One of the more common themes I teach in Continuous Improvement workshops is how to help a Lean Six Sigma project that is struggling. From my experience most project managers focus on the mechanics of running a project and treat the change management component as secondary in importance. Mechanics are things like your project plan, a process map, or collecting and analyzing data. These are certainly important to every Lean Six Sigma project, but they are usually not the reason why projects struggle, rather it is due to lack of involvement from stakeholders. The truth is, for the majority of projects, over 50% of your challenges will be stakeholder engagement related.

When I am asked to help with projects on the verge of failure I always begin with the same questions, “Tell me about your interactions with your stakeholders”, “Show me your communication plan and your stakeholder analysis” and “What change management tools are you using?” The results I typically get are blank looks because people tend to view these project components as what I call “one-and-done” efforts. They are tasks that need to be done in a project, but once completed, the box is checked and they are never referred to again or followed through on when in reality they should be living documents.

For example, a Change Assessment shows the magnitude, scope and complexity of the desired change, all of which are extremely important but not often addressed entirely in projects. If your change is considered complex, have you modified your project plan or enhanced your change efforts? If not, that is typically why your project is failing – because you are not taking the people component of the project seriously and trying to force it. Forcing anything only results in making the timeline longer, the project more complex, more painful and in a lot of cases it will cost more on the resources side. Then your chances of success start to plummet.

If you are working on a Lean Six Sigma project that is struggling, before you delve further into the data, instead look at the change management component of the project and see if there is an opportunity to strengthen it. Sparse or infrequent communications with stakeholders or lack of support for what you are trying to accomplish are clear signs that you need to refocus your efforts and leverage more change management strategies.