Building with Bricks

7 Steps to Build the Foundation for a Lean Six Sigma Deployment


When building a house, if you want the house to sustain over the long term, the first structure you must build is a solid, well-engineered foundation. The Lean and Six Sigma methodologies are no different than a house. With a weak foundation or no foundation, Lean and/or Six Sigma won’t stand for long.

We (SSDSI) are called into many organizations that have previously implemented Lean and Six Sigma. In these organizations, the methodologies had failed to sustain. Most of improvements have reverted to their original unimproved state. In most cases, these methodologies have “left a bad taste” to the operators.

In our experience, this happens because the company didn’t build the foundation for Lean Six Sigma to survive. What makes a good foundation for Lean Six Sigma? … Planning, Buy-In and Education!


There are seven (7) critical steps to build the foundation for a sustainable Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement Effort.


Step #1 Building the Plan

I compare deploying Lean Six Sigma to building a house. Before you start building the house, you must first have a detailed plan to work from. I have seen many company’s hire a Green Belt and expect them to (Single-Handedly) Save the World! This will always end in failure. 

The Plan is called the Pre-Deployment Plan and this happens before we train the Executives and Champions. The deliverables from the planning phase are:

    • Detailed Short Term (1 year) Deployment Plan
    • Long Term Deployment Plan (years #2 and #3)
    • Lean Six Sigma Deployment Goals
    • Organizational / Site / Departmental KPI’s
    • Key Participant Selection
    • Project Hopper Development
    • Identify Initial VSM Candidates (to initially fill the Project Hopper)
    • Initial Development of the Management Dashboard (Deployment Feedback)
What's the plan?


Step #2 Buy-in of the company leadership

The first education should be the training of your organization’s decision-makers. If this level of your organization does not completely buy in to the Lean and Six Sigma roll out, the effort will quickly fail. As cost savings projects roll out, if the Executive Staff are not aligned, the projects will get road blocked by “turf wars”. The executive team goes through a Lean and Six Sigma executive workshop along with deployment Champions. The Executive Workshop is normally eight hours (one full business day). The deliverables of this workshop are:

    • Business Targets or KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are defined to include key Lean and Six Sigma metrics
    • Champions to be selected (if not already)
    • Rough draft of the Lean and Six Sigma Marketing Plan is developed
    • Initial Belts to be trained are selected
    • Current/Future State Value Stream Map of Key Products/Services
    • Initial (founding) projects are chosen. These must be tied directly to the KPI’s developed above.

The deployment Champions are optimally trained at the same time as the Executive staff to better guarantee alignment. Champions are what we at SSDSI call “the Bulldozers”. They remove roadblocks to the Change Agents. They are also “Cheerleaders” of the Lean and Six Sigma deployment

    • Lean and Six Sigma Project Selection Criteria
    • How to Develop a Charter
    • How to Manage the Change Agents

Step #3 Identify the Continuous Improvement Deployment Owner. 

The CI Owner is not “the Head Problem Solver” as most leaders would think. The CI Owner is the “Manager” of change. Their role is to make sure everyone (change agents, leaders and SME’s) are all aligned and moving towards a common goal. 

Who's the owner?


Step #4 The company (as a whole) must have a concrete understanding of site / departmental / organizational KPI’s

This is the most important step in the building of a sustainable continuous improvement effort at any company. Yet most organizations fail to see the importance. Most company’s deploy Green Belts and Black Belts to solve arbitrary problem that are where the see “the pain” presently. This leads to Belts reacting to (in most cases) the wrong problem.  

How a potential issue affect’s KPI’s should be the vehicle by which we prioritize CI projects. This guarantee’s that the next project pulled from the hopper is the “Next Most Important Project”!


Step #5 Train “Champions” to be the project managers and cheerleaders at the site / department level.

An Effective Lean Six Sigma Deployment Champion is key for a successful Lean Six Sigma deployment. They provide a faster and increased ROI from their projects.

Effective Lean Six Sigma Deployment Champions in our experience, have three distinct traits

    • An Effective Lean Six Sigma Deployment Champion Leads by Metrics.(not emotion or subjectivity)
    • An Effective Lean Six Sigma Deployment Champion Is “the Bulldozer.” (Breaking down barriers that get in the way of the Change Agents)
    • An Effective Lean Six Sigma Deployment Champion Is “the Cheerleader.” (consistently promoting Lean Six Sigma as the way in which work and improve)


Step #6 A project hopper should exist, so everyone can have the opportunity to identify problems


Step #7 Training the Masses 

Once we have our leadership trained (executives and champions), then we must educate “the masses”. If the employees within the scope of the deployment do not know what is happening and why, then they will assume the worst. If the purpose of the Lean and Six Sigma Deployment is not communicated clearly, then the masses will generate their own buzz. This seldom has a positive outcome.

This training can in one or two ways: Lean Six Sigma White Belt Training and Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Training. The White Belt Training is a basic one-day education on the purpose of the Lean Six Sigma Methodology, why the company is adopting the methodology and what effect will it have on them.

Yellow Belts receive two days of training which includes basic root cause analysis. Yellow Belts are able to make small improvements within their functional area. In an organization of 500 people, 490 Yellow Belts will make a far greater impact that having only 10 Green Belts.


Once the foundation is built, we can effectively use our Change Agents to make sustainable change

These Change Agent are trained as Lean Agents and Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts. These Change Agents are those team members in the organization that use the Lean and Six Sigma tool sets to return value to the organizations bottom line. Without the foundation for Lean and Six Sigma (Executives, Champions, White Belts and/or Yellow Belts), the Change Agents efforts will have little chance of success.