The Lived Experience of Lean Six Sigma Improvement Project Facilitators

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The dominant methodology for organizational improvement worldwide is Lean Six Sigma (LSS). Existing research focuses on defining LSS, reporting outcomes, and identifying macro level success factors for organisational implementation reflecting a rationalist orientation. Consequently, improvement project work is characterised simplistically in procedural terms. Little qualitative inquiry has been pursued observing the significant role of the facilitator and the social dynamic at the micro level of improvement projects. To address identified gaps, this study uses phenomenological inquiry to explore the subjective reality of improvement facilitators during a project. Thirty-nine evocative accounts were generated through interviews with thirteen facilitators. Thematic analysis of project diaries and relational experiences yielded four major themes: navigating senior stakeholder interactions, managing conflict, enabling collaboration and collective action, and facilitating learning through measurement and analysis. Accounts also reveal situational pathologies with which facilitators contend whilst engaged in the project. Their interventions show underlying traits demonstrated by patient coaching, sacrificial effort, resilience, and a strong empathic orientation engendering prosocial behaviour unveiling a significant therapeutic role they provide. The range and qualia of experiences generated new knowledge about facilitator behaviours, interventions, thoughts, and feelings and reveals improvement at the project level as deeply social and relational phenomena embedded within an existing level of situational pathology. A framework of interrelated social constructs is proposed as a summative representation drawing the findings together to illustrate emergent concepts and their relationships that aid understanding of the improvement dynamic and capability development. The dynamic portrayed in lived experience is also reframed theoretically in a model based on the various lenses of agency theory. The perspective created is a dance of agentic forces that may inhibit or support the activity of an improvement project. Central within the interplay of agentic forces are joint stewardship of facilitator and senior sponsors and relational agency, which enable the collective agency of stakeholders to sustain improvement capability. While this research offers valuable insights, it focuses solely on facilitators and complex projects, prompting the need for future research on the lived experience of improvement from other perspectives and with different project types. Drawing on the findings and models, curriculum and training implications for leadership, facilitators and staff are proposed as a means of strengthening practice and agency during improvement. The conclusions of the study prompts leadership action to structure improvement capability to realise the potential of pro social and therapeutic effects occurring during improvement projects.
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