Getting better at something is a lot easier when you have guidance on how to get better from someone who's "been-there-done-that". We've all experienced being coached beginning with our parents. There probably isn't one person in this world who learned to brush their teeth on their own or tie their shoes without some type of "parental" coaching.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
In business it's no different, especially when it comes to lean Six Sigma (LSS). I can remember my first project and how much I struggled because I didn't have anyone to help me succeed. Looking back now I see that I did have people I could have reached out to for help, but just didn't have the courage to do so. It frustrates me now to think how much quicker I could have found success if only I had asked for help!
This is one of the most common reasons why I see a lot of people, especially men, applying LSS for the first time and failing. We men like to figure things out on our own even if it takes us twice as long to do it! In the end we might finish, but often the struggle to get there is so painful we never want to do it again, which is absolutely the worst outcome we could end up with regarding LSS in an organization. We want more, not less, LSS!
Looking at a LSS project as a process (i.e. DMAIC) and analyzing it for waste using the 8 classic forms of waste it's easy to make a case for using a coach to reduce project waste. As a quick reminder the types of waste found in most processes can be summarized using the acronym DOWNTIME.
D-defects / rework
N-not using people well
As with any process, you won't always find every form of waste to remove, but if you look hard enough you'll find many of them. turning our analysis to a typical first LSS project, the forms of waste I see most often when a coach is not brought into the process are defects / rework, not using people well, and excess processing.
Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. Proverbs 13:20
The most common form of waste in most processes, LSS included, are defects and rework. Doing something wrong or having to do it again are probably the most common mistakes we all make when doing something for the first time. In a complicated process like LSS I have never seen anyone, myself included, go from Define to Control, without making a number of mistakes that lead to having to re-do something or start over.
Defects and rework lead to not using people well, another form of waste, because nearly all LSS projects involve other people whose time is wasted when the project leader makes a mistake. From a culture change perspective nothing is more impactful in a negative way than wasting people's time. When you waste people's time with LSS they will invariably perceive LSS as a waste of their time!
Arguably, one of the biggest forms of waste I've encountered by those not using a coach is excessive processing. This is always one of the toughest forms of waste for many new practitioners to grasp, but it's essentially going far beyond what the customer of the process expects-something commonly referred to as "gold-plating".
For example, I used to frequent a Starbuck's drivethrough near my house, and almost every time I placed my order for a Grande (medium) Blonde with no room and one Raw Sugar they would give me a Venti (large). I didn't really care, but I ordered a Grande because I don't drink the coffee fast enough, so a lot of what's at the bottom of my Venti cup goes cold and gets thrown out.
The worst part of this is that they don't charge me any more for the Venti (it was their mistake), but they still have the higher cost for the larger coffee and make less profit (I paid for a Grande not a Venti). Now one coffee isn't going to break Starbucks, but if they're doing this at even a small percentage of their thousands of locations around the world it could add up quickly!
From a LSS project perspective the way excess processing comes into play is by using far too many tools, statistics, templates, etc. when completing a project. All this does is add complexity that isn't needed, and once again this drives people away from LSS, not towards it! When it comes to a LSS project JIT and using only what is necessary to achieve the project goals will go a long way in creating an "I want to do that again" attitude, which is the ultimate goal of every project. A coach will be able to help you decipher which of the 658 LSS tools available to you make the most sense to achieve your project goals (i.e. less is more!).
Using a LSS coach opens up a S.E.A. of success.
There are three reasons why everyone needs a LSS coach when they get started on their first few projects. The first reason is Support.
No one is an expert the first time they do anything. We all need support from someone who has been successful doing what we are attempting to do. In the world of LSS these are usually those who have master black belt certification from a reputable organization and have completed many projects successfully.
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22
A second reason to find a coach is for Encouragement.
If you haven't been frustrated yet with LSS you haven't done much of it! Getting people to change what they do; follow a structured problem solving methodology like LSS; complete action items; even show up for an occasional working session can be extremely frustrating work. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to who's dealt with and pushed through those frustrating times to give you some encouragement.
A final reason, the top reason my clients find value in what I do for them, is provide Accountability.
In some ways it's not surprising, but when I ask my clients what they value most about the time we spend together it's always that I provide them with an accountability partner-someone to hold them accountable for what they have simply agreed to do. My general approach to coaching is to meet with my clients every two weeks for an hour, and knowing that our session is coming up is usually enough of a motivator for them to come prepared to discuss their project.
Back when I should have been looking for a coach the resources that are available now didn't exist, but with technological advances like Google, LinkedIn, Skype, FaceTime, etc., finding a coach isn't all that difficult. The most important criteria, aside from being qualified (i.e. MBB, project experience, etc.), is finding someone you trust, which can take some time, but it's time well spent that will lead to years of future results and less frustration in the process.