Top 5 Reasons Six Sigma Fails & How To Overcome the Pitfalls

Why Six Sigma Fails

Ever wondered why Six Sigma, a well-regarded process improvement methodology, sometimes doesn’t deliver the desired results? Although it’s a powerful tool in the right hands, there are a number of reasons why Six Sigma can fall short. In this post, we’re going to walk you through some crucial barriers which can hinder the success of a Six Sigma initiative, and offer some insight on how to navigate them successfully.

Our focus will primarily revolve around the lack of senior management buy-in, the time-intensive nature of the methodology, resistance to change within the organization, a lack of success stories, and data deficiencies.

“A Six Sigma initiative can be like a ship set sail towards success. But without the right support and resources, even this ship can be set off course or end up never leaving the harbor at all.”

Ready to dive into the details? Let’s unearth why Six Sigma might not be working as expected within some organizations, and how you can avoid falling into the same pitfalls.

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5 Reasons Six Sigma Projects Fail

Your Lean Six Sigma journey can be a smooth sail only if you’re prepared to deal with inevitable barriers. Implementing such comprehensive methodologies can feel like moving mountains, hence focusing on building an environment conducive to change is essential. Let’s explore some of the obstacles you might face in this quest and their solutions.

1. Lack of Buy-In from Leadership

Without a skipper guiding the ship, it’s bound to lose its direction. Similarly, when management does not fully support Six Sigma initiatives, the team is likely to face challenges in executing them effectively. The lack of resources, aligned goals, and overall commitment slows down the quick review and handling of data —a vital aspect of Six Sigma. An actionable approach to overcome this is to ensure upper management witnesses the benefits of Six Sigma in a data-driven manner.


  • Link Projects to Organizational Goals: Demonstrate how Six Sigma projects align with the organization’s strategic objectives. Show how improvements in quality, cost reduction, or customer satisfaction will contribute to overall business success.

  • Quantify Potential Benefits: Provide concrete data on the potential benefits of Six Sigma projects, such as cost savings, revenue increase, or improved operational efficiency. Upper management is more likely to support projects that offer measurable returns on investment.

  • Create a Compelling Business Case: Develop a comprehensive business case that outlines the problem, proposed solution, expected outcomes, resource requirements, and ROI projections. Use clear and concise language to communicate the value proposition to senior executives.

2. Time Sensitivity of Six Sigma Projects

Unlike methodologies like Agile, Six Sigma demands a more time-intensive process that focuses on methodical and meticulous exploration of data and variables. It’s not uncommon for organizations to be drawn to quicker turnout methods. However, it’s important to reiterate that though Six Sigma may take longer, the results it yields are often more robust and sustainable over time.


  • Set Realistic Timelines: While it’s essential to drive for efficiency, ensure that timelines are realistic and achievable. Rushing through steps can lead to errors and suboptimal results. 

  • Use of Technology: Utilize automation, data analytics tools, and simulation software to expedite data collection, analysis, and solution implementation.

3. Resistance to Change

People are creatures of habit. Any significant change, like that of implementing Six Sigma, may initially be met with resistance. Create an environment of openness and learning to ease this. Showcase the benefits that the new processes will bring in. Engage employees in decision-making, make them feel involved, offer support and assurance that their roles and skills are valued, even as the company evolves.


  • Communicate Transparently: Clearly communicate the reasons behind the change, including the benefits it will bring to individuals and the organization as a whole. Transparency can help alleviate fears and uncertainty.

  • Involve Employees: Involve employees in the change process by seeking their input, feedback, and participation. When employees feel that their opinions are valued and considered, they are more likely to support the change.

  • Provide Education and Training: Offer training and education to help employees develop the skills and knowledge necessary to adapt to the change successfully. This can reduce anxiety and increase confidence in the new ways of working.

4. Absence of Success Stories

Quantifiable success stories encourage belief in the process. Absence of such tangible examples of success can make organizations skeptical about Six Sigma. 27% of companies implementing Six Sigma can point to a clear success story. The solution? Take the leap of faith. Enlist a pilot project and have the team document each step, each solution, each failure, and all the successes. Let this be your organization’s success story, thread by thread.


  • Execute Pilot Projects with Rigorous Documentation: Launch pilot projects tailored to key organizational challenges. Document each step, solution, failure, and success meticulously. Use these projects as tangible success stories, showcasing how Six Sigma principles can drive significant improvements.

  • Communicate Successes Widely with Quantifiable Metrics: Share the outcomes of pilot projects and other successful implementations throughout the organization. Utilize clear, quantifiable metrics to demonstrate the impact on key performance indicators such as cost savings, process efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

  • Promote Knowledge Sharing and Iterative Improvement: Encourage knowledge sharing and continuous improvement by disseminating best practices derived from successful projects. Use insights gained to refine Six Sigma methodologies and scale successful approaches to other areas of the organization.

5. Lack of High-Quality Data

Embarking on a Six Sigma project with high-quality data is akin to setting sail on a voyage across calm seas. However, when plagued by bad data, it’s like encountering unexpected storms that disrupt the journey: from steering the ship off course with flawed analysis to losing sight of the destination due to misguided decisions.

Prioritize data hygiene, ensure its reliability and accuracy. Invest in reliable data gathering and analytics tools. Train your employees to understand and handle data efficiently, and you’ll have the crux of Six Sigma covered.


  • Standardize Data Collection Processes: Implement standardized data collection processes to ensure consistency and reliability across different data sources and collection points. This helps in reducing variation and improving data quality.

  • Use Automated Data Collection Methods: Utilize automated data collection methods where possible to minimize human error and ensure accuracy. Automated systems can capture data in real-time and reduce the risk of manual data entry mistakes.

  • Ensure Data Accuracy and Completeness: Establish checks and validations to ensure the accuracy and completeness of collected data. This may involve cross-referencing data from multiple sources, performing data audits, and verifying data integrity.


In conclusion, it’s clear to see that Six Sigma – like any strategy – isn’t immune to failure. Understanding why these failures occur is the first step toward preventing them. Regardless of how promising the potential benefits, without top-tier support, adherence to detailed data analysis, patience for the methodology’s extended timeline, success stories to drive home its efficacy, and a culture that embraces change, Six Sigma initiatives may stumble and falter.

By acknowledging the reasons behind these setbacks, organizations can proactively address them and pave the way for future success. It’s crucial to emphasize that with unwavering top-tier support, meticulous adherence to data analysis, patience for the methodology’s iterative nature, and a robust foundation of success stories, Six Sigma initiatives can thrive and chart a course for success.

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