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Leading Six Sigma: Launching the Initiative

Launching Six Sigma is the most important phase — if it is poorly launched it will be very difficult to reorganize and regain momentum. This chapter from "Leading Six Sigma" will help you hit the ground running.
This chapter is from the book Full or Partial Deployment?

Chapter 3 provided an overall deployment process for Six Sigma, based on the case studies from Chapter 2. We will now delve into the first phase of the deployment process, a step referred to as launching the initiative. This is probably the most important phase. If Six Sigma is poorly launched it will be very difficult to reorganize and regain momentum. People will have already become skeptical, and resisters will have ammunition. Taking into full consideration the key points discussed in the chapter will help organizations hit the ground running on their initial implementation.

We define the launch phase of Six Sigma to be roughly the period between making the decision to deploy Six Sigma, and completion of the initial wave of Black Belt training. At the end of this phase you should have in place:

  • An overall deployment plan (strategy)

  • The initial wave of projects

  • Trained Black Belts, and other key players

These are the key "deliverables" for the launch phase and they should be considered in that order. Before developing the deployment plan most organizations need to address the key preliminary question of which major deployment strategy to utilize. This decision will affect virtually every aspect of the deployment plan, so it will be addressed first, followed by the three main launch topics. The chapter will be completed with an overall summary of the launching the initiative phase.

Full or Partial Deployment?

Once organizations have decided to implement Six Sigma they are faced with the question of "how do I get started?" The most obvious answer is to adopt the approach of companies like GE and W. R. Grace and institute a CEO-led, company wide, top priority initiative. We believe that this kind of "full deployment" is the best strategy. The advantages and disadvantages of a full deployment approach are listed in Table 4-1.

Unfortunately, many business leaders below the CEO level are not in a position to take the full deployment approach. Another option is for leaders to deploy Six Sigma in their own realm of responsibility. This could be a division, business unit, or even a single plant. We refer to deployment on such a reduced scale as partial deployment. While this is not our first option, it may be the only practical one. Keep in mind, however, that Six Sigma will only flourish in the long term if it becomes a full deployment process. Sooner or later someone will squash a partial deployment if it does not spread to the rest of the organization. For that reason, the main objective of a partial deployment must be to make a convincing case for full deployment.

TABLE 4-1 Full Versus Partial Deployment

Full Deployment

Partial Deployment


  • The organization knows what is going on

  • Vision and direction are clear

  • Resources are more easily assigned

  • Returns are large and come in the first 6-8 months


  • Requires limited resources

  • Requires limited management attention

  • Can be started by middle management

  • Easy to get started


  • Top management commitment is required up front to get started

  • Priorities have to be redefined to include the Six Sigma work

  • Management will have to change how they work


  • Difficult to get:

    • BB assigned full time

    • Functional resources to support BB

  • Tough to get management attention

  • Organization doesn't believe management is committed to Six Sigma

  • Returns are small because only a few BB are involved

Partial deployment usually involves training one to five Black Belts and using their tangible results to make the case for full deployment. It takes little to get started, but if proper planning is not done and adequate resources are not assigned the effort can quickly run into trouble.

The result in the case of Royal Chemicals is discussed in Chapter 2. The strengths and limitations of partial deployment are also summarized in Table 4-1. Snee and Parikh (2001) report on one successful partial deployment of Six Sigma at Crompton Corporation, a chemical company based in Greenwich, CT. In the first wave seven Black Belts were trained and were given good support. One Black Belt was reassigned and his project postponed. The other six projects were completed, returning an average of $360,000 in savings per project.

These results encouraged a key business unit of Crompton Corporation to pursue a partial deployment on a much larger scale. This deployment was supported with Executive, Champion, and Site Leadership training and produced project savings similar to those of the initial six projects. Building on this success, the whole Crompton Corporation began a full Six Sigma deployment. The process of moving from partial deployment to full corporate deployment took approximately 18 months. Recall that the ultimate measure of success for partial deployment is that it leads to a successful full deployment. Contrary to popular belief, partial deployment requires more than just good Black Belt training to be successful. Executive, Champion, and Leadership training, as well as good project and people selection are also needed.

Those selecting the partial deployment route should be aware of the problems that they can expect to encounter. The biggest problems include identifying good projects for the Black Belts, getting Black Belts assigned full time, and assigning Champions who will provide good guidance for the Black Belts, including weekly reviews of the projects. It is sometimes difficult to get functional group support for the projects when the organization is not pursuing full deployment of Six Sigma. The completion of the Executive, Champion, and Leadership training helps ensure that these problems are minimized.

The partial deployment approach is most likely to succeed when all of the deployment plan elements for the full deployment are addressed. In other words, success is most likely when partial deployment is essentially a full deployment in one area, and looks just like a full deployment to those working in this area. This considered, many feel that to do the partial deployment well takes almost as much effort as doing a full deployment with not nearly the return. This leads some, including the authors, to conclude that full deployment is overall a better use of resources, and also increases the probability of success.

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