Lean Six Sigma deployment leaders often feel pressured to downsize their activities when budgets get tight. Read how the deployment leader for a Fortune 500 company with global operations found a way to rapidly improve the ROI on Lean Six Sigma through a "harmonized" employee engagement method.
Like many companies responding to new economic realities forced by the Great Recession, the Fortune 500 global coatings manufacturer Valspar Corporation was forced to implement a company-wide budget reduction effort across all of its staff functions, including its very successful Lean Six Sigma Department.
In response to the challenge, Lean Six Sigma Deployment Leader Dave Hart made a bold proposal: to expand, rather than cut back, the organization's formal business improvement program by investing in a complementary Lean Six Sigma toolset called Rapid Action. The proposition: Improve the productivity of Belts already in place while engaging more employees in Lean Six Sigma, all while implementing on a budget-neutral basis.
Hart's proposal to invest in Rapid Action was received by the executive team with a three-month window to prove a positive ROI. Based on his prior experience with Rapid Action at another company, Hart was confident the challenge could not only be met, but exceeded.
When times are good, Lean Six Sigma is not a difficult sell. Who can argue with a proven, rigorous improvement methodology driven by highly trained, full-time internal change agents, which can produce a 10 to 20-time return on invested costs within two years? However, in the face of corporation-wide downsizing and budget cuts, even Lean Six Sigma's greatest strengths can be viewed as liabilities, particularly with respect to long project cycle-times and even longer cycle-times necessary to develop Belt-effectiveness.
Rapid Action, developed by Leap Technologies, answers a question that some Lean Six Sigma practitioners often disregard or short-change: Why not leverage the know-how and experience of frontline employees to capture "quick win" improvements and increase Lean Six Sigma ROI, particularly when "deep-dive" analysis is not required or practical?
Hart had faced the issue of low employee engagement in Lean Six Sigma in his prior role at NewPage Corporation, a Fortune 500 paper products manufacturer. NewPage recognized early in its deployment the need to supplement training for classic DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve & Control) Projects and Lean Kaizen Events with tools for both improving Belt team leadership skills and empowering non-Belted employees to lead and participate in quick win projects.
NewPage's investment in Rapid Action produced cost savings of $20M over a three-year period while successfully engaging an additional 1,700 employees. Hart and his colleagues' blended approach earned NewPage the "Most Successful Lean Six Sigma Deployment" Award from iSixSigma, the leading Lean Six Sigma industry knowledge portal.
Tough times require new ways of thinking. Adding Rapid Action was the right choice for elevating our Lean Six Sigma effort to the next level and to help our company weather tough economic conditions the right way.
Reflecting on his decision to buck convention at Valspar, Hart commented, "Tough times require new ways of thinking. Adding Rapid Action was the right choice for elevating our Lean Six Sigma effort to the next level and to help our company weather tough economic conditions the right way."
With assistance from Leap Technologies, Hart conducted a three-day workshop to introduce ten of his most experienced Black Belts to Rapid Action. The goal: Prepare to launch a wave of pilot Rapid Action teams to meet the 90-day cost savings challenge. Within a few weeks of the workshop, ten Rapid Action teams were launched and more than 50 Valspar employees were engaged.
Rapid Action's "all in one" team engagement toolkit enabled Valspar's Lean Six Sigma Black Belts to shift their focus from expert team leadership to team coaching. As one Black Belt commented, "I was already up to my waist in a couple of DMAIC projects, so it was a big relief not having to worry about leading my assigned Rapid Action project. Once we locked in the assignment and recruited the team, Rapid Action made the teaming process automatic."
Once we locked in the assignment and recruited the team, Rapid Action made the teaming process automatic.
Valspar's initial wave of Rapid Action teams proposed more than 70 cost-saving solutions ready for testing and implementation. Solutions impacted areas such as energy use, in-process material flow, raw materials inventory, supplies ordering and usage practices, as well as other opportunities where teams identified ways to reduce costs without disrupting customer orders.
One of the first Rapid Action teams to report results was the "Tint Paste Task Force." This team of plant and warehouse employees from three different locations was assigned the project of replicating an inventory-reduction strategy developed in another plant by a previous Black Belt project.
Although the solution was clearly defined and proven effective, it hadn't been transferred to other locations for the same reason that many globally applicable improvements stay "local": Lack of engagement by those who need to own the solution. The Rapid Action team figured out how to apply the new formula for improving raw material inventory turns by adjusting batch sizes to meet high-volume versus low-volume production runs.
By the end of the three-month Rapid Action Cost Savings Campaign, the Tint Paste Task Force along with the other Rapid Action teams reported more than $1M in cost-saving contributions to Valspar's bottom line, a more than 20-fold ROI. This success enabled Hart to move forward with a plan to fully integrate Rapid Action into Valspar's Lean Six Sigma Deployment on a worldwide basis. Within one year, more than 50 Rapid Action projects were completed, engaging 325 employees and adding more than $2M in savings.
In the five years since its successful introduction at Valspar, Rapid Action continues to deliver results and is now hardwired into the company's culture of continuous improvement. Rapid Action materials have been translated into five languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, German, French and Mandarin) and 20 new Black Belts are now certified to deliver Rapid Action workshops around the world.
More than 500 Rapid Action teams have been deployed and completed, all following the 60-day process to facilitate employee engagement in Lean Six Sigma on a learn-as-you-implement basis. Impact to the bottom line has also kept pace with the pilot results, ensuring Rapid Action's status as a core element in Valspar's Lean Six Sigma program.
Over my career as a Lean Six Sigma practitioner, Rapid Action has been crucial to accelerating results and elevating employee engagement. It's a proven strategy in our evolution from doing Lean Six Sigma to being a Lean Six Sigma organization.
For Dave Hart, successfully introducing Rapid Action to Valspar during very challenging times confirmed his intuition about breaking from convention to maintain a commitment to Lean Six Sigma. As he recently commented, "Over my career as a Lean Six Sigma practitioner, Rapid Action has been crucial to accelerating results and elevating employee engagement. It's a proven strategy in our evolution from doing Lean Six Sigma to being a Lean Six Sigma organization."