Ellen Bovarnick, Nortel Networks

Ellen has personality. She tells it like it is. She is a recent addition to the “turnaround team” at Nortel Networks. As the VP of Lean Six Sigma and Global Quality, she laid out Nortel’s plans to execute on their new Lean Six Sigma initiative launched in April last year.

“Lean Six Sigma will be the largest continuous improvement and quality initiative in Nortel’s 110-year history.” – Mike Zafirovski, President and CEO of Nortel

Ellen said that the Nortel deployment will be more intense than GE’s deployment. As I recall Jack Welch said of Six Sigma, “Six sigma will be the biggest, the most personally rewarding, and, in the end, the most profitable undertaking in our history.” So it looks like Mike Zafirovski may still have a couple of GE plays up his sleeve.

Nortel will focus the deployment on four “Big Y’s”

  • Customer Satisfaction (Responsiveness and Delivery)
  • Time to Market (Revenue)
  • Cash (Days Sales Outstanding & Inventory)
  • CoPQ (Cost of Poor Quality)

Nortel Six Sigma Deployment stats:

  • Total leadership change in 2005 — GE and IBM backgrounds are in charge now
  • Six Sigma training goals – by the end of 2007 1 percent of employee base will be Black Belts and 2 percent Green Belts. Do the math, that’s 300 BBs and 600 GBs
  • All BBs will be internally hired and will serve for 30 to 36 months (Ellen thinks that 18 to 24 months, the typical BB assignment, is not long enough to get the best out of them.
  • Green Belts will be trained in powerful thinking, not statistics
  • Nortel will have 14 MBBs some internally hired some recruited
  • Curriculum has moved from DMAIC to more integration with Lean and Design for Six Sigma.
Handpicked Content:   Six Sigma really sucks!

Learning points

  • LSS powerful in improving the pace and quality of innovation
  • Focus on facts and data effectively neutralizes historical bias and emotional attachments
  • Involve product developers
  • Address known pain points, build credibility quickly
  • Consider the whole system first then customize to meet business and customer needs

Ellen really went into it differentiating between using the “Six Sigma” tools and solving problems. She said, and I paraphrase, “It’s not about using the tools. It’s about listening to the data, and really understanding what the root cause is.”

The Nortel deployment is looking very promising. Patterned after GE, it will have the added asset of hindsight to overcome the roadblocks that GE faced. Plus the technology available today will greatly assist Nortel in launching their enterprise-wide initiative, technology that GE just didn’t have back then.

I asked Ellen about the level of visibility and transparency that the public will see. She assured me that Mike will continue to share information with analysts and the public alike as he has done since the announcement of Six Sigma.

Comments 8

  1. david B

    She got fired from Coke….and got laid off from Nortel…what does that tell u…

  2. Michael Marx

    It tells me you are making assumptions based on 2 data points. Thus, your findings are insignificant.

    I’ve spoken with Ellen on many occasions over the past few years. She is a devout believer in the power of Six Sigma. Unfortunately, Coca Cola is not.

    She is a very positive and charismatic leader. If Nortel let her go, it’s their loss.

  3. kelly

    The findings must be significant as she has been walked out the door on her last 2 assignments.
    Knowledgable from a text book understanding of L6S most definitely yes, but being able to influence, get along with decisions makers and drive cultural change for the better absolutely pittiful.

  4. JH

    I understand that she was not well liked at Nortel. It appears she spent a good deal of time presenting a L6S seminars, but as VP of Global Qaulity, I wonder how much time she spent building relationships with customers. Not sure that L6S HAS helped Nortel with its customers. Cisco figured this out early on when they tried to push back on TL9000….since then they have taken a leadership position in the QuEST Forum. Nortel is barely still involved.

  5. exNN

    Having worked in L6S at Nortel when Ellen was around, the comment about her having a textbook understanding is pretty good.

    She missed the mark and couldn’t make L6S work for the business at Nortel.

    Thankfully for Nortel, they now have a much more pragmatic L6S leader which might mean they salvage some sort of return from their huge, global L6S investment.

  6. JD

    Like the others posts above….she understands the textbook of L6S as well as anyone….but her approach to teaching…communitcating…coaching…consulling is extremely poor and demotivating. Her lack of ability to interact with the Executives at Nortel and drive this initiative has led to its demise.

    Ellen is more about Ellen than what is good for the business…she would rather travel…and preach…(gain mileage pts…and look for her next job)…then to roll up her sleeves and drive change within the business.

    Numerous Ethics violations were turned in on her at Nortel and should she have been let go much sooner than she was. (travel issues….demeaning employees….talking negatively about executives….supplier ethics issues…).

    She does not practice making decisions based upon facts and data…but making decision based upon the law of Ellen…which is very narrow and contrite to say the least….

  7. KH

    After having worked with many LSS executives over the years, and witnessed first hand Ellens "ways", I’d like to suggest she change her name to Earthquake Bovarnic, as her manner is similar.

    She comes into an area with no warning, shakes things up indiscriminately, and leaves people crying, devastated, with little to no infrastructure remaining…

    I can’t imagine the horror she’ll inflict next… God help the next "victims"….

  8. mm

    KH stated it correctly….a train wreck ready to happen and all she cared about was lining her pockets and demoralizing people….no wonder Nortel went bankrupt……

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