six-sigmaImprovement projects like Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing aim at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of processes used in an organization. These initiatives have brought tremendous gains for a large number of companies, like say GE for instance. But a study published in Wall Street Journal claims that 60% of corporate six sigma initiatives fail in achieving the desired results.


There are a number of reasons why many six sigma initiatives fail in achieving the desired results. An important reason is that after the initial enthusiasm, employees lose their motivation and go back to old ways of doing things. They do well as long as the six sigma expert assigned to them is there. Once the six sigma expert leaves them to their own, the team members tend to lose their motivation to continue with the six sigma ways.Therefore it is necessary that six sigma experts should continue working with a team for an extended period of team, say one year or two years. If small businesses find the cost of having full time six sigma experts too much they can use part-time services of these experts. There are a number of six sigma consultancies in India which offer part-time services of six sigma experts. Also, before a six sigma expert leaves the team permanently, adequate training should be provided to managers so that they are able to continuously motivate team members to keep implementing the six sigma ways.


Another reason is that performance appraisal of improvement team members is often not tied to goals of the improvement project. Performance appraisal should be tied to the goals of improvement projects like six sigma and lean manufacturing. When employees get rewarded continuously for achieving the improvement project goals, then they are likely to keep striving continuously for achieving those goals.Improvement teams should be small; they should not have too many members. When there are too many members in an improvement team then the probability of conflict of interest increases. The ideal size of a process improvement team should be between six and eight members.


Last, but not the least, the key executives of the company should actively participate in the improvement projects rather than simply supporting them. This way they would be able to continuously monitor the implementation of the improvement principles over a long period of time.The goal of Six Sigma, Lean manufacturing and other such improvement initiatives is to bring a long lasting improvement in the processes of the organization. If they are able to bring only short-term, temporary changes then they would be deemed a failure and nothing else!


Neha Sharma Neha Sharma (4 Posts)

MBA in Marketing from NDIM, Delhi, 5 years experience in Sales and Marketing. Passionate about process improvement & use of tools like Six Sigma for achieving business excellence

4 thoughts on “Why do Six Sigma initiatives sometimes fail?

  1. Well, good enough! All the above listed reasons are the very basic reasons of failure of any basic project. To make a project successful, it is very obvious that you need a project engineer and Six Sigma Consultants are like project engineer for any SS related project and hence becomes an indispensable part of any SS project. Furthermore, to keep your employees going the right way; motivation is a primary key. Do you still think these are the reasons why SS projects fail. I think NO…..

  2. Well explained and I especially appreciate the brevity and clarity of this article. You’ve covered the most important points in just 4 paragraphs..good job.

  3. Absolutely Mrs. Neha, I do agree.
    Well, I do working in a manufacturing company, I am the 3rd MR since 5 months.
    Even employer should understand the situation and importance of the implementation process. He also should understand the need of an MR and procure him.

    Fine, that’s I wanted to delegate the message in this post.
    Thanking you


  4. Completely agree on Reward mechanism(stimulus and response). It’s all about fitment of purpose. In a small setup there are a lot of other basic problems which can be improved through basic tools of best practices (Balanced Score card, Lean, Theory of constraints, 7 QC tools, SCM best practices and some of the practices form ISO standards etc.). The major flaw is to identify requirement at different stage of growth/maturity of the organization rather than just applying lean six sigma (as it is). Do some customization and keep it simple. One another aspect which is obvious, to have buy in from top to bottom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *