Defining Leadership

Defining the Six Sigma Infrastructure

Tom Smith asked:

Any major change initiative requires a clearly defined supporting infrastructure to drive the program. Infrastructure is defined as the underlying foundation and basic framework of personnel and supporting systems needed to support Six Sigma deployment activities. Because every part of a company participates in Six Sigma activities, the infrastructure must be clear, consistent, and comprehensive.

An effective infrastructure facilitates the development of the core competency that will establish and link Six Sigma project teams to (1) projects, (2) financial targets, and (3) the strategic plan. These project teams will be multifunctional and will need multi-functional support to execute the projects.

If Six Sigma has any chance of being successful, the infrastructure will span from the CEO and his leadership team to business leaders and to people executing the projects. Remember we learned earlier that one of Kotter’s eight stages of leader change is “Create a Guiding Coalition.” Thus, there is the goal of the Six Sigma infrastructure.

The infrastructure creates a strong network among the Executive Team, the Six Sigma Champions, the Belts, and the functions and businesses. This makes sense because the CEO’s leadership team holds the accountability for executing the corporate strategic plan, and Six Sigma projects are instrumental in moving along the strategic plan.

One learning challenge of a Six Sigma deployment involves training the Six Sigma project teams. The human resources on these teams must learn how to work as a Six Sigma team. A new roadmap and a new set of tools, plus a more distinct focus on project accountability, add to the changes confronted by an organization when creating a Six Sigma environment.

Equally more important and complex is the learning challenge of the senior executives. Teaching the leadership team to learn how to lead a team-based organization is essential to strategic and long-term success. Because executing the strategy is a clear responsibility to which the senior executives are accountable, it follows that becoming a dynamic team leader within the Six Sigma deployment will support the strategic efforts.

Executing a good strategic plan entails the coordination of multifunctional internal activities. Senior executives must learn to deal with a multifunctional arena rather than the traditional functions. Hundreds of Six Sigma teams launched simultaneously is the outcome of an exemplary deployment of Six Sigma. Each of these teams need at minimum

1. Clear purpose for the Six Sigma team structure.

2. Clear Six Sigma program expectations.

3. Six Sigma project charters.

4. Six Sigma infrastructure tracking the number of teams.

5. Centralized repository for project results.

6. Six Sigma team goals.

7. Six Sigma team reporting mechanism.

8. Rewards and recognition alignment.

9. Six Sigma training and development plan.

10. Six Sigma team performance measures.

11. Deployment management of Six Sigma teams.

To accomplish all of the preceding requirements demands an extensive infrastructure with supporting systems. Preexisting resources are largely used to staff this infrastructure. Deploying a Six Sigma program, however, does not assume a requirement to add outside resources in a lot of new positions. The additional costs will usually have to do with the external consulting group you hire.

For example, the only resource that Larry Bossidy added when he launched Six Sigma into AlliedSignal was a corporate program leader. Larry brought in Richard Schroeder from ABB to drive the program. All the other resources for AlliedSignal’s Six Sigma program already existed within the company. A small number of additional resources were added by the businesses as needed.

Because accountability represents the hallmark of successful Six Sigma deployments, defining the Six Sigma infrastructure and staffing and training the infrastructure players should happen very early in the Six Sigma deployment. Training is essential since, as Larry Bossidy has advised in his book, Confronting Reality, you must “Learn the guts of the initiative.” He also adds that key members of the leadership team should learn the guts of the initiative. Early leadership training becomes a natural part of Six Sigma deployments to allow the program leaders to learn the guts of Six Sigma before the program gets too far along.

Defining the Six Sigma infrastructure is a little tricky. There should be a small centralized unit to ensure consistency and cost effectiveness of Six Sigma activities across the businesses and functions. There should also be a decentralized process that allows each business and function to tailor the Six Sigma deployment to its special needs. There is a big difference in deploying Six Sigma into the Human Resources function when compared to deploying into product development and R&D. So, our recommended infrastructure has both centralized and decentralized elements in it.


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