Last July, I took a new role in my company as program & operations leader for a global business development team, after several years as a full-time Lean Six Sigma professional. No more classroom teaching, lean events, statistical tests, coaching other belts, or lean six sigma projects to run. Instead, I was given a broad mission: get the team organized. By whatever means possible.

When I was a practicing quality professional, one of my biggest frustrations was how the staff I worked with never seemed to have time (or money) to work on preventing problems, but all the time in the world to correct things once they went horribly wrong. Now I’m a process owner, and I have gained a new appreciation for these folks; my own improvement “to-do” list has grown, and become a bit dusty as other, more pressing tasks command my immediate attention.

I heavily rely on these fundamentals of Lean & Six Sigma to get the team organized, and help us get where we need to go.

Go to the gemba – any time I’ve seen an apparent defect, I’ve needed to go to a few of my team and get their input before going too far down the road. I need them to show me what they do, and not assume I know what’s going on based on a spreadsheet or report I saw.

Drive standard work – even though our team often works on one-off commercial deals, there are elements that need to be standardized through each. The biggest area for this is the deal review process – without a standardized, repeatable, (yet flexible) way to review and approve new deals, our ability to ensure quality results is compromised.

Robust measurement systems – my first order of business was to create and implement a measurement system to help the team and management see what was going on with our project portfolio, and then make the data visible in ways that help drive decision-making. Key to this was not just creating a tool, but a process and rhythm to ensure the data are accurate and timely.

Build consensus slowly, implement quickly – just because I’m the process owner now doesn’t mean I can unilaterally roll out changes. Not if I want them to be supported and accepted, that is. Taking the time to craft a good solution, building support is essential – once it’s achieved, then it’s time to act.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – teams need to know what, when, and why things are happening, and they need this information via multiple channels, on a regular basis. Emails get ignored, conference calls get missed. Remote teams don’t always communicate with their managers.

Fires are burning, gotta run…

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