The Number 3 Reason Why Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, And Other Continuous Improvement Projects Fail.


According to Charles Darwin living things evolved slowly over millions and millions of years. Small changes occurred that were almost imperceptible but which gave one species, or generation a minute advantage over another. Over many generations and a large span of time these minute differences grew larger and larger and became significant in terms of the ability of a species to survive. The diversity of species that have been created by this process and the incredible adaptations we can see around us led Charles Darwin to develop his Theory of Evolution.

A little remarked upon outcome of this process is that 99.99% of the species that have ever lived on Earth are extinct. The adaptations that occurred were either irrelevant or negative to their ability to survive, or the environment around changed so rapidly that their approach to finding improvement took way too long and they could not survive in the new environment. The dinosaur’s inability to adapt to the climactic changes after a meteor strike is a commonly used example.

Many improvement programs have befallen the same fate as the dinosaurs. The improvements that were identified were too small, incorrect, or not focused on the area of biggest need. The program took too long to show any meaningful return and still consumed funds and time.

An improvement program that must support large investments in time and money with no payback for months or years will go the way of the dinosaurs rather than the Galapagos turtle! Usually the program becomes the first victim of the monthly business unit review, next year’s budget submission, any form of short term cost reduction program, or just plain old fashioned neglect.

What Do We Do Differently?

Any investment in continuous improvement must show an almost immediate return. How long is immediate? Within days, or two weeks at the absolute most! If you are not seeing an improvement in the FINANCIAL performance of your business within two weeks then either the program is wrong for you, you are doing it wrong, or it is focused in the wrong area of the business.

Focus on Results, not Certification. It does not matter how many people you have who are certified as Lean Six Sigma Black Belts, or how many of your supervisors have completed Front Line Management or any other form of certification. These are all good sources of knowledge. What matters is how much real cash has been generated by applying the skills into your business. Our customers pay our business and ultimately all of us for what we DO, not for what we KNOW.

Focus on Measurements that allow everyone to see the impact of their actions on the business performance as a whole. The only result that matters is the impact on the business as a whole.

The “I’m OK because my department is improving, it’s all that lot over there that are the problem” doesn’t help you achieve the measurements that really matter – that is, the enterprise level measurements.

Please feel free to include your thoughts below.

Comments are welcome and encouraged.

Have An Awesome Day!


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