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Famed business author Peter Drucker said, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results, not attributes.” And since Lean Six Sigma is about getting results, the role of the leader in successful process improvement is key. Without the proper support, teams struggle or fail. In order to build a robust culture of problem solvers, leaders must be clear on their part in the process.

Tune in to this 1-hour Leadership Webinar for a quick, concentrated look at what it takes to be a great process improvement leader.

Webinar Level

  • Leadership


  • The Role of the Lean Six Sigma Leader
  • Providing Project Selection Support
  • Removing Barriers for Improvement Teams
  • Managing With the A3
  • Avoiding the Top 3 Missteps

Tools & Templates

Webinar Transcript

Tracy: Hi everyone! Welcome to’s webinar. Thanks for spending some quality time with us. We are really excited that you’re here. Lean and Six Sigma are the go-to improvement methods used by many leading organizations all over the world to minimize cost, maximize profit, and develop better teams all while creating happier customers.

Every month, crafts webinars just for you, our global learner community. They are simple and we try to simplify concepts and tools of Lean and Six Sigma so that everyone can understand and apply them more easily and be more successful.

So today’s webinar is titled How Leaders Successfully Support Lean Six Sigma Projects. I’m Tracy O’Rourke. I’m Managing Partner at Todays, presenter is also a Managing Partner at, my colleague, the wonderfully talented and consummately knowledgeable, Elisabeth Swan.

How are you today, Elisabeth?

Our Expert: Elisabeth

Elisabeth: I’m good, Tracy. You are always too kind.

Tracy: Just to tell you a little bit about Elisabeth. She is an executive adviser, a Master Black Belt, a consultant. She is also a certified executive coach at Burnham Rosen Group. And she for 25 years has been helping leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab, Target, Volvo, Alberta Health Services, , and many others successfully apply Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.

Elisabeth luckily lives in beautiful Cape Cod with her handsome husband and cute geriatric cat. So I’m really excited about this webinar. I think you’re going to really enjoy it today. I think this is something that’s not a lot of information out there now. And Elisabeth saw that as a need and she decided to put this webinar together for you.

How to Interact

So, a few housekeeping notes before we begin. First of all, during the webinar, all attendees will be in listen-only mode. And at the end of the presentation, we’ll have Q&A session. However, please feel free to ask any questions at any time by entering them in the question area of the webinar section. You’ll also participate in some polls. And if we don’t answer all of your questions during this webinar, we’ll be sure to post answers as well as share the recording and the slides of this webinar on our website at

Let’s Interact!

So, for our first activity, we would like you to get familiar with the tool. And so, why don’t you go ahead and type in where are you from? Go ahead and just go to the chat window and type in where you’re from and let’s just see where everybody is coming in from and how late it is for you in your part of the world.

So, I am seeing already, Waco, Texas. Serbia. Amanda in Abu Dhabi. Thank you for joining us today. Chester from Dubai. Hey, there are people here from the Oregon Trail. That’s what they actually wrote. San Diego, California. Phoenix, Arizona. Saskatoon and Saskatchewan, Canada. Olivia is from Ireland.

We have people from Madrid, Spain and San Antonio, Texas. Judy from Seattle. And people from Olympia, Washington. Thank you all for joining us. We have approximately 460 people registered for this webinar all over the world. So thank you for taking time to be joining us today.

So now, I’m going to hand it over to our wonderful presenter, Elisabeth Swan.

Elisabeth: Oh Tracy, thank you as always for the warm introduction. And thanks all of you for joining. I can’t see you but I totally appreciate that you’re up late, up early. I didn’t see any Cape Cod represented but I’m going to work on that.

Let’s see. As Tracy said earlier, we’ve both been with since its inception. Our mission is to make it easy for you to build your problem-solving muscles. That means we simplify complex concepts as she mentioned. We’ve made our training extremely practical and I think really enjoyable. We provide a running case study at the Bahama Bistro. Our restaurant team applies all the tools to the process.

Aside from this webinar series, we put out blogs, we record podcasts, we do book reviews, we have a lot of information out there to help you get where you need to go.

We’ve used and taught Lean and Six Sigma for decades because it supplies the best toolkit for problem-solving and thankfully, there’s a growing list of companies who agree with us.

Who Is

Here’s our team at the Bahama Bistro.

We’ve Helped People From…

And then the companies that we’ve also helped, you can see here. There are brick and mortar, online companies. There are diverse industries. We’ve got health care, financial services, manufacturing. And as Tracy mentioned, lots of municipals and federal government agencies, and this is because Lean Six Sigma is about problem solving. And what we say is once you have an organization, you’ve got problems and I’m sure you know that on most levels. So like all of you, these companies want to be best at problem-solving so you’re in good company.

Today’s Agenda

So more on benefits later but let’s review today’s agenda. We’re going to cover the role of the Six Sigma leader, what is it leaders are supposed to do.

We’re going to give you some little overview of project selection support. There’s a lot more in-depth information and we’ll tell you where to get that.

We’re going to talk a little bit about removing barriers for improvement teams, sort of what they’re up against, and the kinds of things that you do that make a difference.

Managing with A3, we’re going to give you another tool template you can use with teams. And again, we’ll do a light touch on that but we’ll give you instructions on where to go to get more information.

And then we’re going to end with what we think are the top three missteps for leaders to avoid when they’re supporting Lean Six Sigma projects.

1. The Role of Leadership

So the rule of leadership, you might be a subject matter expert, you might be a process owner, you are generally not expected to do project work but you’re expected to clear the path for the team leads or the teams to succeed. So let’s look at what does that mean? How do you fulfill that role as a leader?


This is someone building their problem-solving muscles. And that’s your main job. You want to build the problem-solving muscles of your people. And there was a recent interview with Dick Costolo. He was the head of Twitter. That was by Suzy Welch and he was focusing it on the top two skills that hiring managers look for. And one of them is problem-solving.

So this is what Tracy and I hear all the time, the ability to solve problems, the ability to do good analysis, you can hire people with good problem-solving skills but it’s faster and more effective to build the problem-solving skills of the people that you already have. So unlike technical skills of the day, these skills never go out of date and they just get better with use.

How Do Processes Get Like This?

So let’s think about what are you people up against? Things like this, right? And in this analogy, the crazy convoluted pipe, we often have people that say to us, “I don’t really see a problem. There’s still water coming out.” And so part of the issue is people not even seeing issues. We get used to them. We get numb.

So when you see this picture, reflect for a moment on your processes and how they are designed. All right? The pipes reflect the process that might be something your direct reports are working in. Maybe they inherited it. Who designed it? Maybe it has just been built overtime. Usually, processes just get more complex unless somebody addresses them, right? They just grow. Just like your phone bill.

So people have to work in these processes are the victims of bad processes. For those of you that have heard Dr. Deming’s quote, you would say that 90% of the problem is the process and 10% of the problem is the people. But what we see is that the opposite comes to place. And that is that 90% of the time, we blame the people. So we blame people even though it’s the process and if there’s a bad process, a bad process will be the good person every time. So you can put a good worker in a bad process and the process is going to win.

So your people have probably been bitten by a process before and that person positioned at a bottleneck like this, everybody wonders why they can’t do their job and it’s frustrating and they get blamed for it. So as leaders, your job is to focus on the process, not the people. That’s job one. And processes can be hard to see especially administrative processes.

Making Process Problems Visible

It’s particularly hard to see processes in non-manufacturing or what you’re going to call transactional environments. You see a world of cubicles like the digital world. It’s hard to see what’s going on. And it’s the job of the problem-solver to make it visible. And you need to support that visibility. You need to make it OK to show problems, to deal with them openly. If you hide the problems, then they’re never going to get fixed.

And at Toyota, the credo was, “No problem is a problem.” If you’re saying there’s nothing wrong here, there’s something wrong because know that there’s constantly going to be problems to solve.

So help your people focus on the process, not the people to enable process improvement to flourish. And in terms of making processes visible, they have a lot of tools at their disposal. You’ve got process walks, process maps, visual boards. There are a lot of methods out there. There’s a lot of training they can get to make the processes visible.

So help your people focus on the process, not the people to enable process improvement to flourish. And in terms of making processes visible, they have a lot of tools at their disposal. You’ve got process walks, process maps, visual boards. There are a lot of methods out there. There’s a lot of training they can get to make the processes visible.

Support a Blame-Free Environment

The other thing you got to do is support what we call a blame-free environment. What are the consequences of a high blame organization? Organizations build silos. People become territorial and this leads to low levels of risk-taking. And the result is that people hide problems and problems persist. So your job is to promote a blame-free environment. Share openly. Taking calculated risk. Making problems visible.

Allocate Time for Process Improvement

You’ve also got to give your people time to do this. This is another big factor. And I’m sure you’ve been made aware of this. And this is a great quote when I think about people saying they don’t have time for process improvement, and that is, “Why is it we never have enough time to do it right the first time, but we always have time to do it over?” And that is just the truism. Thank you, Jack Bergman for putting it out. But that’s a truism.

What Is Process Improvement?

And if we look at the estimates that are out there for time spent working fixing and inspecting versus changing the process, that’s 30 – 40% just constantly in a rework loop and only 1 – 4% doing the work of problem-solving, doing process improvement. And that’s your job. You’re supposed to change that equation. Get your people in there fixing processes and make that the norm. So give them the time to do it. And that’s a good argument for giving the time.

Poll #1:

So let’s do our first poll. Tracy, are you going to run that?

Tracy: Yes. So, we have a poll. What’s your experience supporting a process improvement project? And this is what our audience said. So 55% say, “I’ve supported projects but I’d like to do a better job,” 20% say, “I’ve supported projects in the past,” 14% said they never had the pleasure of supporting a process improvement project, and lastly, 10%, “I’ve been a champion but was unclear on my role.”

And I think this is really interesting. It’s great that people want to support projects and do a better job. I love that. I do think sometimes that people are assigned as champions and they’re not really sure what their role is, and that also feeds into wanting to do a better job.

So it’s great to hear, “I definitely feel like this is one of the most important things for success for a project is making sure the champion is supporting you, you feel supported, you see the support, you hear the support.” So, thank you for the feedback on what your level of experience is.

Do you have any comments about that, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: No. Just that it’s disheartening that our subscribers want to do a better job. And I’m going to take them to a place to sort of job 1 or the first step in doing a better job.

Tracy: OK.

Education for Leaders

Elisabeth: And that is education. Educate yourselves. You may have some background already in Lean Six Sigma. You may have anecdotal. You may have been involved in process improvement. But get some formal education. You can do White Belt or Yellow Belt for free. Certification for each – for getting them at nominal fee, but you can take the training for nothing. One is one hour. One is eight hours.

So again, leaders are busy. But it’s out there. It’s self-paced. You can do it at your own time. But that gives you a sense of what your team leads are trying to do, where they’re looking, what they’re trying to achieve.

And the other – you can go to the other end, which is on-site doing simulation. We have one called FastPitch. And it’s basically a shared process improvement experience. You get leaders in the room, team leads in the room. They work three rounds on an administrative process and they come out never seeing this conducted without huge converts on the other side ready to identify projects, ready to support improvement.

We have often added a second day so people can actually select those projects and start to build the charters. So you have options. You can go low level, one hour, all the way to two days and more. So start with your education.

Leaders in Action

And just think about these factors. We always say to our team leads, “If you do not have a champion or a sponsor, there’s no project.” So unless you as the leaders get in there and say, “I support this. I’ve got skin in the game,” then we’ll reject those projects.

Meet with your team leads. Eighty percent of success is showing up. So be there for them.

I will give you an example. I had a group of ten team leads I was coaching last year, and only two of them had their sponsors show up on some of the calls. This is all remote coaching. I had spent an hour with these guys. And for the two, they had their sponsors show up. They got the most dramatic success in their projects of any of the ten. And they would not stop.

One of them, because of his great work, got promoted. But he kept coming back to the area where he had made improvements. He was looking at some over-charging for carrier service. The costs were way too high. He discovered, a lot of this is detective, he discovered the mislabeling of two man jobs when they were just one-man jobs. And he did great cost-savings there.

Another one was looking at the waste of paper in a printing process. And he saw they were often tossing out the first ten print jobs, and this could be huge bound works. So that was a lot of waste. And that one, his sponsor supported him in conducting an entire 5S of the workspace. The whole team volunteered to come in over the weekend. They got completely engaged in this because support was so visible. They were so engaged.

So that to me is where I see just showing up makes a huge difference. Stay connected. It matters when you show that you’re concerned about the problem they’re trying to fix.

Stay connected. It matters when you show that you’re concerned about the problem they’re trying to fix.

I’ll go over the A3. I mentioned using that to just be updated on what they’re doing. We’ll do a light touch on the A3. That’s a great tool and talk about it. You got access to senior leaders that they don’t and you got marketing. You’re going to let people know what’s happening, what improvements, because also, there’s nothing like peer pressure. If you’re people are doing well, that’s going to spark others to want their people to do well. So those are just some thoughts around your role.

2. Providing Project Selection Support

So moving on to number 2, which is providing project selection support. So this is a look at the journey of a team lead. So first, you’re looking at the 8 wastes. They’re trying to uncover where is the biggest source of waste in their arena? And then they’ve got a select a project and find a champion. And you can help them select that project. So those two are very aligned there. Finding the champion, champion has to agree with the project. Then they’ve got to assemble a team and promote education.

Lean Six Sigma Project Types

So let’s take a look at the different project types that exist in process improvement. At the left, we got quick wins, also called “just-do-it’s”. And these are known problems with a known root cause and an easy solution. Those are tightly scoped. Not a lot of pre-work involved there. Not a lot of permission. It’s very tight locality. It’s not cross-functional.

The next is process improvement. We’re going to do a little deep dive on that.

Process design, this means the process doesn’t exists at all. It has to be designed.

And this process redesign makes the process exists but it needs so much work. It’s never going to meet customer requirements. We’ve got to redesign the whole thing.

And the last is infrastructure implementation. And this is generally installing some form of measurement. A lot of process improvement means we’ve got to measure how we’re doing now in order to understand what needs improving. So this means we’re monitoring the voice of the customer. We’re trying to understand where are we missing the mark, where do we need improvement? And having this infrastructure helps you pick improvements.

Process Improvement Projects

So we’ve got all these different project types and they’re all valid. But what you want is a process improvement project. These guys, we’re talking about training projects, they’re learning how to problem-solve. They need a straight DMAIC Lean or PDCA. So DMAIC is Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Lean comes from the Toyota Production System. And PDCA is Deming’s. That’s Plan, Do, Check, Adjust.

Whatever the method, you’re looking for incremental reduction of defects, of cycle time, of cost, of variation. You don’t know the root cause. You might have suspicions. You might know some of it. You don’t know all of it. And the solutions are not already determined. That’s what these guys need. That’s the kind of project that you need to help them pick.

Good Process Improvement Projects?

These the criteria that are also key in terms of picking a project. Measurable.

I had a project team in financial services firm and they were picking a project. They wanted to increase the rate of people that signed up online to open investment accounts. And when we started poking at that to understand how would we measure that? They said, “Well, we want to know people who dropped off. They go on to the website, they start to open an account, and then they drop off. We want to know why.”

But there’s no way to reach those people because they dropped off. So that’s not measurable and it’s never going to be measurable. So we can’t do that project.

The other aspect or the other criteria is meaningful. This might be a pet peeve. People might not like following guidelines. But it has to have a larger significance. People have to hear about this project and say, “Good, I’m glad they’re doing that. That’s important.”

Manageable means you didn’t ask this person to say either boil the ocean or cure world hunger. This isn’t a big cross-functional project. This is tightly scoped, something they can tackle and succeed in because we want early success.

This isn’t a big cross-functional project. This is tightly scoped, something they can tackle and succeed in because we want early success.

And the last one is huge. It’s familiarity. They got to know the process they’re working in. This can’t be an assignment to go someone else’s process and figure out what’s wrong with it and fix it. That’s also setting up for failure. They have to know the job. This has to be part of what they do. We often instruct them to fix what bugs you. So they have to know the process in order to do that.

“Misfire” Problems to Solve

So let’s look at some of the “misfires” that we’ve seen. These are real. These are things I’ve actually seen. So one of them was they said, “Well, my project is to create a guide for buying supplies.” Great. If you already know that you want a guide for people buying supplies then go ahead. But that’s a solution. So what’s it for? What’s the problem that you’re trying to solve for? But we often we solutions coming in as projects. And honestly, they just don’t need a problem-solving method. You don’t need DMAIC, Lean, or PDCA to solve that. Just do it.

The next one is removing unauthorized vendors from the vendor file. Also, I got this as a project. And this one again is just do it. If that’s what you think you need to do then go ahead and do it. But why? Why do you want to remove them? Why are people using unauthorized vendors? And what are they getting from that? What’s the underlying issue there? That might be a project but it isn’t phrased that way.

The next one was really fascinating. This was – Starwood had just installed the new heavenly beds. If you’ve ever stayed at Westin or the W’s, they have these very luxurious big – lots of pillows, down comforter on top. And what they didn’t expect was that people would like them so much that they wanted to buy them for themselves.

So they needed a supply chain. They needed a process to let guests buy them. They did brochures and things they could put in the hotel rooms. So this is what we call a design project. That’s not an existing process. That’s design. That takes higher level skills. They had to put a team of Black Belts, very experienced Black Belts to do a design project. This is not a good training project.

And the last was stop using a higher-priced paper stock. Well, do a cost-benefit. It’s a decision. Go do it. That’s not again, a project that needs any kind of process improvement method. It’s not project.

Selecting a Training Project

So how do we select good projects? And one thing we do is we give you a lot of tools. Here’s a simple one. This is the project selection guide. And I’m just going to walk you through it because you can use this. It’s a series of questions that get at some of what we were just talking about. So let’s come back to the form.

Project Selection Guide

So the first thing up left, project name. What are you trying to do? Is this improving application cycle time? What is it? And then you’re going to answer each of these questions using a 5-point scale. And you can see it’s colored-coded. Blue is 1 and very high is 5. Green is good. So low is bad, high is good.

So the first one is it must be a process improvement project. And we just walked you through all the different kinds of projects you could see. But you want the process improvement.

So the first question is, to what degree do you believe this process can be improved? Meaning, it doesn’t require a complete redesign. So let’s get at that and let’s say, I give it a 4. That’s pretty high.

Next question. To what degree is this project require analysis and discovery? This is not a ready-made solution, not an implementation, not a decision, not a just do it. So you can cover all the rest of those just by saying, “Yeah.”

Now, you’re going to get these little pop-ups that say, “This project has to require a discovery here.” So implementation projects or just-do-it projects don’t require the DMAIC method which is what candidates will be using during training. Do you want to continue? Yes.

So we’ve selected a few of these really key questions and provided warnings to say, “You better be really sure that this is the kind of project that these guys can really use the method on.” So you’ll see those warnings pop up.

Next up. Is it meaningful? So now, these questions we’re getting at, is this something that we should spend time on? What’s the potential for an improved customer or client experience? Is this going to help customers? So again, we’ll give it a 4. What’s the potential for cost reduction or cost avoidance? That would be another good one. What’s the potential for defect reduction? Another great topic or category. How about the potential for time savings?

So we’re trying to understand where do you see this project making a difference? It has got to be in one of these categories.

Now, we’re asking, is this curing world hunger? What’s the level of leadership support for addressing this project? So without leadership support, these guys are going to struggle. So let’s say, “Well, it’s pretty high.”

So what degree is the scope of this project doable? So again, this is not a big cross-functional project. I’ll say, “Pretty good.”

What’s the level of buy-in for this project in general? Do people – is there resistance to this? Are there people that staking their careers on the way things are now and they are not going to allow change? Well, let’s say it’s a 4. No. Project has to have buy-in. There’s no support for this project then it’s not a good candidate for training purposes. So let’s come back here and go back and make sure we’ve got good buy-in for this.

What’s the level of expertise available to lead this project? Do people know this process? What is the level of resources available? Can people work this project? Do they have time? And what is the potential availability of subject matter experts? So there are other people in the process that no parts of it that the team lead might not. Are they available? Good.

What is the availability of existing data related to this process? Back to that issue of, is it measurable?

And then how much clarity is on exactly what will be measured? Are we going to lower defects? Are we going to reduce cycle? Are we going to increase customer sat? Do we know what we’re measuring? We kind of get them in this mode of you can’t change what you can’t measure.

And then what’s the likelihood this effort could be completed in four months or less? Again, this gets at the scope. Is this things so big it’s going to take forever?

So let’s say, it’s pretty good. No. Again, the project has to be manageable. If there’s not strong likelihood the project will be completed in four months, select another opportunity. OK. I get it. So I’m going to come back here.

So that gave me a score of 83. So if the project score is less than 75%, either consider another opportunity or go address some of the low-scoring areas. See if you could increase buy-in. As a leader, it’s your job to sass out and make sure that these projects are going to lead to success for the candidates.

All right. So that’s one thing that you got. Now, let’s come back and go to another poll, Tracy.

Poll #2:

Tracy: OK. So, this is really a reflective question for leaders on the call, on the webinar today. What kinds of “misfire” projects might have you assigned? And the results are 45% say, “Well, at least more than one of these so let’s talk about what those are,” 22% said solutions, implementation of solutions, 19% said just do it, 14% said boil the ocean, and 1% said decisions.

So, I think that’s really interesting. And it’s really great to hear that you’ve recognized that you’ve done these things and now hopefully, you’ll avoid them because I do know that it could be very disheartening for employees to be excited about learning the methodology and then be handed a project that doesn’t really apply. But it’s not totally damaging. It’s just an education.

So I think that if these are things that you’ve done, the awareness of that, it’s going to help you improve greatly.

What about you, Elisabeth? Any thoughts on that?

Elisabeth: I’m impressed with the candor of our subscribers that people are acknowledging, “You know, I’ve done this. I didn’t mean to or didn’t know this was bad or whatever.” But just the candor that almost half of the group are saying, “Yeah, I’ve assigned more than one of these.” So that candor I think goes a long way.

Tracy: Definitely.

The Goal of the Project

Elisabeth: So let’s look at from here, what about goal statements? So back to this idea of you can’t change what you can’t measure, we always are looking for what is the metric? What’s the measure we’re trying to push? And this is the kind of goal statement that we see a lot of. We get people throwing every single thing they think they could do in this one project and they’re really – and I know where it comes from. Everyone wants to be seen as confident. They want to be seen as capable. They want to show you that they’re thinking ahead. They’re solving problems already just in the goal statement.

And the reason this happens I think is because they’ve heard for years, “Don’t bring me a problem. Bring me a solution.” But the whole idea of problem-solving is that until you start digging, you don’t know all the root causes or the potential solutions. So, you have to step back. You have to ask your team leads one thing to focus. Decide how you’re going to measure it. And that’s a place to start.

But the whole idea of problem-solving is that until you start digging, you don’t know all the root causes or the potential solutions.

So let’s take a look at the evolution of goal statements. We push back on this. We say, “You’re not going to do all this. Pick one thing. Pick one thing in here that you’re going to do and let’s see how you’re going to measure it.”

Upgrading Goal Statements

So here’s some evolution of goal statements. So I also hear this a lot, “We’re going to streamline this process. We’re going to streamline the accounts payable department.” It sounds great. Who wouldn’t want that? But what does that mean? What are we measuring?

So if we push on this, we get somewhere like we’re going to reduce the time to process an invoice from one week to one day. Great. I’ve got a measurement. I’ve got a baseline. I’ve got a target. That works. And you see how simple that is? It’s often that quick. It is one sentence. What are we reducing? What are we increasing? From what to what?

Next one. Improve the efficiency of the purchase order process to 100%. OK. Two pet peeves here. One, efficiency. Great word. Love it. Want things to be efficient. But what are we measuring? How do we know if we’ve made it more efficient?

The other pet peeve, a 100%. These people are in training. They’re learning how to problem-solve. Don’t set them up for failure by saying, “You have to reach perfection out of the gate.” Hedge your bets. Come back a little bit. And also understand that process improvement is incremental. You fix it once. You go back. You fix it again. It’s never done. So this is a cyclical process.

So reduce the percent of purchase orders requiring rework from 22% to 5%. That’s a huge jump. But once again, we have to say, what are we measuring and what’s the baseline, what’s the target?

Next up. Reduce the time it takes to find a vendor by creating an approved list of vendors. Now, that’s where they snuck the solution right in there again. They know where they’re going. They want just do this. And we’re trying to understand why. But it turns out it’s because it takes a long time to find a valid vendor. Great. So reduce the time it takes to find a valid vendor from four days to one day. And then we can address all the things that are making it hard to find vendors. Not just this one solution.

Last one. Install the new application process like software. We see that a lot. People say, “Give me a project.” They’re like, “Well, install the software. We need that done.” And again, we push and we say why. Why are you going to install that new software? Well, it turns out they have incomplete submissions. Well, that could be due to a lot of things. The form could be hard to deal with or mislead people. So reduce incomplete application submissions from 13% to 2%. And that is a better goal statement.

So these are just guidelines for you in terms of how to think about measurement, how to guide these guys to pick one thing, and how to make it measurable and set targets.

3. Removing Barriers for Teams

So let’s come back now to the third step which is removing barriers for teams. And this equation, it really truly is multiplication. It’s Results = the Quality of a process improvement effort x the Acceptance of that process improvement effort.

And if they do a fantastic job, they stay in their cubicle and they work that process and they identify all the problems and come up with the most elegant, brilliant solutions but they never work with other people, they never check in with the people in the process, then acceptance is going to be zero. And if you multiply a 100% quality by 0% acceptance, you get 0 results.

So this is partly your job. You have to help the team leads with support and acceptance. And they may be afraid to ask for support. Again, they may be running with that credo, “Don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution.” So it’s your job to step in there and ask them. And a great question for them is, “What is your greatest challenge? What are you up against? What are your barriers? Talk to me. Tell me.”

This is where sponsors can reach out to other leadership. They can step in. They can show their support so other people see you’re visible, you show up. This matters so people say, “Oh, they’re on board. I guess this is changing. I guess we’re going to do something about it.” So lots of things they can do. But there’s a lot that you can do.

I recently had a team working on reducing the cost of supplies. And she had senior people, so they are above her. And they are allowing their direct reports to use their credit cards or her credit card to order supplies to get around the system.

So they were supposed to be using the corporate card but these people were circumventing the supply process to go get what they wanted, when they wanted it. But these were leadership people. And she didn’t know what to do. She is below them in rank but here sponsor was the CEO.

So I coached her, “Go to your CEO. Ask for support on this. Your CEO is visibly supporting your projects so let her reach out to the leaders that aren’t following a process.” And she did it and that worked. So that’s one of the way that you can help.

10 Types of Troublesome Team Members

And this is just an example of what team leads run into both on their team but also with other members of leadership. Just think about. You probably got colleagues you might call Corporate-Climber Cliff. You’ve got Busy Bonnie, people you’re asking for help. They’re asking for help that don’t come up with the data or don’t provide access to things they’re asking for. So again, you can be of a big help. This is an infographic you guys can access it too on the website.

4. Managing With the A3

OK. That takes us to number 4. And this is managing with the A3. So this is another tool. All these tools are free. The A3 is just a template. It allows you to stay connected. It’s also a coaching and a problem-solving tool. So it’s a great way for you to interact with your team leads. It helps them solve problems. It helps you sort of be the sponsor, be the supportive coach, be the champion. It also helps you speak the same language as the team lead. So now, you’re talking about problem and analysis and current state, the terminology of process improvement.

Using the A3

The A3 is really helpful because it’s a one-pager, it’s limited, it’s targeted, it’s constantly updated, and most importantly, adaptable. We’re going to give you a standard look of an A3. But these get changed constantly for the process.

And I’ve also just listed here. We now have A3 modules, a standalone module. So these are quick. So these are short modules. Again, it doesn’t take much time and you can get a nice background on what the A3 is.

The A3 General Outline

So let’s look at the format. This is a general standard outline, kind of follows DMAIC, follows Plan, Do, Check, Act. It’s a problem-solving cycle. And you get the background of why this project is important. The current state, what are the issues they see. The goals, there is that goal statement we just worked on.

The analysis is what they’re starting to find in the process. And then proposed counter measures. There might be some quick wins. There might long term solutions. But they’re uncovering these as they go. They’re creating implementation plans and then there’s follow-up. That’s one way to use this.

A3 From the Bahama Bistro

And here’s an example of one from the Bahama Bistro. So you can see that people put in images that pictures this is what the shop for looks like or this is what our website looks like right now. This is how hard it is to use an application. They might put in a fishbone diagram down there for analysis.

But I’ve got a group right now where the client, the project management office, they decided to adapt the A3 and make it work for them. So they have this question, what’s the greatest challenge?

For each of the team leads, they have them submit the A3 every week. I’m doing the coaching but the project management office wants to know from these team leads, what are you doing? And since they have to update it every week, that’s a drumbeat. That means they’re updating it for me when I coach them and they’re updating it for leadership when they check in.

So, this is a great way to keep process improvement work flowing, give it that drumbeat, give it that constant attention. So this is a great tool. I recommend it highly.

Poll #3:

And that brings us to poll #3, Tracy.

Tracy: OK. So what we want to know now is in your experience, which leadership shortcoming impacts team leads the most?

And our audience said, 41% not embracing proposed process changes. That is by far the number one reason people said. And I absolutely agree with that. Having a team go through the whole process and then not supporting them on the process changes they want to make, it’s a killer. They don’t want to do it again. They don’t want to do another process improvement effort because they feel like they’re going to get shut down. So I agree. That is probably the most damaging.

24% say advocating solutions instead of problem-solving. I agree that does happen. I think it’s only natural for people to do that. We naturally want to solve problems and we jump to solution naturally. But I think it’s fixable. I think people recognize it happens and we’re all trying to think and do things differently. So, it’s not as damaging.

Giving people the time to improve, 22%. Yeah. It is a problem out there. It’s not the biggest but I agree with the 22% as well. I do see people saying, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to have time to do this. My boss isn’t going to let me get off the line to work on this.” So that is definitely a shortcoming.

And finally, 12% not checking in on project progress. I hear that too where people say, “My boss does not ask me about this. He or she doesn’t really care.” And that’s too bad because they are learning. They tend to like it. They’re excited and they know that the passion and the excitement isn’t being shared by their leadership so it’s kind of – it sucks the life out of it.

So thank you for sharing some of these things. I definitely agree that these are definitely shortcomings that can be improved by leadership.

Elisabeth: Thanks for that, Tracy. And I would add on that. Not embracing proposed process changes, I often see that’s a result of that lack of engagement where sponsors and champions don’t really know what the team leads are doing until they are all the way down the road to having that proposed solution whereas had they been in constant contact with that A3, they would see the analysis. They would see where these guys were going and you wouldn’t get to this and that to your point, that demoralizing point. So that’s helpful information.

Not embracing proposed process changes, I often see that’s a result of that lack of engagement where sponsors and champions don’t really know what the team leads are doing until they are all the way down the road to having that proposed solution whereas had they been in constant contact with that A3, they would see the analysis.

Avoiding the Top 3 Missteps

All right. So, what are the top three missteps that we’ve seen, that we’ve experienced with process improvement teams and leaders? So one is, do not blame the person. Blame the process. And that’s a big one. That’s again, a demoralizing thing. And now that you’re educated, you know a bad process would beat a good person every time. So support your people and let them make mistakes as they go through learning how to solve problems.

Another misstep is asking teams to “problem-solve” solutions. So that doesn’t need a DMAIC project. It doesn’t need a problem-solving method. If it’s something to install, go ahead. But think to yourself, “Why am I asking them to implement this solution? What’s behind this? What am I trying to solve?” Because there might be a broader list of things that could happen. There might be more causes or difference causes that you’re unaware of. So try to reframe it.

And lastly, another misstep is assigning projects but not allowing time to work those projects. So let people – give people time. We say 20% of your time should be spent on process improvement. That’s a day week. Work, it’s a couple of hours a day. So give them that time. And I know you’re still asking them to continue their day jobs that people don’t have the luxury of just solely dedicating themselves to process improvement these days, but keep a drumbeat. Let them off the hook on key pieces. Give them some support. Give them availability to other people to work with. Give them teams. So there are different ways to address that. But allow them to have time.

Underlying Values & Behaviors

And this is a big one. Underlying values and behaviors. And the quote here, “Culture is created by what is tolerated and promoted.”

“Culture is created by what is tolerated and promoted.”

And this is two-part. So one of these is, what are you doing? What are you actually doing and what message is that sending? And the message I get and I see it – I can see it as soon as I go into run a workshop, did leadership show up to the workshop? Did they come to kick it off? Did they stay the day? I can sense right away what’s the engagement to that activity, what you do speaks volume.

The other thing is what you don’t do. So if there’s blame going on in an environment, if people are being sort of given a hard time for issues in the process or making issues visible and you don’t say anything, if you don’t back those people up, if you allow that, if you tolerate it, that’s as bad as if you’re doing it.

So it’s culture is what is tolerated and promoted. So think about what’s tolerated in your organization and where you can help push that culture in a problem-solving direction.

Change Defines a Leader

So when you “run things” you’re an operator. When you supervise other people running things, you’re a manager. When you set direction and guide, change an improvement, you’re a leader.

So think of your team leads as the methods to success because they’re going to help you achieve results. The better they build their problem-solving muscles, the more they tackle processes and issues, the better the results are going to be.

Related Resources

And this is just a list of more things for you to do in terms of a call-to-action. So you got this webinar. You got some good insights on where you can be helpful. You got the project selection guide. You can use that. You can spread that to your colleagues. You’ve also got the A3. That’s an easy updating tool.

But you got some more tools here. You’ve got a whole webinar that does a deep dive on selecting the right improvement projects, so that gives you an even more sophisticated tool. It talks about sourcing, alignment with strategy. So if you want to go down that road some more, we’ve got a great webinar for you.

Another webinar is how leaders can support Lean using leader standard work. This is very targeted. So this is a great Lean set of tools for leaders. This is visual management. It’s using whiteboards. It’s a great how-to if you want some good tools for leading efforts.

Another webinar on How to Rollout Lean Six Sigma Training and this goes with a kit. There’s a 14-step menu of options for rolling out Lean Six Sigma training. And this webinar shows you what that kit is about. It’s kind of a la carte. So where are you in an organization? Do you need a project management office? Do you need to run a proof of concept project to convince people that they want to go down the road of process improvement?

So it sort of takes in consideration that organizations are at different levels, different points in their evolution of problem-solving. So it’s very helpful if you’re thinking about bringing more process improvement into your organization.

So it sort of takes in consideration that organizations are at different levels, different points in their evolution of problem-solving. So it’s very helpful if you’re thinking about bringing more process improvement into your organization.

Today We Covered

So we talked about your role, what you need to be doing, what you need not to be doing, how to provide project selection support, how to help team leads remove barriers, they’ve got to remove some barriers but there are barriers they can’t, and that’s up to you, managing with the A3, staying connected, showing up, and understanding where they are in their process, and then the last three was what to avoid, topics to avoid.

So we’ve got some questions we’re going to hear from you guys. We’re going to let you type in questions so we can see what you want to know based on this webinar. And while you’re doing that, we’re just going to go over a few things and let you know what’s coming up.

Getting Started

One is just to let you know there’s a lot of training out there. You’ve got the White Belt, the Yellow Belt I mentioned. You’ve got individual modules like the A3. You’ve also got Green Belt or Lean Training. There’s also Black Belt Training. So there’s a lot of training out there, a lot of it is free. So if you want to continue your education, you’ve got that.

Upcoming Webinar

The next webinar, we’d love for you to sign up for this one. It’s also a great way of bringing more talents internally giving you the tools to run things yourself. That’s happening June 28th at 11:00 AM Pacific Time.

Tracy, why don’t you give a little intro to that because you’re going to run that one?

Tracy: Sure. So this is really addressing – obviously is in its online training business and all of that is self-directed. But we have been asked by many of our users and learners how to go about creating a group review if you want to, let’s say you have 10 or 15 people at your organization that want to go through the online training, so we’re really going to address how you can do that successfully, how do you create a schedule for that, what are some of the things you guys can do when you come together in terms of group reviews, what’s the format to follow, what are some of the things that you could do as activities to discuss.

Because we really believe that there is an element of collegiality that you can build within your organization with some of these group review sessions. So the nice thing is you’ve got the flexibility of asynchronous which is self-directed training but then you have the groups come together and then you build off each other’s learnings and knowledge by using some of the activities within groups. So, that’s really what that will be directed towards.

Because we really believe that there is an element of collegiality that you can build within your organization with some of these group review sessions.

Elisabeth: That’s an incredibly successful model that we’ve seen so this is going to be a really useful webinar. I highly recommend it.

Just-In-Time Podcast

Next up. We’ve also got a running podcast. This includes lots of apps that help with process improvement, the latest books on process improvement, the latest news of process improvement, and it always ends with an interview of somebody who is big in the process improvement community.

And Tracy, you interviewed Darril Wilburn. Do you want to give us a little heads up on what that one is about?

Tracy: Sure. So Darril Wilburn is a Senior Partner at Honsha, which is an organization mostly made up by ex-Toyota employees and their mission really is to help others apply all of the principles that have been used at Toyota. And they actually host a tour in Japan of Toyota twice a year. And there’s one that happens in May. And as a matter of fact, it’s happening this week in Japan. And actually, we’ve got an updated feed on our news on that tells you what they’re doing every day if you’re interested.

And then the other time that they go every year is in October. And really, he just talks about what the experience is like, what you can expect if you went on this tour, and what some of the people have said about participating on the tour.

And as a matter of fact, Elisabeth and myself and Karlo from are hoping to go on this tour sometime in 2018. So we’re really excited and I think you would really enjoy listening to Darril speak about the tour and how they’ve been able to pull that together and how successful it is.

Elisabeth: Yeah. I am very excited to go. And I’m even more excited having seen some of the blog feed of what’s happening out there right now. They have these great photos of some of the dinners they’re having in Japan which look like something that we need to have.

Tracy: Right. We are all foodies at So you put pictures of food out there and we’re there.

Q & A

Elisabeth: So that’s a great one. That’s a great podcast for you guys to check out. And then let’s come back to our questions. We’ve got a little bit of time, Tracy, for some questions. What did we get?

Tracy: We definitely have a few questions for you, Elisabeth. So the first one is, what if the leadership doesn’t want to take the time to rifle through the whole template on the project selection guide template?

Elisabeth: So, if they don’t want to go through the whole – well, the guide is just one page. I can’t imagine that would take very long to go through a list of questions. I think that’s probably the minimum.

What they might not have time for is an hour long webinar. I know people are busy and if you tell someone, “Hey, I’ve got this great webinar for you,” they might say, “Can you give me the shorthand?” And if they want the shorthand then hand them that template or hand them an A3 and say, “OK, use this to keep connected with your team leads and use this to help select projects. So I think the short version is the template. The longer is the webinar.

Tracy: Yeah. And I would also just, if I could add that sometimes reminding them of the higher purpose of why would be nice because they’re really helping to help you build your problem-solving muscles. And as a leader, you’re looking for their help and their support in growing that. So, maybe that will cater to them a little bit more too.

Elisabeth: No. That’s a great point. You just reminded me the same group I had where she was getting resistance from some of the leaders on changing out supplies. She was going for cheaper supplies or restricting the vendors to get a handle on supplies. She was getting that resistance. People are saying, “Why are you taking away the products?” They’re like – and she went to – you just described that high purpose. Like what is this for?

And this was Cape Cod Child Development. They are seeing up classrooms for a head start for helping local families. And the money she saved just on reducing the phone bill and switching some vendors, paid the mortgage on a whole new center. So that was their mission, helping local families. And once she said that like, “Everything we’re saving in the supplies is leading to this mortgage,” she got a lot more acquiescence. She got people lining up and saying yes. So great point, Tracy, in terms of the level like why are we doing this. That’s great.

Tracy: Great. And so, that’s a nice segue into this next question. Maybe the champion isn’t interested. So how do you fire a champion from a project?

Elisabeth: That is hilarious. OK. And the caveat is we don’t know why you want to fire them. We’re assuming it’s not working out. They’re not the right person or they’re not putting in the time or they’re trying to implement solutions. Who knows?

So I’ll give you one tip, and that is when we run into situations where there’s someone that not particularly working out, we often find a person who wants to do it who would be a good person to do it and we ask the person in the position, “Hey, we know this is taxing. It’s taking up your time. You don’t really have the bandwidth for this. Why don’t we give you a break? Give you back some of your time to do the stuff that you need to do. We’ve got someone who can take it on.” So frame it as giving them their free time back and taking something off their plate.

So frame it as giving them their free time back and taking something off their plate.

Tracy: OK, wonderful. Thank you for that. Very helpful. So what would you suggest if a project is sponsored but there is no data for analysis?

Elisabeth: So there are two reasons that could be the case. One of them is that there’s no data, meaning it’s not in a system somewhere. There’s no report people can run. When they – especially when people start process improvement, they expect data to just exist. And the reality is most project teams have to go dig and manually collect data. That’s why we have check sheets. That’s why we have data collection plans. We help people figure out, “What do you need and how are you going to get that?”

And it often is them or someone else collecting that data for a certain amount of time so that they understand how the process works. Now, that might be one of the “don’t have data”. If that’s the case then they need to figure out how to collect it and collect new data. It takes a little longer. It’s nice if it’s in the system but it often isn’t there. So that’s one. That’s still doable. That’s still workable. Keep your champion. Keep your project.

The other one is people – it’s more like the one I described where we had financial services and they wanted to know why people were dropping off the website and they want to increase the amount of people that made it through but they had no way of understanding why they dropped off. So if they couldn’t analyze that process with root cause and understanding why then they can’t do that project. There was no data and there was no way to get data.

So, depending on what you mean, if there really is no data, there is no project regardless of the champion. But if it’s just manual collection, you can do that. Keep your project. Keep your champion.

Tracy: Wonderful. Thank you. Good advice. I think that would help out in a lot of places. OK. Next question. Leaders typically solve problems. Have you seen examples of leaders changing to allow people to solve their own problems?

Elisabeth: Well, yes. And usually, it happens because leaders have a lot on their plate. They are responsible for pretty big pieces of an organization. And if they are taking on all the problem-solving then they’re going to be buried. That’s a lot of weight on your shoulders. It also means you’re not building your people.

And often, it’s out of desperation. They really can’t do their job and solve all the problems. So they got to pull other people in. So I see that shift happening a couple of different ways. One, that people are bringing in Lean Six Sigma. They get some training. They realized, “Oh my God! We have this whole army now of people who can solve problems. That’s a load off.”

And the other way is that people just get buried or they find that if they solve all the problems themselves then there is no engagement. So a lot of different reasons people come to that. But I’ve seen it.

Tracy: Well, that’s good news. That’s good to hear. OK. Next question. I’ve improved several processes in my company by setting several hours per month for certain key people in my company. But administration still doesn’t see the value in the work I want to perform. They’re so filled up with reactive work. Is there a way to tactically bring this up without offending people?

Elisabeth: That’s a tough one because obviously, you’ve been doing good work and I’m thinking hopefully that you’re letting people know about it and showing how they’ve done what they’ve done. It might be a case of – it sounds like you see issues in other arenas and that’s tough one. People want to solve problems in general but it’s better to solve problems in your area.

One thing I’ve seen work is peer pressure. If you’ve got – you’re solving problems in your area and you’re making things run faster, better, and smoother. Then that should make leaders in your look good. And I would work with them to talk to other leaders to say, “Hey, we’re doing stuff faster, better, cheaper. You guys want some help over there? You want your people to get some problem-solving skills? Hey, there’s this free Yellow Belt seminar.”

I think you have to sort of raise the awareness and get some leadership help above you if that’s possible. But I’d go with peer pressure and making – doing that marketing, making things known.

Tracy: Wonderful. Thank you, Elisabeth. And one last question and then we’ll go ahead and wrap it up. Is the project selection tool that you showed available at the website? Is it different than the one that I purchased and downloaded earlier?

Elisabeth: It’s not different. You already have it. So what you’re referring to is there is a whole template, list of templates. There are probably close to a hundred. And you can download them singly for free. You want a template. You see if you can go get it. Everything we mentioned on here, the A3, the project selection tool, those are all downloadable. But what you did is downloaded the whole bundle and I think there is a fee for getting the whole bundled at once. But you got it. If you got that bundle, you got it.

Tracy: OK. Wonderful. All right. Well, I just want to take the time out to say thank you so much, Elisabeth for sharing your knowledge on this topic. And I want to thank our learners and our audience for joining today’s webinar as well. We hope you enjoyed your time with us and you found this webinar helpful.

So please don’t forget to share your feedback with us by completing the survey presented when the webinar ends because we definitely look at it and we always are looking to improve because we practice what we preach.

And that concludes today’s broadcast. So thank you everyone. And from the whole team here at, we hope you enjoyed the webinar and we’ll see you next time.

Elisabeth: Bye, everybody.

Tracy: Bye-bye.

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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Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Master Black Belt at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 30 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Marriott International, Inc. build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.
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