6 Tips for Telling and Selling Lean Six Sigma Project Stories

Everyone loves a good story, but even the greatest story doesn’t come to life unless the storyteller tells the story in a way that draws in their audience. To some degree a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) project is a story that progresses through five “chapters” of the DMAIC process. In this post I’ll share some tips on how to effectively tell your LSS story to help inspire others to get excited about wanting to use LSS to improve their own processes.

Tip #1-You are foremost a salesperson for LSS.

When I work with new champions and belts I always tell them that your objectives with all LSS projects are twofold. First, you want to achieve the objectives set out by the champion and your team outlined in the project charter, but a second goal also exists in which you want to create LSS “disciples” of your team members and those affected by the project who will help spread the LSS “gospel” (aka good news) throughout the organization.

To some degree the second objective is more important early on in the deployment process where you are trying to change your culture by using a structured process such as LSS. Each project has the potential to create 5-10 LSS disciples who will either spread the good or bad news about LSS, depending on how you approach your project.

How you “sell” LSS to others is no different than selling any other product or service. First, you identify a “need” for improvement (i.e. the problem, opportunity, etc.). Second, you provide the method (i.e. DMAIC) to address the need and resolve the issue identified by your prospect. One way to do this is through telling your LSS story in a way that relates to the need of the person you are talking with.

Tip #2-Know your audience.

This is where I see many belts struggle. The key to telling your story is to know your audience and what they care about. For example, management could care less about p values and control limits, but often times I find belts trying to explain what these numbers mean-what they mean to management is confusion and over complication of LSS; neither of which lead to leadership engagement.

Knowing your audience means you need to have multiple versions of your story to tell. The three most common versions I find helpful are leadership, technical, and grass roots. At the leadership level you need to be able to tell the story in dollars and sense. I say “sense” not in the financial perspective, but in the practical application sense. Leadership cares primarily about one thing-business results. Telling your story with a bottom line impact is 99% of what it takes to sell LSS to leadership.

The technical audience is that of primarily your peers or those who you may see as potential belts who have a passion for problem solving, systems thinking, and statistical analysis. These are the people who get excited about p values and conducting DOE’s. Telling a story to these individuals is one you want to include p values, graphs, charts, etc., because this is the stuff that gets them excited!

The final group are the ones who really have the power to change a culture, what I call grass roots individuals. These are the individual contributors who are primarily in team member roles, but also do the “real” work each day. In many organizations they are the fire fighters putting out the fires each day, and when they see the power of LSS to help them put fires out and prevent them from recurring a culture begins to change.

Tip #3-Keep it short and sweet.

Have you ever heard someone tell a story and after a few minutes you find yourself thinking, “enough already, get to the point!”. Many a LSS project story has been told that fits into this perspective. Think of how you might Tweet your project story in 140 characters and you’ve captured the attention span of most people these days where we are constantly fighting to maintain focus. Some questions to consider when telling your story are:

· What was the problem / opportunity?

· Who contributed?

· Why did it matter to the business (i.e. business case)?

· What was the starting point (i.e. baseline metric / process)?

· What was the biggest cause to the problem?

· What were the top solutions implemented?

· What was the result (i.e. primary metric and financial)?

· How were the results sustained?

· What were the lessons learned?

Staying focused on answering this short list of questions will lead to a story that gets to the key points quickly.

Tip #4-Minimize the PowerPoint madness.

PowerPoint is the most preferred medium for telling our story, and it can do a good job if used effectively. There are a list of issues you have no doubt encountered while sitting through a presentation such as too much text on a single slide, too many slides, overly complicated graphs, charts, and illustrations, etc.

I suggest starting with an essentialist perspective when creating your slide deck. Begin with one slide per phase and ask the question, “What is the one thing my audience needs to know about what we did in this phase?”. Build from this and work to minimize the number of slides and the volume of text on each slide.

Another suggestion is to use an alternative approach to telling your story such as a video or a presentation using PowToon. I’ve done a few PowToon presentations and the result was exactly as I wanted in that people left telling others about what they saw and heard-exactly what you are aiming for after telling your story!

Tip #5-Practice makes perfect.

This seems like a simple tip, but far too frequently the first go around on the presentation is at the actual report out. The problem is usually one that leads to not having enough time to present the full story, which leads to rushing through the best part-a happy ending!

Practicing at least a handful of times before an actual presentation will ensure your story matches the time available, and allows for a refining or polishing of your story to hit on all the key points.

If you do use PowerPoint I suggest using the record option to narrate your slides. This will give you an opportunity to not only put yourself in the presenter role, but also to play the role of an audience participant. Sometimes we think we come across clear and understandable in our presentations, but later on when we do have an opportunity to listen or view the presentation our perspective changes.

Tip #6-60 seconds to culture change.

My final tip is to always have a 60 second version of your story ready to tell anyone you might run into at work, home, grocery store, church, etc. Every day we have the opportunity to spread the good news about LSS, but we can’t do this unless we have our story ready to tell.

One way I’ve found this to be helpful is when someone tells me about a problem they are having at work. It’ll start out with something like, “We just can’t seem to do xyz without making mistakes and causing our customers a lot of problems.”, to which I’ll reply, “I’ve encountered a problem like that before and here’s what my team and I did…”. This will usually end up leading to questions about how they might apply LSS, or at a minimum one of the tools, to improve their process.

Telling your LSS story is just one more way to help change a culture, but if you can’t effectively tell your story to others it can backfire, causing others to believe LSS is too complicated and technically focused. Your ultimate goal in telling your LSS story is to create converts to the methodology by simplifying the approach and selling the potential results that come from taking on a project.

By learning how to effectively tell your story in a way that draws in your audience you are more likely to get the response of, “Tell me more about this LSS methodology and how I might use it to improve my situation.”. With that as a starting point you are bound to have a happy ending to the story!

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