Nov 23


It doesn’t matter where you work; there is some level of bureaucracy at play.  When it comes to running a successful Six Sigma project implementation, bureaucracy must be overcome if you want to succeed.

In the book The Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook (ISBN 978-1-4665-5469-6), the author Frank Voehl writes, “The Big B (bureaucracy) stands for bad, boring, burdensome, and brutal. We often think of bureaucracy as departments with layers of officials striving to advance themselves and their departments by creating useless tasks and rigid, incomprehensible rules. We think of long delays in processing as documents go through multiple channels and levels of review, requiring multiple signatures by people who are never available when needed. Their existence seems to add resistance to progress, adding cost but little real value.”  This is an excellent explanation of bureaucracy and gives us an idea of what needs to be overcome.

Remember that interview we did with Greg Abbott?  Here is what he had to say about bureaucracy:  “It can definitely kill a project.  Your Six Sigma Champion must be someone high-up in the company.  Preferably a VP.  The person must be able to clear project roadblocks, both professional and financial.  I’ve seen many projects fail and it’s almost always because the Champion didn’t have the power to fix issues and clear roadblocks.  Financial issues are always the most difficult.  Champions must be masters at communication, at the team level and with stakeholders."

Bureaucracy is usually caused by paranoia, poor training, and distrust.  Why?  Because in the corporate world executives often balance what’s best for the business with their own personal goals.  Yes, it’s true.  Executives can sometimes have their own interests at heart.  They may be jockeying for a promotion or working towards a financial bonus.  Either way, executives are often scared to rock the boat or try something that isn’t proven.

How to overcome bureaucracy on a Six Sigma project:

Step 1 – Communication:  We already know that strong communication on a project is critical.  What’s forgotten is that communicating with executives and stakeholders is equally important.  You can start by making sure everyone in the company, regardless of their position, has received basic Six Sigma training.  This sets a level of knowledge, ensuring everyone knows what is happening.

Step 2 – Avoid Delays:  The project must be a priority.  Minimize all red tape, documentation, reviews, and approvals by setting strict deadlines and outlining them in the project charter.  Yes, deadlines and change as the project progresses, but there much be documentation stating why.

Step 3 - Focused Approach:  No matter how much you prepare, you’ll still encounter bureaucracy.  When it happens, have a process in place to report it.  You can spot bureaucracy by asking yourself a few questions.

  • Are there unnecessary checks and balances?
  • Does the activity approve someone else’s work?
  • Does it require more than one signature?
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