The client: Water and Sanitation NGO.

This case study highlights how a poor performing School Water and Sanitation Project was transformed into a successful project through the implementation of process analysis and improvement techniques of Lean Six Sigma. Within six months improvement was noted in quality report, reduction in time it took to construct latrines and drill boreholes by more than 50%. At the end of the project a cost savings of over $0.5m was made, part of which was used to pay staff bonuses and increase access to additional community water points.

The Challenge:

In a midterm review of a $2.1m three (3) year water and sanitation project in Western Kenya, the following were reported.

  • Year 1 targets at 77%
  • Year 1 budget overrun by 570k
  • Repair works for USD (48,286)
  • Client to do repairs at her costs ( cannot be claimed from the donor.
  • Low credibility: The project was being implemented in a consortium of partners. The massive delay with project implementation resulted in negative standing for our client.

An assessment was undertaken to understand how work was currently done, challenges staff encountered.  Our team held one on one discussions with  key staff and management to understand their roles and identify areas for improvement. Key findings:  

  • Lack of standardized procedures for planning and project implementation. Staff relied on excel work plans and budgets submitted at proposal stage.
  • Reporting prepared quarter, when it was due to donor – leaving no time for internal reflections of ongoing challenges and remediation.
  • Staff had JD’s but interaction/hand off with other staff not clear. Majority of staff only aware of  daily tasks with limited understanding of the effect of their output on work of other colleagues and project goals.
  • Limited understanding of risk identification and mitigation.
  • Recurring problems  – (low community contribution, inaccessible roads, poor workmanship)
  • Low morale and motivation among staff.
  • Low trust level with community members.
  • Over supply of materials on sites.

Different way of working: From results to process oriented. 

Given lack of effective processes and low engagement levels among staff, a series of lean six sigma initiatives were implemented. Lean Six Sigma is a  process and data quality management approach and philosophy that identifies and eliminates errors in any business process, and reduces wastage of time and resources. It is instrumental in improving business critical processes to attain better results while increasing staff engagement and problem solving capabilities.

  • Process identification: As the project was behind schedule, the team was facilitated to map how work was currently done. Staff had different ways of implementing resulting in inconsistency across the different sites. A session on ‘introduction to process excellence’ aimed at building a shared understanding of what is a process and importance of good processes was followed by process discovery and mapping.
  • Cycle time analysis: The team identified how long it took from one step to the next, and subsequently assessed if the action/task was adding value or not. Trained on the different sources of inefficiencies, the team prioritized excessive delays, poor quality, excess inventory, excess motion and excess transportation for reduction and elimination.
  • Root cause analysis: Using the 5 whys and Fishbone (Ishikawa) to peel layers of challenges, the team identified core reasons for delay and poor quality and prioritized solutions to be implemented.
  • Risk management: After identifying the root causes, the team was facilitated to identify mitigation measures and design an improved process detailing the cycle time requirement at each step. The team then screened the new process through risk analysis, identifying what could go wrong, ranking the risks in terms of impact to project goal, resources required as well as scope of control the team had.
  • Sustaining Performance: To encourage staff members to maintain high standards of performance,  project indicators were cascaded to each staff KPI. These were reported and tracked on a weekly basis. The frequent review ensured challenges and risks were proactively identified, solved and mitigated.
  • In consultation with the management an incentive system was developed where staff were given bonus at the end of each year based on their performance.


  • Engaged and empowered staff: The ability of staff to identify and solve problems was increased. By establishing a culture of cross reporting to one another – they understood better how their different roles interacted and how to better meet each other needs. This led to increased internal collaboration and better engagement with external stakeholders – schools, government and other consortium partners.
  • Reduced cycle time: By identifying and reducing inefficiencies in the processes and frequently reviewing and managing risk, the project saw massive improvement in activity cycles:
Latrine constuction3-5 months2 months
Borehole drilling and equipping6- 8 months2 – 3 months
80% of Community contribution9 months4 months
  •  Other benefits: Cost, Risk mitigation and budget savings. 
Item Before After Implication
Budget$0.6m deficit.$0.5m Savings.Staff bonus, more community water points, improved reputation.
Quality0ver 70% rework.3% of rework.Improved reputation, reduced costs.
Risk identification and mitigationadhocWeekly.Less firefighting, more proactive and engaged staff.
Transparency and credibilityDiscrepancy between ground and reports to donors.Consistency in information and reports.Increased trust and credibility with managers and donors.