The Six Sigma Coach

The Six Sigma Coach Blog is a service of The Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide coaching skills training to Six Sigma practitioners. Visit our webpage at

Monday, April 17, 2006

Some Wisdom

Some tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians (so legend has it), for Six Sigma practitioners passed on from generation to generation, says that, "When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount."

However, in government, education and the corporate world, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:
1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Giving horse and rider a good bollocking.
4. Re-structuring the dead horse's reward scale to contain a performance-related element.
5. Suspending the horse's access to the executive grassy meadow until performance targets are met.
6. Making the horse work late shifts and weekends.
7. Scrutising and clawing back a percentage of the horse's past 12 months expenses payments.
8. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
9. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride horses.
10. Convening a dead horse productivity improvement workshop.
11. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
12. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.
13. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
14. Outsourcing the management of the dead horse.
15. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.
16. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse's performance.
17. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse's performance.
18. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.
19. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses. And the highly effective...
20. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

Most importantly, however, never launch a Six Sigma project to improve the horse's performance.

This blog is a service of the Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide coach skills training for experienced six sigma practitioners, and along the way attempt to have a bit of fun, too.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Why Coach?

What is the advantage for an organization to initiate and support coaching within their six sigma effort? Or stated another way: Why should an organization spend resources to develop coaches and a coaching initiative? What is the payoff to the company? Show me the money!!!

Good question. Here is a list of tasks a coach performs and the value they add within a six sigma initiative.

Maximize Value Of Training Dollars: Supports green and black belts through training helping them get off to a fast start and ensuring the belts’ success in their first projects.

Increase Effectiveness Of Experienced Belts: Coach experienced belts to minimize project timelines, avoid pitfalls, overcome barriers, and encourage stakeholder buy-in. “More, better, faster.”

Enhance Team Effectiveness: Support teams through initial formation to come up to speed quickly, help dysfunctional teams correct behaviors and overcome difficulties. Assess and advise well-functioning teams to avoid typical pitfalls such as group-think.

Reduce Certification Glitches: Support green and black belts through the certification process (both project completion and examination preparation). Advise and serve on six sigma steering committees and certification panels.

Avoid Costly Application Errors: Serve as subject matter and knowledge expert for correct selection and application of six sigma tools and methodology.

Avoid Costly Project Problems: Foresee and avoid breakdowns with people, team, cultural, or change management issues.

Speed Change Management Adaptation: Support and encourage involvement and embracement of process improvements and cultural change. Avoid backsliding and entropy.

Maximize Value Of Projects To Strategic Objectives: Advise senior leadership to select, focus and maximize value of six sigma projects to support organizational objectives.

Model Six Sigma Leadership: Take leadership role to liaison with stakeholders, process owners and customers, to focus project selection, change management, and process improvements to organizational strategic objectives.

Develop And Facilitate A COPs – Community Of Practitioners: Develop a cohort of belts within the organization to bring a comprehensive approach to the conduct of projects and overall management of the six sigma initiative and to formulate and promote a common voice for six sigma across the organization.

In a 1999 survey conducted by the Work Foundation, a UK evidence-based research and management consultancy, of 339 human resource and personal specialists, the research determined that 69% of the respondents reported higher organizational performance and productivity as an outcome from their formal coaching initiative.

Currently The Six Sigma Coach is engaged in a research initiative to demonstrate the value (both financial and performance) resulting from a coaching initiative. Participants in our workshops are invited and encouraged to participate in this research. For more information, contact us. Email to

This blog is a service of The Six Sigma Coach. We train experienced six sigma practitioners to enhance their coaching skills. Visit our webpage at

Monday, March 20, 2006

Two Favorite Quotes

“If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”
~Kurt Lewin

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.”
~Woodrow Wilson

These two favorite quotes speak to the two tracks a six sigma coach must run on simultaneously. The first addresses the need to master and apply the tools and techniques in the six sigma body of knowledge. The second recognizes that all change happens within an organizational context which in turn involves people.

The DAMIC model and tools help us try to truly understand a process. As coaches we help players bring a rational understanding to the process mechanisms, structure and organization. That is, we help figure out what is really happening, how and why it is happening.

The basic notion is that if we clearly understand something, then we can improve the process. The fallacy, however, is that as we and until we start to change the process we do not truly understand the complexity of it. One reason the Control step is so important is that it provides an opportunity to fix all of the glitches we originally failed to understand that effect the outcomes.

The second quote helps us remember that the frequently not sufficiently accounted for component is the people issues. Invariably there are territorial issues, individual sense making, expectations, comfort zones, and of course fear of the unknown and how it will play out an effect the individual. All that “touchy feely stuff.”

The two favorite quotes, on the surface, may appear fairly pessimistic in tone. And, of course, those of us working within a six sigma initiative are usually inherently optimistic. We do expect that we can change things for the better. So rather than being pessimistic, perhaps the quotes might be better seen as a reality check.

An interesting site with quotes about “change” can be found at

This blog is a service of the Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide training to experienced six sigma practitioners to enhance their coaching skills. Visit our webpage at or contact us at

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Assert verses Assess

There is a fundamental and important distinction between making an assertion and making an assessment. For six sigma coaches, the distinction is important as part of their routine practice. It is fundamental to the difference between a directive verses a non-directive approach to coaching.

An assertion is a statement of fact by the coach. Hopefully, it is based on objective evidence. However, the “fact” and its connection to reality may be questionable. The assertion is stated as if it was true. It is a judgment made by the coach.

An assessment is an interpretation of reality offered by the coach to the player. It is based on observed behaviors, outcomes, or something tangible regardless of how subtle. For example, a coach may notice a stakeholder briefly frown during a belt’s presentation and taken with other observations make an assessment that the stakeholder is not comfortable with some aspect of the project or that the belt is not framing the message so the stakeholder can hear and appreciate the message.

When the coach offers an assessment, the player remains responsible for considering the assessment, evaluating its importance, and determining if and how to take action to meet the issue.

When a coach states an assertion, the coach is telling the player what the issue is and unfortunately that message often carries a hidden negative message of blame on the player

Coaches need to help players understand the difference between an assertion and an assessment early on in the coaching engagement. And coaches must explicitly ask permission from the player to offer an assessment every time the coach offers an assessment.

One form a coach might use when offer an assessment to the player is to say: “May I offer you an assessment?” When the player agrees, the coach then repeats a litany similar to: “This is an assessment. It is only an assessment. It may or may not be true. That is up to you to determine.” Then the coach might say: “I observed this behavior and that effect and I interpret those events to indicate…”

Then the coach and the player can approach a discussion of the events and reactions and perceived effects from a non-emotional stance and somewhat detached stance so the player is then in a position to take on board the message and move forward to use the assessment.

Learning to offer assessments rather than to state assertions is a basic way to frame a message so the player can clearly hear the message and take action on it. And it often is one of the most difficult techniques to master because too frequently we are all use to stating assertions as facts.

This blog is a service of The Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide coach training to experienced six sigma practitioners. For more information about our workshops, visit our webpage at or contact us at

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Scope and Size

Coaches and their players constantly guard against “scope creep,” that insidious tendency to include more into a project than is do-able. Unhappily, we frequently go for the “low-hanging fruit” or the “big score.” That is, we congratulate projects and teams that move quickly to success and/or have a significant financial impact.

There are a couple of traps here. First, easy wins from low hanging fruit are usually carbs rather than protein. That is, you cannot make a diet out of just fruit. Said another way, management should rightly wonder why an expensive six sigma initiative is needed if management were really doing their job to eliminate simple problems.

As for the big score, when mobilizing a six sigma initiative some managers may want to establish a requirement that projects need to anticipate a net $250,000 benefit improvement before they are approved to be undertaken. The thinking is that will help focus on those areas that will garner the larger savings and impress the bean counters who track and challenge the investment in six sigma. The way to achieve that savings, however, essentially requires large, elaborate and/or complicated projects.

A more measured approach is to focus on projects that will score between $75K and $125K. The rationale is these projects are completed much more quickly, people can really focus on a smaller scope, and they clearly understand the pieces and eliminate the complexity of larger projects. And, most importantly, the changes people must adapt to as the result of smaller projects are much easier to accept.

Essentially, it is possible to complete three or four smaller projects in less time, with fewer glitches, less change management turmoil and to achieve greater financial gains. Also, if one small project fails to deliver that is not as significant a problem as if a large project with large investments of time and resources does not deliver expected results.

Question: “How do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.”

Recently a local television channel ran the 1954 movie with John Wayne “The High and the Mighty.” The plot is that a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles looses an engine along with significant fuel at the point of no return. In order to lighten their load, Wayne starts throwing anything not nailed down out the rear door. The metaphor is a good one for six sigma coaches and their players. The prime goal of any project is to complete the project and live to fly (do another project) another day. Or, as they say, the best things come in small packages.

This blog is a service of The Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide coaching training to experienced six sigma practitioners. Visit our website at or for more information email us at

Monday, February 27, 2006

Value Add 6 Sigma Coach

So why does a black or green belt need a Six Sigma coach? After all, belts are smart people, they have attended training, demonstrated knowledge and use of the tools and techniques, and they know their organization. Supposedly they were selected into their six sigma role because management believes they are capable. So why would a smart, capable person need a coach?

Good question.

The answer lies in where the coach can actually focus the intervention to add value to players’ efforts and help them achieve their objectives. If a coach focuses on the six sigma methodology, tools and techniques, that coach will soon be marginalized. Smart and capable belts usually don’t need much help in this area. Yes, perhaps a belt might occasionally need some support or verification of correct application of a tool. But a coach who offers only this service will not be called upon often.

Breakdowns in a six sigma project are usually not a function of tool failure. Invariably breakdowns are people, team, cultural, or change management issues. Tools are only tools. Real value is added when people within the organization embrace and implement the process improvements in order to meet strategic objectives. And people, not tools and techniques, accomplish strategic objectives.

The coach is in a unique position to be able to move around within and at various hierarchy levels in the organization to gather information, exert influence, and campaign for support. The Six Sigma coach adds value by helping the belt build support within the team and among the organization management, champions and stakeholders. The coach helps the belt focus on those issues, solutions, alternatives that connect to the strategic objectives. The coach helps the belt think through the current situation, the obstacles facing the project, brainstorm possible alternative solutions, and develop tactics to move forward.

The coach adds value by helping the belt address the people issues.

This blog is a service of The Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide coach training to experienced Six Sigma practitioners. Visit our web page at and comments via email to

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Corporation Man

In his 1971 classic, Corporation Man, Antony Jay likens the modern day corporation to a primitive tribe. The tribe survives using the best skills of its individual members in a concerted effort to hunt game. The member with the best eyesight searches, the best runners herd game, the strongest arms weald spears and clubs. The adroit prepare weapons and nets. Working together and applying their individual skills, the hunters were able to bring down the giant mastodon.

Coaches can add real value to their players by helping them choose team members with the capabilities, interest, insight and motivation to work within a Six Sigma project team. It is critical to select the right people, not just the folks who happen to be available, to work on the team.

There is no magic selection formula. Membership is dictated by the needs of the project. However, some candidates to consider include a process owner, someone from finance (at least in an advisory role if not a full-time participant) a customer, individuals with insight and leverage to implement solutions, and perhaps a newbie green-belt who will gain experience working with a seasoned belt. Particular skills to look for include knowledge of the process, experience with the Six Sigma methodology, and facility with specific tools such as data analysis or survey design.

Secondly, a coach should help the team leader think through issues about team dynamics. In addition to the skills and knowledge each person brings, there is also the personality and world-view of each team member. A group of optimistic, forward-thinking generalists can always use a cautious member to help see specific details and the bumps on the road to success. Players should also consider a member to complement their own particular skills. For example, I always try to have someone on my teams who is super organized and adept in project management details and can support my less then stellar administrative abilities.

And finally and perhaps most importantly, the coach can work with players and with team members’ management to ensure the team member’s workload provides sufficient time and resources for both team meeting and assignments.

It is reasonable to suppose the primitive hunters didn’t always catch their prey. But a solid team composed of people with the necessary skills and capabilities, diverse approach, and time and resources, provides a solid foundation and enhances the likelihood of project success.

This blog is a service of The Six Sigma Coach, LLC. We provide training in coaching skills to seasoned Six Sigma practitioners. For more information visit us at

Comments, questions, suggestions are always welcome. E-mail us at