Hitachi Consulting: Lean SixSigma needs lasting change

24 October 2014

Lean and Six Sigma techniques have over the past years been adopted by many industries; however 50% - 70% of initiatives fail to reach their full potential, ‘hitting a wall’ after initial improvements. To achieve tangible business value from continuous improvement initiatives, companies should move beyond the primary focus on method and tools, says Jonathan Gray from Hitachi Consulting.

The central tenets to real business transformation are threefold:

1. Role-modelling Lean Leadership behaviour which truly empowers employees;
2. Ensuring improvements are connected by aligning initiatives to core business strategy;
3. Creating targets that go beyond cost reduction to time-based and service level competitiveness.

However, there are often significant barriers which must be overcome in order to affect lasting change.

Lean And Six Sigma

Leaders must role model change – the Lean Leadership maturity model
Leaders need to be open to learning and change themselves, and creating a learning environment for those around them. This is why Lean and Six Sigma methods and tools, when used in isolation, are not enough to deliver lasting operational transformation. Instead, they should be used as part of a broader approach to driving continuous improvement. The Lean Leadership maturity model articulates the evolution of Lean deployment in most organisations.

Deploying rigorous standards, tools and audits initially deliver strong results, but over time improvements slow and results plateau. Getting over the ‘wall’ needs a different approach to leadership. Leadership must focus on reinforcing Lean behaviours through situational coaching (on-the-job).  Time spent at Genba (time spent observing from the ‘shop floor’) coaching teams and supporting continuous improvement must be the first priority, and if demonstrated consistently is truly transformational.

“What are the new skills required in a change organisation?”
Learning change management, Lean leadership behaviour and coaching skills in a classroom is a world away from doing it in reality. When developing leaders at all levels, situational coaching provides the fastest and most effective approach.

Hitachi Consulting - Lean

To support this internal change, teams need to understand the working context of the people they are supporting - so they can relate change activities to the daily lives of employees and the performance of their business. In this way, change teams are perceived as jointly responsible, demonstrating a higher level of commitment to results defined and delivered together.

Yet the biggest problem for many leaders and managers today is time. Leaders can have fantastic people skills but if their calendars are too full, they simply have no time to demonstrate it. Supporting others to improve their personal effectiveness and create time is an often forgotten but core competence of internal change teams – to support leaders to rise to the challenge.

“How do we break down organisation silos?”
Finding a tangible shared objective can appear difficult, particularly when senior leadership teams are perceived as distinct to the rest of employees. But in fact, it is business transformation itself that should be the common goal. The goal: drive performance improvements across the end-to-end value stream and create a rewarding place for people to work. This will result in a high-performing organisation and create an environment for true continuous improvement. 

Jonathan Gray - Hitachi Consulting

Which organisations deliver change best?
Those that deliver change well tend to have strong values and are consistent in their approach to driving performance and implementing change, with a focus on long-term impacts. “The worst behaviour you demonstrate is the best behaviour you can expect of others” is a powerful statement, because it is simple and true. An organisation cannot have multiple standards of leadership behaviour if it hopes to create a consistent way of working and a high performing culture delivering breakthrough performance.

An article from Jonathan Gray, Vice President at Hitachi Consulting – the global management consulting and IT services business of Hitachi – responsible for the delivery capability of the EMEA industrials practice. Gray has over 15 years of management consulting experience complemented with time spent in industry and finance, and specialises in Operations Strategy, Leadership and Performance Management across the value chain.


Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.