Randall W. Powell
A Conversation with…
Randall W. Powell,
VP o
f Eastman Chemical Company

In a conversation with iSixSigma, Dr. Randall W. Powell, vice president of Eastman Chemical Company, Europe/Middle East/Africa, offers his views on how Six Sigma adds value to an existing quality culture. Located at the company’s regional headquarters in The Netherlands, Dr. Powell has operations responsibility for ten manufacturing sites in eight European countries. He also serves on the corporate Six Sigma steering team, with implementation responsibility for the region.

iSixSigma: Let us start this conversation by getting a little background. How would you describe the quality culture at Eastman Chemical Company prior to Six Sigma?

Dr. Powell: Our quality heritage has its roots in Eastman Kodak, which we were a part of until 1994 when we were spun off as a stand-alone company. Just prior to becoming an independent company, Eastman became the first chemical company to win the U.S. Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1993. So prior to Six Sigma implementation, we already had an established quality culture. There were strong senior management leadership of continuous improvement, a well-deployed process focus and good knowledge of statistical and analytical tools, supported by an in-house applied statistics group. Throughout the business, we had a very mature Quality Management Process (QMP) that was well embedded across our global operations.

iSixSigma: How would you describe the Eastman Quality Management Process?

Dr. Powell: It is an 11-step management process used at all levels of the organization to link business, functional and specific unit (department) objectives with improvement goals and actions. It includes a rigorous annual planning process that focuses on customer (internal and external) needs, performance measurement and identification of improvement initiatives. Our Quality Management Process is comprehensive in scope, and not simply the management of quality in a narrow, methodology and tools-oriented way. QMP has genuinely helped us improve the quality of management at Eastman.

iSixSigma: What is the added-value of Six Sigma?

Dr. Powell: Through the annual functional planning component of our Quality Management Process, we are good at identifying and prioritizing improvement opportunities. We now use Six Sigma as our breakthrough improvement methodology for our most significant and complex projects, where we need a team-based, structured approach that lends itself to using statistical/analytical tools. It is not our overall system for managing quality, nor is it used for incremental improvement (Kaizen). For Eastman, Six Sigma is about value creation from breakthrough projects.

We initially set a goal for our Black Belts to deliver projects with an average net benefit to the company of $500,000 and we have been satisfied with the results from our early waves of projects. Now that we are two years into our deployment, we have modified that metric such that we now expect each Black Belt to contribute $1 million in net benefit annually through the projects he/she personally implements. For Six Sigma at Eastman, the project is paramount, and that is why I have referred to our approach as a “project priority” deployment model.

We are less interested in the total number of people trained since we are not looking to Six Sigma to create a quality mindset, which we already have. In our deployment model, every Belt receiving training must have a properly defined project that meets our value criteria and they are expected to deliver the results from that project. Our Black Belts are 100 percent dedicated for a planned assignment of two to three years, while our Green Belts are expected to spend 25 to 50 percent of their time on the project. Our Belts are an elite group – our “special forces” for improvement and value creation.

The specific benefits of Six Sigma within our quality culture are threefold:

  • It has given us a more rigorous improvement methodology for our most challenging projects.
  • It has added focus and resources to breakthrough improvement to improve project success rates.
  • It has enhanced the selection and training of the people we chose to lead breakthrough improvement projects.

iSixSigma: What distinction do you make between the “project priority” approach you have taken and the “cascade” approach taken by many companies?

Dr. Powell: Let me preface my comments by saying that I do not think one approach is right and one is wrong. The question is: “Why are you implementing Six Sigma?” Is it to create or significantly enhance the overall quality culture, or is it to improve your execution on project/process improvement? In our case it was the latter. We already had a strong quality culture. I have tried to characterize these two deployment approaches in this way. (The following documents are presented.)

Corporate Cascade
Why: Create/enhance a quality culture
What: Succession of waves to train expanding proportion of organization in analytical tools and project (DMAIC) management methodology
Key Characteristics:
+ Rapidly expanding population of Belts
+ Most or all SPC training within Six Sigma course
+ Six Sigma is the primary improvement process for most/all projects
+ Most managers are Belts; most are not project managers
Best Organizational Fit:
+ Need standardized process improvement methodology
+ Need for broad basic knowledge of statistical/analytical tools
+ Need to enhance use of data for management and improvement
+ Seek high profile corporate quality initiative
+ Need to establish or enhance teamwork culture
+ Quality improvement is essential for business success
Project Priority
Why: Achieve breakthrough improvements in processes
What: Targeted training of a select group of expert project managers to lead high-value breakthrough projects on a continuing basis
Key Characteristics:
+ Core group of Belts as specialists
+ Significant training outside of Six Sigma courses
+ Six Sigma focused more on limited number of high-impact projects
+ Only project managers are Belts; others fully understand and support Six Sigma
Best Organizational Fit:
+ Need additional discipline in process improvement methodology
+ Established expertise in SPC and analytical tools
+ Adequate quality management system focus with data-driven decision-making
+ Seek enhancement or revitalization of established quality culture
+ Need to increase project team success rate and efficiency
+ Quality improvement is essential for business success

I intentionally stress that quality improvement is essential for success in any business and certainly is the reason many people are correctly drawn to Six Sigma.

iSixSigma: Based on your experience, would you say there are prerequisites for successfully deploying Six Sigma?

Dr. Powell: Yes, and I think the prerequisites are embedded in the culture of the organization. Before embarking on Six Sigma, I would ask questions about the organization’s capabilities in the following areas:

  • Teamwork – Is it common practice to work in teams: project teams, management teams or natural working teams?
  • Data-driven decision-making – Are decisions based upon analysis of relevant data, at all levels in the organization?
  • Process focus – Is work defined in terms of processes? Are key processes documented and accountabilities clear?
  • Senior management leadership – Does leadership have credibility and a history of successfully implementing company-wide improvement initiatives, demonstrating that they can sustain their attention?

The more the answers to those questions are “no” or “sometimes,” the more counter-cultural you will find Six Sigma. This doesn’t mean don’t do it. It means take the time to prepare the organization for effective deployment of Six Sigma.

iSixSigma: In that regard, it is interesting to note that GE created a change culture through its Work-out program that preceded Six Sigma by six or more years. Eastman has grown in Europe both organically and through acquisition. What role have the quality management process and Six Sigma played in that expansion?

Dr. Powell: We made a conscious choice to be consistent on a global basis in the application of our key management processes, which we believe are critical to improving and sustaining performance. The quality management process is one of them. Within Eastman, whether you are in Europe, Asia Pacific, or North America, you will be familiar with our quality management process and, now, the use of Six Sigma for breakthrough projects. By giving people a common corporate language and tools, we have facilitated integration, sharing and synergy.

iSixSigma: For European companies with a heritage of quality, what would you say as they consider Six Sigma?

Dr. Powell: A quality culture is an investment in excellence. The dividends are customer satisfaction and value creation. That quality culture consists of many components and can be continually enhanced; Six Sigma can be a perfect partner to existing quality systems. However, to avoid confusing the people in your organization with what may look to them like yet another management fad, make sure you understand how Six Sigma can enhance your current quality systems, and then plan your deployment to achieve that objective.

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