start with bloopers first. So blooper #5 is we call it The Wrong Stuff.

And this is when what happens is the process is designed more efficiently but unfortunately, now the customer experience is worse. So I’ll give you a great example of this. This was my own example.

I was a customer on an airline and as you all know, I live in San Diego and I was traveling to the East Coast on an airline which will remain nameless and I asked for a pillow. I said, “Excuse me, can I have a pillow?” And this flight attendant said, “I’m sorry. We don’t have pillows anymore. Cost cutting initiative.” What?! You cut pillows? Are you kidding me? Why couldn’t you cut the cheese and the broccoli in the cafeteria for employees or something like that, something that we couldn’t feel? But they took something value-add and eliminated it as cost-cutting. So that is probably a good example of the wrong stuff.

They took something value-add and eliminated it as cost-cutting. So that is probably a good example of the wrong stuff.

Another – a couple more examples. I saw a project team actually improved the form. They had a form that wasn’t working very well and so they decided to make some changes. And they implemented it and as a result, more incomplete forms came in that they had to reject and send back to the customer. So I’m not really sure who they were making that form easier for. So that’s another example.

And unfortunately, this happens a lot if we do not keep the customer top of mind. We will inadvertently do something that actually makes the customer experience worse. And we’d say, you really want to focus on VOC, voice of customer. And often, we don’t. Often, we might focus on the department or the section or the unit. And so, we want to make sure that we focus on what the customer cares about.

And here’s how to avoid this. If you are a Black Belt or if you see this happening, you want to ask, who or how will this change affect the customer? And I think that is one of the most important questions you can ask anytime you see process improvement because sometimes people haven’t thought of it. So it’s just a really easy question to say, how will this change affect the customer? Before we actually implement it. So that’s blooper #5.

Blooper #4

So let’s move to blooper #4. And again, these are all related to project selection. So blooper #4 is what we call Passing the Buck.

And this is when project results occur in one department but they happen at the expense of another department. Meaning, you just push the bubble work to somebody else. You actually didn’t improve the process. You just decided that or this team decides that another group is going to do the work instead of them.

You actually didn’t improve the process. You just decided that or this team decides that another group is going to do the work instead of them.

And this is really unfortunate. And I’m going to share a true story. So, I was working with an organization and I heard about this project that happened and it was kind of unfortunate. So they were – it was the sales group. It was the admin group that supported sales. And they really wanted to streamline the paperwork processing part of the process. So they went ahead and implemented the solution and guess what happened? They actually did not improve the process. What they ended up doing is they said, “You know what? Salespeople should do that. Our salespeople should be doing these steps, not us.” So they actually just pushed the work on to somebody else. They didn’t improve the process.

And the bad part about this was salespeople, the more they are in front of a customer, the more they sell. So what ended up happening is all of these salespeople were out in the field and rather than spending 4 days a week in front of customers, they were in their office instead. So their face time dropped to 2 and a half days a week and guess what? Their sales dropped too.

So unfortunately, that’s what happens when we’re not careful is if we just don’t improve the process, we just pass it to somebody else, that kind of stuff that can happen. And I’m sure that you guys probably have some great stories of where you’ve seen this happen or maybe you were the victim of that yourself is you get pushed – more work is pushed on you as opposed to actually making the process better.

So the question I always ask if I see that this might be occurring or if I want to make sure it’s not occurring is, did we push more work onto other people’s process? And then I’ll ask them, instead of moving the work, can we eliminate the work? And so, those are some two good questions to think in terms of making sure that you’re not falling into a passing the buck project. So that’s #4.

Blooper #3

Let’s move to #3. #3 is what I call The My Little Pony Syndrome aka the Pet Solution.

Now, I know some of you Black Belts out there are laughing because you’ve probably seen this a lot. The solution is determined before the project even starts because someone is using Lean Six Sigma to promote a personal agenda or solution. Maybe they didn’t get funding for their project so they’re going to pretend it’s a DMAIC because that’s where the funding is and they’re going to try to float it as a DMAIC project. But the bad part is they start to find with a solution.

So this is really scary. And this happens a lot with IT. So again, our favorite solution is typically IT or training and that doesn’t always solve problems. And I have an example of this in my work experience as well. I was working with a county. One year prior, they had installed a new IT system. Woohoo! That’s always a success. It’s so much work. But unfortunately, a year later, they were still having problems with long wait times and customer complaints. They thought that the new system would solve the problem but it didn’t.

So guess what? We ended up doing a Six Sigma project two years later – I’m sorry, one year later, and we actually didn’t do any IT changes but we ended up changing the flow of work from each of the people involved in the process. And the customer waiting time went from 8 weeks to 1 week with no IT.

And so I think – I guess the embarrassing part about that was they probably could have done that. They probably could have improved the process without the IT solution. But they ended up spending all that money on a pet solution because somebody thought that the IT solution was going to be solving the problem.

So that’s something you want to be careful of. And I think the issue is jumping the solution, yes. People are going to – we are naturally prone to have solutions. We have been rewarded for our entire life to have solutions, right? I mean I think there are even signs that say, “Don’t bring me problems. Bring me solutions.” Managers have that on their desk sometimes.

So the issue is they are going to happen. But I think that the real key here is if it’s an expensive solution, you better make sure that it’s the right solution. And DMAIC can do that. DMAIC can actually say that it’s actually going to solve it if this is the root cause. But let’s find out if it’s the root cause, if this solution will solve the root cause first.

The real key here is if it’s an expensive solution, you better make sure that it’s the right solution. And DMAIC can do that. DMAIC can actually say that it’s actually going to solve it if this is the root cause.

So the question that I always ask is, what problem are you trying to solve? If you’ve got a solution, what problem are you trying to solve? I always back them into DMAIC. I say, what problem are you trying to solve? Does the solution actually address this problem? And how do you know? How do you know it’s going to solve the problem? Because I’m really asking them what’s the root cause but I’m doing it in a different way. I just say, how do you know it’s going to solve the problem? Show me.

And that’s really how I get them away from the pet solution as much as possible. It doesn’t always work but I find it can work in a lot of cases. So that is blooper #3: Don’t be a my little pony project. I’m cracking myself up over here.

Blooper #2

OK. Blooper #2: The Fool’s Hero.

OK. This is really unfortunate when this happens. The team declares the project a success but resulting layoffs prove it’s a hollow victory. This is almost somebody’s worst nightmare when it comes to process improvement because people are getting laid off as a result of process improvement. We already know, many of you probably already know, this is not a good situation because that is not what process improvement is. Lean does not stand for “less employees are needed.” That is not true. People are not a waste. Unfortunately, they’re wasted on wasteful activities that do not add value.

Lean does not stand for “less employees are needed.” That is not true. People are not a waste. Unfortunately, they’re wasted on wasteful activities that do not add value.

So the idea behind process improvement is to get rid of the waste, not to get rid of the people. So this actually happened. Again, I often am brought into organizations that have already started process improvement and they’re running into issues. And this was a great example of a – well, I guess it’s a great bad example.

I had an organization. It was an insurance company that I was working with and they wanted to see if Lean Six Sigma was going to work for them. So they did this project. They called it the Stealth Project. I think now that we know what happened, I think they were calling it that for a reason.

But anyways, what ended up happening is they improved the process and then the leadership laid off half the workforce that did the process. Like what a nightmare. Because how successful do you think process improvement is going to be on round 2? So like if that was a proof of concept project and you laid people off, how many people do you think are going to run to sign up for round 2? Not very many.

So it’s not about getting rid of people. And you know what? If leaders believe that, they’re misinformed about what Lean Six Sigma is. It’s not about that. This is a way to streamline processes.

And so you know what? Some people will say, “Well, Tracy, yes, this is true. But what do you do when you do get efficiency? When you actually can do the process with only 4 instead of 8?” Well, guess what? Here is the strategy that I tell leaders to embrace. Attrition. People leave organizations all the time. They move. They find another job. They retire. Guess what? At that point, then you can decide if you really need to fulfill that position. That is a proactive and positive way to gain attrition without laying people off and giving them the idea that they’re going to lose their job.

So guess what? People are not going to want to do projects if they think they’re going to lose their job. So don’t have a fool’s hero project.

So now, you’re probably wondering, what could be worse than this? Right? Blooper #2. I don’t know. Maybe that was #1, Tracy. Maybe that should have been on the #1 David Letterman. Well, let me show you the one that I’ve seen. I have to say, this one takes the cake. This is the blooper #1 related to project selection. Drum roll please. Do we have a drum roll in there, Karlo? I’m just kidding.

Blooper #1

OK. Blooper #1 is The Future Divorcee.

This is when you do a process improvement project on your partner’s weight loss. Yes, people, it’s true. I have seen someone attempt to do their Black Belt project on their wife’s weight loss. Do not do this. OK?

Let me give you a little bit of background. This person was unemployed. They needed a project. They were getting their Black Belt certification while they were in transition which I applaud them for. But guess what? They didn’t have anything that they could apply in a work environment. And we talked about some of these ideas and he said he’d get back to me. And then he came back to me with, “Well, I think I’m going to do my project on my wife’s weight loss.”

Now, how many of you know this might not be a good idea? So I mean how long have you been married? That’s what I really want to ask him because it might not be for much longer if this doesn’t go well. But I think the bigger issue here is he’s focusing on something that really is not within his control. I mean why not focus on your weight loss? So that’s one issue.

And then the other issue is Black Belt is not meaty enough so you need to actually – you actually need to pick something else. So hold on just a second. I’m hoping people can hear me because I think some people are saying that my audio is out. Can you type in the chat window if you can still hear me? OK, good. I’m good. I got a message that I’m good. Good because maybe someone just decided to tune me out because I talked too much. I don’t know.

Blooper Summary

OK. So that is the top 5 list of bloopers: Future Divorcee, Fool’s Hero, My Little Pony, Passing the Buck, and The Wrong Stuff.

So here is when I would like to ask you for your participation in a poll. And I’d love to hear which of these have you seen occurred the most frequently. So I’m going to go ahead and launch the poll and please give us a response.

Quick Poll

Unfortunately, I have to say even though #1 Future Divorcee, I didn’t – haven’t seen very often, I thought that was the most severe. So hopefully you don’t hear that one as well. And I’d love to hear any other examples. If you’ve already answered the poll, if you have any other examples of maybe blooper examples of project selection and you want to type it in the chat window while you’re waiting for everyone else to complete the poll, I would welcome – I would love to hear what your thoughts are on that.

OK. So I’m going to go ahead and close the poll because we are at about 75%. And Karlo, go ahead and read us the results.

Karlo: No problem. So surprisingly, other people select the project about their partner’s weight loss. So 2% of people voted for that. Really interesting. Fool’s Hero, 14%. My Little Pony, 25%. Passing the Buck, 43%. And The Wrong Stuff, 17%. So it looks like Passing the Buck was the highest selection.

Tracy: Yes. Thank you for participating in that. And absolutely, I think that that doesn’t surprised me as Passing the Buck being the #1. And I have to say, it’s only natural that we really want to make it better for us. It’s only natural to do that. But I think that sometimes if we don’t have the bigger picture in mind that we could actually do something that actually just pushes the work to somebody else. So thank you for participating in that.

Guidelines to Avoid Project Bloopers

OK. So let’s just talk about a couple of things you can do to avoid these. I’ll give you a couple of questions to think about for each one of these, and maybe it’s a question you could ask a Black Belt or the Green Belt or the Project Lead to make sure that they’re not – and again, we’re using the Socratic method here. You don’t want to tell people, “Hey, you’re just passing the buck.” Always ask a question to help them think through if maybe they should reconsider what their strategy is.

Always ask a question to help them think through if maybe they should reconsider what their strategy is.

One of the things you can do to avoid a project blooper is to go to our project selection tools that’s available for free on our website. As a matter of fact, this is only one of 80 plus templates that we have to help Black Belts and Green Belts be successful with applying Lean Six Sigma concepts.

But you’ll notice, I know it’s a little bit harder to read, but you’ll notice that the first question is, what is the potential for positive impact on your customer? And so, if you have very little impact that maybe a reason why you might reconsider their project. So, there are lots of questions on here and I highly recommend using the tool if you want to just have a good way to screen potential projects.

Guidelines Continued…

The other thing that I think would be very helpful is to recognize that in actuality, when people get started with process improvement, you know what, there are some stages of maturity that people go through and process improvement can be a little different. It’s different than project management. And so, I sort of have started to see a pattern in how people think about their projects. And I want to share that. I call it the 3 Stages of Project Selection Maturity.

The first stage is most people say, “How do we fix other people?” And they’ll say stuff like this. They’ll say, “Well, what kinds of opportunities do you see?” And then they might say something like, “Well, everything in my area is fine. But if these people would get fixed, that would be great.” Or, “The people before me, if they really improve their processes then we would be really better off.”

So, we tend to focus on other people and their processes and why they should fix themselves versus us fixing our own. And that’s the stage 2 that I’m talking about. So it’s typical. It’s normal. I actually think not accusing them of bad doing, it’s just me, it’s a stage of maturity. So we tend to – when people say, “What bugs you?” They typically will focus on other people. They say, “Well, these people bug me and this department bugs me.” So it’s normal for people to go there first. But it is stage 1.

So stage 2, how do we fix our process? So I really like this because now we we’re no longer focusing on other people and what’s wrong with them. We’re focusing on us and we’re focusing on what we can control. And that is a really huge improvement. It’s much better to focus on something that we think we can control.

So how do we fix our process is not a bad place to be. It’s just that we don’t want to always dwell on fixing it and making it better for ourselves. That kind of gets into the passing the buck example that we talked about.

Now, it says I’m silent again. Can you still hear me? I don’t know why we’re having a cutting out issue. Please let me know if you can hear me. Type in the chat window. OK. Thank you. OK. So I’m going to keep an eye on that just because I’m not really sure I can actually do anything about it from here but we’ll move forward.

So again, stage 2 isn’t bad because at least you’re focusing on something that you can control. But that’s where I tend to use that question, how does this impact the customer? How does this impact the customer?

Stage 3 is probably the best place you want to be. And that is, how do we make it easy for our customers? So you’re actually still focusing on what you can control but now, you’re really saying, how can we make this better for customers? And I’m going to share a great example.

So I’m working with an organization. It’s a government organization. They have a lot of actually internal government employees as their customer. And so, it was an HR group and the HR group basically said, “Well, I’m not getting my – I’m not getting the performance reviews done in a timely manner and I want to speed that up.” So that is really – this person made themselves the customer basically.

And I said, “OK. So how do you actually focus on the customer? Who is the customer of this process?” And they said, “Well actually, the people that are giving it to me.” How are you going to make it easier for them? How are you going to make this process easier for them? Maybe it’s 10 forms that they have to fill out that you require that we should look at.

And so, that was a big aha for this person and she ended up deciding, “Yeah, we really do need to make it easier for customers. How am I going to do that?” And so – and guess what? She got what she wanted too, a faster cycle time.

So stage 3 is great because you’ve identified something you can control but you’re doing it and making it easier for customers. So keep those stages in mind because I think it can help you ask better questions to get people to move to stage 3.

OK. So that concludes our bloopers. And now, we’re going to move into our blunders. And again, blunders are based around project approach. So this is – I actually see this a lot more. It’s really easy actually for me to assess a good project selection that yes, that’s a good project and here’s why and here’s the criteria they selected and I think that’s great. I can hear very well if people are customer focus versus internally focus and all that.

What’s harder for me is project mistakes that happened because of the way we approached the project. And that’s what we defined now as blunders. And so, we’re going to talk a little bit about – we’re going to start again with #5.

Blunder #5

The fifth project blunder related to how we approach is End-Gamers.

The team raises through half-hearted data analysis and jumps to solution with low hopes of success. So it’s not necessarily that they have a pet solution but they kind of rushed through D, M & A. And they sort of – they kind of agree that we all know what the hypothesis is, we know what the root cause is, let’s just solve it. So they’re just – they just want to check in the box, let’s say that. You probably get that a lot with the Black Belt. People check in the box, trying to get through the process.

And I’ll give you a great example of this and all of these are real examples that I’ve experienced in the last 20 years. So there was a project we did on incomplete deliveries. So basically, customers would order five things and they would only get three and they were not told in advance that they were only going to be getting three. So two were missing and now they’re mad. And these were appliances. OK?

So when you have five appliances coming for your home and two of them don’t show up, well, first of all, you took the day off usually to meet the delivery. And then number two, if you had a dishwasher, you got to get it installed. So what if you had the installer coming on the same day or the next day and you didn’t get it? So if was very frustrating for customers and they were really mad.

So they were trying to improve this process. They called it incomplete deliveries. And when we asked the team originally, well, what do you think it is? This woman was adamant. She said, “I can tell you why we’re not completing deliveries. It’s because they’re not paid in full. They are not paid in full and the reason why they’re not paid in full is because we don’t have credit machines on those trucks. And if we’d have credit card machines on those trucks, we would get more deliveries that are complete.” And everybody just agreed with here because she was so strong in her opinion.

So I basically said, “Let’s – OK. That’s wonderful. That’s wonderful that you have that idea. But we still need to collect the data to prove that that’s really the reason.” So guess what? We collected the data. It actually was manual data collection because they’ve never looked at it before so it took a lot longer than we thought. But guess what? Only 4% of the time was it because it wasn’t paid in full.

So they would have spent – and at that time, it was a lot more money, they had, I don’t know, 70 trucks and they were going to spend money on getting credit card machines for all of those trucks when that really wasn’t the issue. So it was actually something else completely different.

So that was a big surprise. And then we wonder, well, how did she even come into that? How did she arrive at that? Why did she believe that so strongly? Well, guess what? That was her job. Where she sat in the process basically led her to believe that that was the reason because she had to handle all of those calls. So that makes a lot of sense why she would think that. But that’s why we don’t want to just go through half-hearted data analysis and then jump to a hypothesis that everybody strongly believes. It’s really not true. OK. So that’s blunder #5.

Blunder #4

Blunder #4, this is for you Black Belts out there, the Black Belt portrays the team as needing a hero and he is here to save the day.

So, this is really around our role as a Black Belt. Our role as a Black Belt can be in many forms but one thing is that if people are learning DMAIC and they’re learning Six Sigma, they need encouragement. They need guidance. They need direction. They need encouragement and they need recognition when they do a job well done. And I have seen many Black Belts in the day where they kind of believe people are stupid and none of teams would be doing anything without them.

And it’s kind of unfortunate because guess what? People feel it. People feel that when you have that attitude or you really believe that. People can see it. You can say something but the way you say it as we all know really comes through and it comes across as sort of demeaning or derogatory. And so, just remember, if you’re coming across as superhero that means somebody else looks like the victim. So look around and make sure that you’re not making the people the victim because people are not going to want you to help them. So that’s blunder #4.

Look around and make sure that you’re not making the people the victim because people are not going to want you to help them.

Blunder #3

OK. Blunder #3: Team Member Mishap.

This unfortunately happens too. I see this unfortunately quite often. And it’s actually common in DMAIC because when you start a DMAIC project, you don’t know what you’re going to do. I mean the idea is you really don’t know what the solution is going to be. And so, you start with the team that you think is going to be able to bring you to the entire process.

But what we find sometimes is in the analyze phase, the root cause isn’t what we thought. And that means that we actually have to switch team members or get people – some people off the team because we no longer need them and we have to add people to the team.

So this actually happened a couple of times in places that I’ve gone where during solution implementation the team discovers that there’s nobody on the team from the area requiring the change. And you know what? It happens. As long as you proactively get those people on the team, you’re OK.

But unfortunately, what I have seen is they just push through and prove with the team that they started with. And now, you’re in the process of fixing somebody else’s process without that. And that is a no-no in process improvement. So, don’t do that. Don’t be victim of blunder #3 which is team member mishap. You inadvertently forget to include somebody on the team.

Blunder #2

OK. Blunder #2, also related to Black Belts or Team Leads and this is what I call The Lone Wolf Syndrome.

The Team Lead or the Black Belt completes the Define, Measure, and Analyze with little or no help and waits until the Improve Phase to involve others. Surprisingly, they think, “Oh, it will just be faster if I do it this way.” Actually, no, it would not be faster. Yeah, sure you’ll get through Define, Measure, and Analyze pretty quick but improve will be really hard because you didn’t involve people.

So here’s how this question comes across to me. Why don’t people want to change? How do I get people to change? Well, we always say you got to involve people. You got to involve them from the beginning and involving them doesn’t mean, “Here, I came up with the solution. Now, you do it.” That’s not involvement. That’s not engagement.

Involvement means that they are contributing to the solution, that they are part of the discussion. They are part of the creation of what’s going to happen next. And that really is involvement. It’s not, “OK, you do what I tell you.” That’s not process improvement and that’s not involvement. So don’t be a victim of The Lone Wolf Syndrome where it seems like it’s faster but in actuality when you get so much resistance, when you actually implements the solution, that’s how you know that maybe we need to change our strategy.

Involvement means that they are contributing to the solution, that they are part of the discussion. They are part of the creation of what’s going to happen next.

Blunder #1

OK. Blunder #1 and this is what I call The Glory Hoarder.

And this is again – this is related to either the Black Belt or the Team Lead. They take all the credit for the project’s success and they leave the hard working team in the dark. And this is really unfortunate because people, they can tell. I mean it’s really not a good feeling when you feel like somebody is taking the credit and they’re not sharing the glory if you will and it sounds like – it starts to feel like there’s a personal agenda. People get a little – they start to feel a little unsafe. And ultimately, you know what, process improvement sometimes isn’t easy and the Black Belt really should be helping to shed some credit on the hard working team as well.

So, how do we do that? And I’m going to also take it one step further because you might say, “Well, of course Tracy, of course I share the credit.” But just be careful because I think sometimes people don’t realize that maybe you’re not trying to take credit but the perception is that you are. And I’ll just give you a quick example.

I was working with an organization and they were asked to do a presentation to the head guy of the organization, and it’s a 3,000-person organization. And so of course, all the Black Belts were like, “Well, who is going to do it? Who is going to do it?” And I asked them, “Why are you not having the Team Lead do it? Why are you not asking them to participate in the presentation? Because it feels like they should be a part of that too.” And they said, “You know what? We never thought of that.” And they felt bad.

So – and maybe that wasn’t their intention to hoard the glory but that has what have been the result is that, “Maybe we didn’t – maybe we should have let the Team Lead take the glory and that we are in a support role to help them.”

So if you are allocated to process improvement, there’s a lot of these three – there are a lot of these project blunders that are really related to the people in charge of the project or that are at the Black Belt.

Blunder Summary

So the Glory Hoarder, the Lone Wolf, the Self-Proclaimed Superhero, these are three things that we often see people taking charge of a project too and maybe they don’t mean to but it’s also the perception of how that’s happening as well.

So that’s the blunder summary. And what I’d love to hear from you is which of these have you seen occurred the most frequently?

Quick Poll

So I’m going to go ahead and launch the poll and let’s see what you guys come up with.

I think I hit launch and then it closed on me. So I can’t do that now. Darn it! Well, how about if you put it in the chat window? Tell me which one you’ve seen the most, the Glory Hoarder, the Lone Wolf, the Team Member Mishap, the Self-Proclaimed Superhero, or the End-Gamers.

I don’t know what happened there. I hit it once it but it double clicked and now I can’t do the poll. So go ahead. Hey, that happens, right? Maybe I should put that on as webinar blunder. I don’t know. Maybe that will be the next webinar.

OK. So I am looking through the notes here. Lorie, put Glory Hoarder with 6 exclamation points. Wow! Wow! You guys. OK. This is really interesting. So I’m sorry I wasn’t able to share this but it looks like a lot of you put the Glory Hoarder. So I think that is really interesting. And the Lone Wolf came up a little bit more but the Glory Hoarder is definitely the leader, which that’s unfortunate, right?

So let’s talk a little bit about the strategies we can do to not have these blunders because again, I don’t necessarily think sometimes that it’s their intention but it comes across that way.

Guidelines to Avoid Project Blunders

So here are just a couple of guidelines. And again, when I coach somebody on how they’re approaching a project, I really need to see them in action. I need to observe how they say things, how they talk to people, how they come across, and some of the dynamics.

So if somebody called me and said, “Look, I can’t get people to change.” I can talk about techniques and strategies in general that work but I really need to see them because it might be something that they’re doing that they don’t know that they’re doing. So these are just some broad, general guidelines if you want to avoid project blunders.

And I think the first one seems like a no-duh but it’s actually something that isn’t followed all the time. Treat everyone with respect. So if you really treat everyone with respect, you’re not going to come across as the know-it-all, the demeaning or derogatory. If you do know more than everybody, that’s great but take the role of the educator and do it in a collaboration approach. So treat everyone with respect. And it’s unfortunate because there are some organizations that disrespect is everywhere and it’s very difficult to make change happen across the culture.

Be a coach not a hero. So I had mentioned that sometimes Black Belts come across as the hero and that means people need to be saved and that means people are victims. So how do you – if you sort of recognized, maybe I am coming across as the hero, how do you become a coach? How do you become a coach like on a football team? And how are you growing people instead of saving them?

It’s kind of like the whole manager conundrum, right? Do I do it myself because it’s faster or do I spend the time growing people so they know how to solve the problems themselves? And it takes time. And sometimes we don’t have time. And so you can’t be a coach all the time but if you are making efforts to make more time to be a coach, you’re on the right track.

Do I do it myself because it’s faster or do I spend the time growing people so they know how to solve the problems themselves?

Practice exemplary leadership. So exemplary leadership is being a coach. It means that you’re inspiring people. You’re enabling others to act. You are challenging the process in a positive way, not the people. You’re hard on the process, easy on people. You encourage people. You recognize them.

There’s actually a book that I highly recommend. It’s called The Leadership Challenge by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner if you want to learn about exemplary leadership. It’s based on 30 years of research and I highly recommend it.

And finally, encourage and promote learning. So again, if you are a Black Belt and you feel like everybody is stupid, isn’t that indicative of your success? So if your people are learning and your Green Belts are learning and they’re more successful, that really should be the measure that we’re looking for to indicate if we are good at what we do.

So that’s hopefully some guidelines for you to avoid the project blunders. And I hope you found this webinar helpful.

Summary List

I’m just going to give you a summary of the 5 – the top 5 project bloopers and the top 5 project blunders. And I hope in talking through it, it has helped you to recognize when they occur and we also talked about some of the guidelines that you can follow to make sure that you’re not falling to any of these.

Today We Covered

So we’re going to have a question and answer period in just a moment. And so, if you have any questions for us, please type them in the chat window and we’ll go ahead and try to answer them as much as we can here in the next 15 minutes. And if we can’t get to your question, we will type up a response and it will be on our website.

The biggest question I always get in these webinars is, “Can I have a copy of the slides?” Yes, you can have a copy of the slides. We provide them on We also have a video. We have this recorded and it’s also available. So guess what? If you want to send this to somebody that you think is a glory hoarder, then you can go ahead and just forward it to them and tell them they need to watch and you don’t have to tell them anything else.

So we cover basically the project bloopers and blunders and how to avoid them. And we’re going to talk about our Q&A in just a moment. So again, type in any questions that you might have and Karlo is going to kind of sift through some of those questions and see if we can answer some of those for you.

Getting Started

But while I’m waiting for you to type in your questions, I just wanted to share also that here’s a great way to get started which is our Yellow Belt training. It is absolutely free. Yes, free! It’s really good material. OK? I say that because I wrote it but it’s also because I agree. And we get a lot of positive about it.

And again, if you are a Black Belt and you’re going to do a fishbone diagram session, refer them to the Yellow Belt training to learn about what the fishbone is so that when you guys get in there, you can just go right into facilitating it. You don’t have to spend as much time training because you can just really more ask questions to see if they understand the concept of what it’s for.

So, there’s Green Belt training. There’s Black Belt training. We also have Lean training and certification available. And so, I would encourage you if you want to learn more about process improvement and Lean and Six Sigma, I would highly recommend it.

Also, we’ve got free templates and tools on our website, 80 plus and they are free because our goal is to commoditize Lean Six Sigma training because we want everybody to know about it and we want them to get a good message that’s clear and easy to understand.

Upcoming Webinars

So we also have an upcoming webinar and this is actually going to be coming up on Thursday, September 29th if you like our webinars. And this is really about effectively avoiding unintended consequences using a specific tool called The FMEA, which stands for Failure Modes and Effects Analysis. This will be done by Elisabeth Swan. And I really enjoy some of the way she explains the failure modes and effects analysis and I love the story that she has related to using or identifying unintended consequences because sometimes they’re positive too, Guinness Beer did you know was unintended consequences. Positive I might add. But it was not intended. So I love that she references that in her webinar.

Just-In-Time Podcast

And then finally, we have a podcast out. It’s brand new. It’s including Elisabeth, myself and Mike Osterling who is co-author of Value Stream Mapping and The Kaizen Event Planner. Mike Osterling also is in San Diego and we teach together at San Diego State University. So it was a real pleasure talking with him on this podcast and kind of hearing about his journey into the Lean world and how he got started. And I think you would really enjoy hearing it as well. So that is something that you can do if you were interested in looking at our podcast. It’s available at Café. It’s also available on iTunes.


OK. So I think now it’s time for the Q&A. So, Karlo, how are we doing? Do we have any questions?

Karlo: Yes, great. Thank you so much, Tracy. That was really helpful and I hope all of you have found it helpful as well. So we have a couple of questions coming in. And just as a reminder, if you’d like to ask a question, please enter it into the question area on the right GoToWebinar panel.

So our first question comes from Muhammad and he asks, “What should I do if facing the blooper Passing the Buck?”

Tracy: So, I would say – so I think the best way to address any of these issues is to ask a question. And the question I would ask is, are we actually improving the process or are we moving the work to someone else? And then the other question I would ask is, is there some way to reduce the workload overall versus just moving the work to someone else?

The question I would ask is, are we actually improving the process or are we moving the work to someone else? And then the other question I would ask is, is there some way to reduce the workload overall versus just moving the work to someone else?

And so to me, those are good questions to ask if you recognize that maybe it is a pass the buck. But I would also do it in a way that is respectful. Sometimes people don’t mean to do it. They think it’s a good thing. And we have to give people the benefit of the doubt. So when you ask that, don’t do it in a way that’s totally accusatory because honestly, people sometimes just don’t realize they’re doing it.

Karlo: Great. So our next question comes from Amy and she asks, “Our project was implemented and our leadership changed. Prior to the change, we feel into the Lone Wolf blunder and Pet Solution blooper. What is the best way to revise and reorganize as a process improvement?”

Tracy: Good question. And I think a lot of it is cultural. So what is your organization promoting or tolerating? Sometimes there are some cultures that say, “Look, you know what? It was a pet solution and we really want to actually revisit the analyze portion and make sure that it’s the right solution because it is expensive.” I don’t think people are going to tell you, “No, you should move forward. Spend the 50 grand and just implement it.”

I think if people just – if you ask for a pause to do some additional root cause analysis to make sure it’s actually going to solve the problem, I don’t think people would argue with that. Some people might especially the person who really wants to implement it. But I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for more time to do the root cause analysis.

Karlo: Great. So our next question comes from Scott. He asks, “Which phase of DMAIC is the most vulnerable to blunders and falling off track?”

Tracy: Wow! I’ve seen actually blunders in every phase. And again, it’s just the learning process. But I would have to say that if I had to pick, it’s Define. And that’s the project selection part and how you launch a project. So Define, I see a lot of blunders and bloopers from picking the wrong people to picking the wrong projects to the approach that we select that we’re going to go about it. I would definitely say Define. Be careful.

And then I would have to say in Analyze and just before you get to Improve Phase, and that’s when you can have a blunder because you didn’t do your analysis or you just blowing through Analyze and getting through Improve and then you got the wrong people.

So those are the two areas that I am very cautious of. But I will say in Measure, people have sometimes moved forward and they don’t have any data. I’m like, “Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute. How do we know how bad the problem is now? And when we get to Improve, how do we know that it actually made it better?”

So, there are always questions you can ask in every phase. But to answer your question, Define and the tail end of Analyze going into Improve.

Karlo: Awesome. That’s very detailed. Thanks Tracy. Our next question comes from Jorge. He asks, “After acting as a lone wolf, how can we involve the people who we should have involved before without making them feel unimportant?”

Tracy: That could be really hard to do after the fact because now, not only did you move past them and sort of – it was sort of disrespectful just blowing them off if you will. You lost trust. So there’s less trust there. And now, they’re cautious because they don’t know why you did that and they may not trust you.

So in actuality, I think the first step is, you got to build trust. You have to start with trust and you have to do an admission of, “You know what? I shouldn’t have done that and I want to do things differently and I want to involve people sooner.” So it really depends on how much you want to be vulnerable. So build trust, admit the mistake, ask for feedback, and follow through on the feedback. Hopefully, that will help.

You have to start with trust and you have to do an admission of, “You know what? I shouldn’t have done that and I want to do things differently and I want to involve people sooner.”

Karlo: Thanks, Tracy. Our next questions comes from Robert and he asks, “What if you’re asked to take on a Lean Six Sigma project in an area where the leaders within that department already have a pet solution in mind and they don’t want to go through the “hassle” of Lean Six Sigma?”

Tracy: So, that is a great question and I could see how this could happen a lot. So guess what? Let them do it. Just say, “You know what? You don’t need DMAIC. DMAIC is for when you don’t know the root cause to a problem and you need to do the research to find out what the root cause is. But you guys already have the [Dead Air] so why are you going to push it through DMAIC? Just do it.”

And so, I mean you’re really sort of saying, if you really are going to go through with this because it does happen, if you are really going to go through this, don’t waste your time with DMAIC and don’t waste my time, is kind of what you’re saying too. Because you know what? They’re always going to be there. There are always going to be those solutions people want to implement regardless and you know what, they’re going to happen. And so, get out of the way. And tell them they don’t need DMAIC then. If they know the solution, go do it.

Karlo: Thanks, Tracy. We have about 6 minutes left. So if you have any questions, please ask in the right panel in the questions area.

Our next question comes from Toine and he asks, “What do you do when end gamer is the project’s sponsor?”

Tracy: That’s a great question too. So I sometimes look at it as an education opportunity. And I don’t want to accuse anybody of checking the box but I would say, “Here is why I think we need more research. I know that we’re really trying to get through this project but here is …” tell them what’s in it for them. Everybody loves to hear WIIFM Radio, what’s in it for me. So tell them why we need to go back to their analyze phase and tell them what’s in it for them.

And sometimes it’s their reputation. Sometimes it’s reckless spending of dollars that we didn’t need to be spending. So guess what? Talk about the risks and talk about the risks for them. And maybe they’ll take a step back and they’ll be a little bit more patient through the analyze phase.

Karlo: Great. Our next question comes from one of our Black Belts, Wesley. Wesley asks, “I have heard that people will do an A3 but not collect data. How does that achieve anything without showing any performance?”

Tracy: I agree, Wesley. I absolutely agree. You know what? This was a huge – because people are like, “Oh, it’s just a waste of time. I know it’s a problem. We know it’s bad. Let’s just fix it. I just want to move forward.”

And you know, I get it that sometimes collecting data can be very difficult out of IT and IT systems. So I always think about creative ways to get data quickly and I also say, in Lean, they’re not looking for accuracy per se. They’re looking for directional correctness. So 80% of the time, how long does it take?

And a lot of times when you do a process whack in Lean, you’re relying on the anecdotal information of the employee to capture some of that data on your value stream map. So get the data somehow. It may not be in the fashion that a Black Belt wants but I absolutely wholeheartedly agree, you’ve got to measure the baseline in some way whether it’s number of steps in the process which is easy, count the number of steps. There are 15 steps and we got it down to 8. That is a measure. That is an improvement.

So do something because I will tell you this, I had a team, they didn’t want to collect the data and then after – and this was typical. People made improvements there all the time without data. But we collected the data in this case. And then when we got to improvement and we actually saw a really big improvement, there was rumors around that basically people were saying it didn’t change anything. It didn’t change anything. It didn’t change anything. And guess what? We have the data. And we say, “Yeah, actually, it did change it a lot.” And they were shocked to see that the data was collected. But you know what? People stopped spreading rumors.

So I absolutely agree, Wesley. Get something.

Karlo: Thanks, Tracy. So unfortunately, we’re out of time. But we have one question left available to answer. So if you asked a question, please visit our website. We’ll send an email with the link to the recording, the slides, and any questions that were left unanswered as well as the questions that we did answer on our website at

Daisy asks, “I’ve seen a lot of blunder #5, the End-Gamers. With the organization simply trying to improve, how can you get everyone to really understand that it’s important to lead up to this if you want to go about it correctly?”

Tracy: That’s a great question. And basically what I would do is I kind of say it’s a marketing problem and I don’t mean that in a bad way. What I mean is you have to start selling the story of why this isn’t working without throwing people under the bus. And that is a fine line to walk.

So as an example, I would share stories about how some of the projects that have been done, they actually saved people time and money because we ended up not going with the solution that we thought was the answer. That’s what I would start honing in on in terms of stories. Sharing stories about this is how it added value to our organization because we do this and in this case and in this case and in this case, we actually have this idea that we’re going to do this and then when we did the root cause analysis, we actually came up with a much better solution that cost half of the price or cost a lot less or saved us a lot of time.

So you have to find those nuggets. You have to start talking about it because people aren’t going to – otherwise people aren’t going to see the value in doing it.

Karlo: Great. Well, thanks so much, Tracy. And thank you all for joining today’s webinar. We hope you found it really helpful and we hope to see you on our next webinar. At the end of this presentation, there will be a survey. We’d love to hear your feedback as well as any suggestions that you have about a webinar that you’d like to see in the future.

So at this time, the webinar is ending and we hope to see you again soon. Thanks.

Tracy: Thanks everybody.

View our upcoming webinars and join live so you can ask questions and let us know what you’d like to us to cover next. We’re busy building new webinars all the time. And we’re happy to know you’re busy too – building your problem-solving muscles – keep it up!

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Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

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