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Lean Six Sigma would be easy if it weren't for having to deal with "people" issues!

Someone once said to me that Lean Six Sigma would be easy if it weren’t for having to get people involved in the solutions. To some degree I’ve seen this throughout my career in that projects I’ve worked on that have required little change in the behaviors of people seem to have solutions that are “stickier”. In other words, they don’t seem to revert back to the prior condition before the Lean Six Sigma project solutions were implemented. Unfortunately, most projects involve people to some degree, so this begs to answer the question-why don’t people do what they’re supposed to do?


Ferdinand Fournies writes about this problem and argues people don’t do what they’re supposed to do for a variety of reasons that many Lean Six Sigma teams may encounter when implementing solutions. Here’s a few of the reasons and some thoughts on how to address each one.


1. They don’t know why they should do it.

2. They don’t know how to do it.

3. They don’t know what they are supposed to do.


These first three reasons are at the heart of most Lean Six Sigma control plans (i.e. what and how). The why comes from ensuring people understand how the change will positively impact things such as customer satisfaction, safety, productivity, quality, cost, and revenue. Project teams also need to consider the “what’s in it for me” or WIIFM factor when implementing changes. Ask the question of what’s in it for the person changing, and you may end up with a much different perspective on why you may not be seeing the changes you expected.


4. They think your way will never work.

5. They think their way is better.


Reasons four and five fit nicely into the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC process because project teams should have data to confirm or deny these reasons for not doing what should be done. Perhaps in some cases the resistors are correct in that their way is better, but they need to have data to back up their claims. Likewise, the Lean Six Sigma team should have data from the Measure phase to compare to the Improve phase to validate the new way is truly better. In either case, this is a great opportunity to teach those impacted by the project the power of having data to make decisions.


6. They think something else is more important.

7. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it.

8. They think they are doing it.

9. They are rewarded for not doing it.

10. They are punished for doing what they are supposed to do.

11. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it.

12. There is no negative consequence to them for poor performance.


Reason’s six through twelve illustrate just how important the champion’s role is in the Lean Six Sigma process. Each of these reasons are in their hands, and how they prepare for and react to resistance to change ultimately determines the likelihood of success with the project. As a champion your role is to provide consequences to make the changes stick. I wrote about consequences in a previous post, and quite frequently from my experience champions and teams tend to focus on the antecedents (i.e. action plans, SOP’s, etc.) instead of the consequences (i.e. positive reinforcement) when implementing solutions.


The research in behavioral science clearly argues that antecedents are far less effective in changing behavior when compared to consequences. Champions need to have a plan in place to deal with behavior changes that will be required to make the improvement stick, and having a heavy focus on consequences, specifically positively reinforcing the desired behavior, will minimize the chances that people will revert back to old behaviors.


There’s no guarantee that people will do what they are supposed to do, but knowing some of the reasons why they may resist change is critical in many Lean Six Sigma projects where people will be asked to do something different than what they currently do. Ideally, these people need to be part of the Lean Six Sigma team, but this doesn’t always guarantee success. As your team approaches implementation of improvement solutions keep these twelve reasons in mind and use them as a checklist to ensure those reasons that may apply have been addressed.

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