I have spent numerous years working in and with all aspects of quality. During my earliest time in industry solving problems was more of a singular focus, but over the years the focus has become more of a team effort.

Regardless of the approach, one of the things I have learned is that the use and application of the various quality tools plays a significant role in the success of the project. However, it’s the human element that really makes the difference between success and failure in meeting the challenges of the organization.

In 2000 I was privileged to be involved with the creation and roll-out of an aggressive Six Sigma initiative at a Fortune 50 company. While countless people were involved in this initiative, success had less to do with the management of the program than it did with the rigor and discipline of the human element.

While it may sound like Six Sigma heresy to say there is nothing new to the approach, Six Sigma actually owes its success to the quality efforts that have come before it.  Teams are an integral part of any successful Six Sigma implementation.

Each milestone on the quality journey involves teams and dedicated employees who are focused on developing best practices. These champions (not a reference to the team sponsor) of change determine the best tactics to improve work functions by encouraging collaboration and cooperation. It is the interaction among these employees in their quest for excellence that makes the difference.

No matter how elegant a quality tool is it is impossible to implement solutions without giving consideration to the human factor. For Six Sigma, this means focusing efforts on employee involvement far beyond the color of someone’s belt.

Certainly there are many principles and characteristics for effective teams and people involvement. However, for the many years that I’ve been involved with quality, people and Six Sigma, the feedback from managers, team facilitators, team leaders, and team members has consistently included the following elements as important, if not critical, to a project’s success.

Align the project to the vision, mission and values of the organization before selecting the team members and initiating the training.

The team must be truly empowered to produce results and achieve its mission.

Pick the best people to lead, not direct or manage, the team.

Cross-functional representation is important when developing solutions for process improvements to ensure all aspects of the process have been captured along with the voice of the customer.

Team membership, as well as team leaders, should never be “political appointments.” It is imperative that team members are chosen who understand the process under review.

Don’t hesitate to choose team members who aren’t necessarily technical experts as long as they are willing to be positive contributors, supportive of other members and committed to making things better.

Team members are the key to gathering data, analyzing the results, staying connected to the people on the front line and determining the best course of action.

Invest in teaching principles and tools before and after a project is assigned.

Recognize and reward major contributors. Everyone should share in the team’s ‘victory’ but not everyone contributes equally.

Continual reinforcement of an improvement culture has to become an organization’s ‘way of life.’

The Six Sigma initiative is no different than other people involvement initiatives; it’s the work of the team members who ultimately determine the success of the project. I believe the data demonstrates that teams are critical to successful implementation.

Team members are at the forefront of change. They create successful solutions and they use the quantifiable skills and tools to present a sound argument for the continuation and expansion of Six Sigma in an organization. Most assuredly there will be another, next generation, improvement initiative that will surface in the future, but it is likely the contribution of the human element will remain paramount.