Sustainability in Your Process Improvement

Lean and Six Sigma are very useful tools for process improvement initiatives with the intent of reducing waste and variability in work processes and the product.  These reductions can lead to a significant competitive advantage for the companies that employ them.  Think of it; a company that produces virtually the same product as its competitors' but does it cheaper, faster, and with fewer defects is able sell their product at the same or cheaper price while realizing more profit.  This competitive advantage is why so many companies invest in improving the standard work.

However, when I’ve worked with organizations that use Lean or Six Sigma there is one common challenge; a lack of sustainability.  According to these organizations, less than 50% of process improvement initiatives sustain after the initial implementation phase.  This lack of sustainability for such a large number of projects is shocking.  When asked why so many projects fail to sustain, the answer boiled down to one thing—human behavior.  To be more specific; the more behavior change that was necessary to implement the process change the more likely it was to fail.

From a behavioral standpoint, this lack of sustainability is relatively easy to understand.  People spend countless hours in Kaizen events planning precisely how processes and systems can be enhanced to maximize process improvement initiatives but one critical piece is typically overlooked; these new processes and procedures are completed by a change in someone’s behavior.  To sustain behavior change and increase the sustainability of any improvement initiative, a plan to create habits out of the new behaviors is essential.  Without a plan to develop new habits people will revert back to the way of doing things once the hype of the initiative has passed.  Failed sustainability comes with a huge financial and emotional cost.  Not only has people’s time been wasted in the Kaizen event and implementation but watching it fail shortly after launch is disappointing to say the least and makes it more likely that people will not want to participate in future implementations.

An understanding of the science of behavior and how to apply it in the workplace provides the solution as it helps the performers create habits out of the new behaviors that are required to sustain the change.  The science of behavior is proven to increase desired behaviors and create habits through a systematic use of its principles.  Adding a behavioral approach as a process step in a Lean or Six Sigma initiative will guarantee that the behavior changes necessary to complete the new process will become habit and decrease the MUDA of failed sustainability.

If you are looking to get the most out of your Lean and Six Sigma initiatives, don’t leave behavior change to chance. By adding the science of behavior into the process, behavior change will move at a speed that allows organizations to capitalize on focused process improvement—gaining that competitive advantage that you worked so hard to get.

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See alsoBehavioral Minute: Process Improvement    


Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.