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Preventing Six Sigma Failure within Your Organization: Common Costly Six Sigma Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Lois A. Jordan, President and CEO, Transformation Technologies, Inc., Tampa, FL, USA

Keywords: Six Sigma, Mistakes, Successful Implementation

Industry: All

Level: Intermediate


Many organizations fail to realize the results they expect for their expenditures in Six Sigma and these organizations discontinue the use of Six Sigma methodologies as a management strategy and may even fire their Six Sigma professionals; they conclude that “Six Sigma doesn’t work”, just as they concluded the same thing about Total Quality Management many years ago. Many other organizations praise Six Sigma for its benefits to the organization and swear by it as key to organizational success. What’s the difference between the companies who see Six Sigma as a failed methodology versus those who achieve dramatic success with it?

This presentation will identify and provide examples of several common and potentially disastrous mistakes made with Six Sigma today. It will also discuss the negative implications of these mistakes as well as provide explanations for why they occur and how to avoid them. This presentation will provide important information that can help any organization ensure the success of its Six Sigma process improvement strategy by avoiding mistakes common to a large percentage of Six Sigma initiatives.

MISTAKE #1: Lack of demonstrated management involvement and support for Six Sigma - a “hands off” approach by management; not “walking the talk”. Actions speak louder than words, so when the organization’s management team fails to visibly demonstrate support for Six Sigma philosophies and tools through their day-to-day actions and decisions, others in the organization will take this as an indication that the organization’s management team is not fully committed to Six Sigma.

MISTAKE #2: Focusing on non-management levels only without recognizing and correcting the problems in management. Many organization problems have their source in areas such as organization structure, staffing, policies, and management decisions in general, which Six Sigma teams will not have the authority to address.

MISTAKE #3: Misuse or neglect of critical statistical tools. Despite the fact that virtually all Black Belt training programs include statistical tools as a large portion of the training curriculum, it doesn’t always translate to the effective use of statistical tools in practice.

MISTAKE #4: Failure to manage Process Improvement Team activities as an integral part of the business and a key to long term business success; failure to view Six Sigma as a part of effective strategic management; failure to link team projects with the strategic business plan; lack of strategic direction from upper management. Upper management in many organizations delegates Six Sigma to the quality organization, or something similar, rather than taking an active role in the management of Six Sigma. As a result, process improvement teams do not receive the guidance or support they need to focus on the correct issues or to address the issues with the most direct impact on the organization’s bottom line.

MISTAKE #5: Lack of a “systems” approach to process improvement; failure to provide a support system for the teams via a team Facilitator and Quality Council. Many Six Sigma project teams are on their own to select their projects and determine the right goals for the project. They receive little to no guidance on the process they follow and even less guidance from anyone in the organization who can view each project as part of a larger “whole” and thus direct the project teams toward the optimum “bigger picture” issues. Also, few companies practice continuous improvement with Six Sigma – many fail to learn from past projects to ensure improvement in future project results.

MISTAKE #6: Lack of formal processes for organizational learning. Many organizations continue to repeat the same mistakes over and over again because they don’t have formal systems for ensuring that information about past problems is used regularly and early in the design of new products or processes. As a result, the preventive actions that could be taken as a result of the work already done by other Six Sigma teams is missed, minimizing the potential larger benefit of work already done and paid for.

MISTAKE #7: Failure to train team members in the skills necessary to be successful. Many people on Six Sigma teams are not given the training they need to be effective at process analysis and improvement, for many reasons. Sometimes the project team leader does not have all the necessary skills, and if they do, sometimes they are not able to teach them to the team. In other cases, the organization has provided training but perhaps it was done so long before the person was placed on a Six Sigma team that the benefits of the training are long gone. And sometimes the organization assumes that only technical tools are needed and the importance of interpersonal skills such as effective communication is minimized.

MISTAKE #8: Failure to align performance objectives with desired process improvement behaviors; failure to reward and recognize desired process improvement behaviors (positive reinforcement); failing to measure and emphasize results over actions. The organization’s reward and recognition system must ensure that process owners are held accountable for process improvement in the areas key to the attainment of the organization’s strategic initiatives. The organization’s metrics must focus on the effectiveness of actions taken through an emphasis on results obtained rather than on simply measuring activities.

MISTAKE #9: Failure to make it easy and rewarding for the employee to support Six Sigma and/or participate on process improvement teams. Employee support for Six Sigma through participation on project teams and support for people on teams is key to Six Sigma success. But many organizations make it difficult for people to support Six Sigma. In order for Six Sigma to become accepted within an organization, people who support it must be reinforced for their decision to do so.

MISTAKE #10: Failure to adapt Six Sigma and other related quality systems to the organization’s specific needs. Many organizations believe that they can accomplish their goals by implementing a “canned” approach to Six Sigma that they copied from another organization or “purchased” from consultants. Six Sigma should be designed specifically for the organization by people who fully understand the complexities and needs of the organization.

MISTAKE #11: Sending Six Sigma teams into other parts of the without the support of the process owner. For Six Sigma to be accepted throughout the organization the process owner must never have it forced upon him and Six Sigma teams can never be sent into an area without the support of the process owner.

Participating Organizations at the Lean & Six Sigma  World Conference

Government Agencies

  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Health & Human Svcs.
  • Department of Homeland Security

  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State
  • Department of the Treasury
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • NASA
  • Naval Surface Warfare Center
  • Pentagon
  • U.S. Air Force

  • U.S. Army
  • U.S. Marine Corps
  • U.S. Navy
  • U.S. Veterans Affairs
  • United States Army Corps of Engineers


  • AIG
  • Alcoa
  • AT&T
  • Bank of America Corp
  • BASF Corporation
  • Bayer Corporation
  • BMW
  • The Boeing Company
  • Bose Corporation
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb
  • Campbell Soup Company
  • Cardinal Health
  • Caterpillar
  • Chrysler Corporation
  • Chevron
  • Cisco Systems
  • Coca-Cola
  • Comcast
  • Daimler Chrysler
  • Disney
  • Dow Chemical

  • Dr Pepper 
  • Duracell
  • Dupont
  • Eastman Kodak
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Exxon Mobil
  • Fedex
  • Ford Motor
  • General Electric 
  • General Motors
  • Gillette
  • Goodyear Tire
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Honeywell
  • Humana
  • IBM
  • Kohler
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Macy’s
  • M&M/Mars
  • ManpowerGroup
  • Maytag Appliances
  • Mercedes
  • Merck
  • Mitsubishi
  • Mobil Chemical
  • Motorola
  • NASA
  • Nestle 
  • Northrop Grumman
  • PepsiCo
  • Philip Morris International
  • PNC Financial Services Group
  • Pfizer
  • Pratt & Whitney
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Prudential
  • Raytheon
  • Rolls Royce Allison
  • Target
  • Johnson & Johnson 
  • Schindler Elevator Corporation
  • Schneider Electric
  • Shell
  • Siemens
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Staples
  • Tesla
  • Tiffany & Co.
  • Qualcomm
  • Underwriter Laboratories
  • UnitedHealth Group
  • United Technologies
  • Union Pacific
  • UPS
  • USAA
  • Verizon
  • Walmart
  • Wells Fargo
  • Westinghouse
  • Whirlpool
  • Xerox


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