The article, “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong,” by Satya L. Chakrvorty, WSJ.com, January 25, 2010 (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB1000), offers a great example of how and why many Six Sigma and other process improvement projects fail. He examines what happened at an aerospace company that initiated a number of process improvement projects, half of which ultimately failed.
I chose this article because I have been involved in process improvement projects that were quite successful. However, upon examination of the same company several years later the process improvement projects had faded away, and bad habits had returned.
In this article, teams from the various aerospace company’s departments were set up to examine their processes and seek ways to become more efficient. At the beginning, the team members were excited and were exceeding their goals for improvement. Upper management watched the project carefully, and team members were rewarded and praised for achieving their set goals. Management was convinced that the project was going well.
However, hidden within the project’s success were the seeds of failure.
With teams trained and all processes in place, the Six Sigma expert moved on to other projects, and the responsibility for reporting to upper management was left to the team leaders. Without the help of a trained process improvement leader, some teams became confused when analyzing their progress. Others committed so much time to the process improvement project that their work suffered. The middle management leaders soon were reporting only their successes, and began to emphasize what they intended to do rather than what was actually happening. Upper management, assuming that the project was going well, focused elsewhere, leaving the teams to fend for themselves.
It is obvious from this article, and my own personal experience, that when management does not give continued support and encouragement to a project, that it is likely to lose its original purpose. In the case of the aerospace company the teams began to regress to the old processes and habits. Team members began pushing their own personal goals. Management continued to receive positive reports, though little progress was...