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Evolving the role of quality and continuous improvement

Posted: 12/09/2012
Process Excellence Network
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Major change programs seem to be coming fast and furious, as organizations respond to disruptive technological developments and increasing competition in the market place. So, just how does quality and continuous improvement need to evolve to better support the business transformation agenda?

In this PEX Network roundtable discussion – a transcript from our recent PEX Masters online summit - Vince Pierce, Senior Vice-President of Global Business Transformation at Office Depot, Estelle Clark, Business Assurance Director at Lloyd’s Register and Gregory North, Vice-President at Xerox Corporate Lean Six Sigma and Business Transformation discuss how

Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for readability. If you would like to listen to the full original version, all PEX Masters sessions are available on demand.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: I’d like to briefly introduce our panelists and, as the topic of today is evolving the role of quality and continuous improvement, I’d also ask them to define what quality and continuous improvement means to them. Vince, I’ll start with you. What your role is and how would you define quality and continuous improvement?

Vince Pierce: Sure. Thanks Diana. Hi Everyone, I’m Vince Pierce, here at Office Depot. My role, globally, is to guide the organization through a transformation as we attempt to turn around our business. Our focus in the last several years has been on strengthening our operating platform, growing our operating profit and understanding what the levers are to grow the business. As we move forward, we’re going to have a better balance between operating profit and revenue growth as our strategy.

I define quality and continuous improvement, and, for that matter, transformation very differently. I’ll start with continuous improvement: it is incremental in nature - it’s not breakthrough - and it should be pervasive in nature. I tend to think of local, autonomous improvement, where every process gets improved every day, very, very tactically. These are small improvements, small barriers, small countermeasures that, over time, accumulate and make a heck of a difference to an organization. Continuous improvement, to me, is a mindset. It’s more of a verb. It is an activity that happens pervasively in the business everywhere we go.

This is in contrast to transformation, which is breakthrough in nature. Although I believe you can apply transformation at multiple levels to an enterprise, a division of a business or even a process, for me, transformation always has some element of strategy, people, process and technology.

My definition of quality is very focused on the quality aspects of a product or service, whether it be accuracy or quality of craftsmanship. I tend to think of quality as how well do we do it? Or how well do we make something?

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Thanks Vince. Estelle, could I get you to introduce yourself and how you would define quality and continuous improvement?

Estelle Clark: Good morning Diana – or good afternoon to those people listening in Europe, or good evening if you’re further east. I head up safety and business assurance for Lloyd’s Register, which is a global safety and risk management organization. For me, quality is about something that’s organization-wide; it’s an organization-wide approach to understanding precisely what your customers need and then being able to regularly – that’s consistently – deliver those solutions within budget, on time and, increasingly in today’s world, I think, that quality also needs to encompass "minimum loss to society". There’s a sustainability obligation there also, in relation to quality.

I agree with what Vince has said in relation to transformation and continuous improvement. But one more thought from me on continuous improvement: I think that continuous improvement is largely about culture. It’s about making sure that everyone in the organization understands that they have the ability and an obligation to look for changes and things that may improve things day by day. This is incremental, for sure. But the person closest to the work understanding that this responsibility [for continuous improvement] is a key part of their job.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Very good. And Gregory, I’ll get you to introduce yourself as well, and are there any things that you would like to add to the definitions of quality and continuous improvement and, perhaps, business transformation, as well?

Gregory North:Thanks Diana, and it’s always best to go last, because you can say, ‘I agree with everything everyone has said, up to this point!’

I’m responsible and have the privilege of working within the Xerox Corporation, globally. To really help define what we need for competencies in our corporation to drive quality and continuous improvement and then enable those competencies at all levels across all our businesses. It’s an exciting place to be, Xerox is in the process of a very public transformation; moving from a strong, innovative technology leader, to one that is a services-led technology-driven business. That means our very business model and our offering is in transformation and as a result everything we do in the corporation, from a whole-scale change in our offering to a change in the way we think about delivering that offering is, in a sense, up for grabs.

It’s a sweet spot for the area of thinking about our business from a quality and continuous improvement standpoint, in that, really, process is at the center of what we’re doing. Our work here at Xerox is designed to help our leadership team and our employees across the corporation make that journey successfully.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: I’d like to open it up to the first question to our panelists, which is, do you think that quality and continuous improvement have an image problem? Why or why not? Estelle, perhaps I’ll get you to come in on that one first.

Estelle Clark:Thank you Diana, and I know that you know that I do think that there is an image problem, particularly for quality professionals. I’ve been in this field for quite some time and I think that one of the problems is that quality can sometimes be thought of as being something that prevents change from happening, rather than something that supports it.

If you think about quality purely in a compliance sense meaning that anything that deviates from the documented system is, by definition, a non-compliance, and therefore needs to be stamped out, then you get yourself into this way of thinking, that, if you want change, you want continuous improvement and if you want transformation, you need to go somewhere else to find it.

That’s why I think that in the world of Six Sigma or the world of Lean, you typically find high potentials and young people aspiring to be part of CHECK RECORDING. On the other hand you tend to think of your quality manager as having been round for a while. It’s what you do before you retire, it’s what you give to good old Joe, because he’s not able to do anything else.

So, there’s more of a Cinderella image, I think, in terms of quality, than there is in continuous improvement. However, I’ve never understood why the two things are split because I don't think you can separate them. You can’t have quality unless you’re always improving to keep things fresh and up to date.

I think it’s getting worse, to a degree, because all of the brand new roles that have come in relation to IT. I’m sure we’ll touch on it later, but things like a Chief Process Officer and some other terms, are being sponsored, largely, by IS organizations. The idea is that IS is sexy and then you can get quality and deal with it as business as usual. But actually, quality doesn’t have anything to do with change. I fundamentally disagree, but I do believe that there’s an issue.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Gregory, what do you think? Do you agree with Estelle, that quality, in particular, has an image problem?

Gregory North:First, I want to go on record as saying, I’m glad that someone broke the opportunity to say sexy on this call, so I’m going to make sure I pick up on that and use it going forward. I think, I completely agree with Estelle’s point, that we do have an image problem in, what I would call, generally, the quality industry, and let’s stick with that idea of what’s sexy and what’s not.

Think of it in terms of product, life-cycle and brand. So, bringing it home to Xerox, we’ve had a story history of quality over the years. Quality leadership was a program that was in place in the 80s. There was a Xerox-wide quality problem solving process in the 80s and 90s, a leadership management model that was used in the 90s. Later on, Lean Six Sigma was introduced in 2003, and so the arc of that shows a quality journey, if you will, from the vantage point of the Xerox employee and our customers. But like any other product and brand, we have to continuously refresh that.

This gets back to the idea that, is it cogent for the times? Do you bring forward, out of the past, what is most important or successful? Things like the quality basics Estelle was just mentioning, in terms of the rigor of quality management systems and controls.

Those were needed and important 30 years ago, 20 years ago, they’re needed today, but in addition to that, what do we do to meet the challenge of net speed? Moving as fast as the market is moving? Moving as innovatively as our customers require us to move? And that’s where the constant transformation really comes in and I think it’s up to the quality industry and the continuous improvement industry to be able to change and, ultimately, take advantage of, and drive those waves going forward.

For example, we’ve introduced, at Xerox, Lean Six Sigma, 2.0 over the last 18 months and that is a reboot, from our standpoint. It’s a way of looking at the fundamental truths in Lean and Six Sigma, but approaching them through a much more pragmatic, much more business focused, well-aligned to the top and rapid rate of improvement manifestation and that requires all of our quality professionals world-wide to, first, up the bar in themselves and perform at better, faster level. It also ups the bar in the business, in terms of the expectations for what this can deliver. We see this as a journey, we also see it a continuous need to press on ourselves, to transform and change, so we can help change the business.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Vince, I’m sure you’ve got some opinions on this as well?

Vince Pierce:Well, I do, and I agree with Greg, it’s easier to go last, because I do agree with both Estelle and Greg, so I’ll try to come at this from a little bit of a different angle.

I would say we’ve got two challenges in this space: first, there seems to be an evolution of terminology with very similar operating definitions. So, back in the early 90s, I was part of a quality group. I don’t use that terminology much these days. Quality management or quality assurance - quality looked at the world from a management system. Fast forward to today and people that focus primarily on Lean also see Lean as a management system.

Sometimes we use the term, continuous improvement to mean much more than incremental, so I think one challenge with our industry is do we call it process excellence? Do we call it continuous improvement? Quality? Lean Six Sigma? Do we mean the same things? Are they all different? Part of a larger construct? So, I think we do ourselves a disservice in not having clear, standardized definitions for what we mean when we say these things. It was a little bit hard for me a minute ago to answer, for instance, how do I define quality? Because I can define it a number of ways. If I think of it as a system and I think back to those earlier days, or if I think very tactically around a product or a service and how do we assure that entire quality.

The second challenge we have around our professionals in the space. I’ll call it process excellence, which is a term I use for the broader portfolio of things. I think there is a prevalent risk or issue that some of our professionals, particularly those in the younger generation that are learning the ins and outs of these principles and concepts, sometimes aren’t very relevant to the business leaders they’re working with. So, we try to focus on the tools and the concepts of quality, continuous process excellence and sometimes have a hard time connecting that to, ‘so how do we drive the business? How do we use those concepts and that thinking to reshape the business model or the operating model in the company?’

And I think, when we talk about transformation, it’s be important for us to acknowledge that that goes well beyond, just process excellence, and that’s where a lot of folks that have spent ten, 15, 20 years doing continuous improvement, quality and process excellence, sometimes struggle in the transformational space, because there’s so many other things that have to be contemplated and addressed in a transformational piece of work, that does process improvement. So, I think we struggle there as well and that creates an image in the mind of the executive, in my opinion, that will look towards continuous improvement, when all is well and we move things forward on a more incremental, slow pace. But when it’s time to transform the business or achieve a major objective that’s a radical departure from today, they turn towards consultants and other methodologies.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: I think that leads us, quite nicely, actually, to our second question, which is really this, that as the world is going through a series of very dramatic economic and technological changes, with new technologies and trends, such as big data, the increasing mobility of the workforce, and digitization really disrupting established industries and toppling incumbent players in favor of new, more nimble players, what impact do you feel that all of these changes are having on approaches to quality and continuous improvement? Gregory, I think that you touched on this, and you mentioned that your business was, perhaps, experiencing some of this. If I could get you to start the conversation rolling?

Gregory North:Certainly. And I just want to make sure we flow nicely from what Vince just really took us through; it’s very important, I want to underscore it: we can’t bring the same tools to a different game. And I think what you’re trying to point out there, Vince, and I think it applies to this second question, Diana, is that if you go into a net speed world, where we’re also dealing with ERP implementations and whole-scale changes in global processes and that’s the landscape we’re playing, which often is suffused, as Estelle was mentioning, with IT organizations, major investment strategies, consultants, brought in on the outside to provide guidance.

If that’s the new game we’re in, we need to bring to that match, what amounts to a different lens and a different set of skills and competencies. And, I think, the way we look at that, it means that we need to help surface individuals who are very good at double clicking out until they see the macro business picture, not just within the four walls of our corporation, but also across the silos of companies into alliances; upstream and downstream of our business, looking to our customer space and our customer’s customer space.

That’s one thing, I think, that’s very important, is that ability to do that macro-vision work, that often consulting firms are well known for, and one thing I would say, though, for a [unclear] would be, in addition to that, the sense here is that process design and optimization on a grand scale is a more important skill-set than some of the detailed and rigorous process analysis that, for example, Lean Six Sigma has been famous for over the years. It’s really now, more about crafting a big picture of what can be accomplished with a blank sheet of paper and then being able to operationalize that through extremely successful global program management. I would say those are the new competencies we’re trying to, both surface within our existing talent pool, and bring in from outside.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Estelle, how would that tally with your experience?

Estelle Clark:I agree on a number of points. Just picking up on a couple, certainly, for me, global program management is really key. Whereas I remember times when you did a project and then you started off another project. You might have had some working in parallel, but they probably weren’t operating in the same space, so that you had some distinction between the things that you were trying to change.

Now, I don’t know of any organization that’s not having a transformation portfolio and many of the things that are happening are operating in ways, where the project or changes are interrelated and you need to be able to have people managing this, who understand those interrelationships, because we can’t afford the time to run everything serially, so we have to learn how to do it in parallel. For sure, the global management program is important.

We also need people who are able to pick up on the fact that everything’s faster, whilst also picking up on the fact that everything needs to link to strategy and the sorts of people you need to be having in your system need to be able to make that strategic link and not actually just think that they’re making some potential small-scale changes.

So, although I agree with everything that you said in your introduction, Diana, I think that some of the speed of change and things that were happening in the world at the moment, make people feel that they’re out of control. They feel that there are lots of things that are happening - if you like, black swan type events - which people weren’t able to predict. One of the reactions to that, typically, is more compliance, is more regulation, is the desire for society to actually put in place, more rules. Typically, the quality management system is one of the places, where the rules get described, in order to make sure that the organization remains legal.

I know that in my particular role, on one hand, I’m trying to do things faster, I’m trying to do more things and I’m trying to link all these things together. On the other hand, there’s just a huge, huge, huge influx of new rules and regulations to take account of that actually work completely contrary to what you’re trying to do through transformation. It really is quite a tricky balancing act.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: And Vince, I didn’t mean to come to you last again, but I fear we’re in that situation again! Do you have anything to add?

Vince Pierce:As I look at the question, I think we could replace emerging technologies with a number of things. I think, the point is, that business is changing and it’s changing quickly and it’s enabled, primarily, by technology. But consumer behavior is shifting, things are becoming distributed, much more connected and social’s a big part of what we do today.

I think the impact it has on process excellence, is it’s forcing us to be able to apply, what I think everybody here would agree, are a set of universal principles. The things we do in our profession are not limited to transactional environments or manufacturing environments. The thinking that we go through, the ways we approach the work, the tools that we use, I think, we all agree, are universal.

The challenge is going to be, can we apply those concepts and tools in relevant ways as the world around us changes? And I think, that’s where we really struggle. As we look at what’s required from a skill-set perspective, to be able to do that. I think this is where we’ve got to go beyond training in the methodologies and the concepts. I think we need a broader skill-set for our process excellence professionals today. More utility players, if you will. And aside from functional domain knowledge and expertise, like supply chain or financial services, we need to think about business acumen – Estelle mentioned program management – change management, a baseline level of technology acumen, facilitation skills, coaching skills, the ability to talk about strategy, to understand what a business model is and how to apply the A3 thinking, for example. Basic PDCA thinking to how you would engage and contribute in architecting a new business model, or how you would engage in organization design or competency modeling, or technology requirements. Our thinking and our tools apply, it’s just applying them in a new context, which requires a baseline level of understanding across a number of dimensions.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: That’s interesting. The next question, then, is do you believe that continuous improvement is becoming less relevant, as companies need to transform more dramatically more often? And, we’ve actually got a question in here, submitted by an audience member: how can you conduct continuous improvement initiatives at the same time you’re launching a business transformation program? Or can you? Estelle, I’ll get you to start off on that one, because I know you’ve got some thoughts around that tension between continuous improvement and business transformation. Gregory, maybe I’ll get you to start in on that question then?

Estelle Clark:I do think that there needs to be occasions, in which, you do distinguish between the two if you’re making a significant transformational change, I think you ought to freeze continuous improvement and not do it at the time of the [transformational[ change. However, I think we’ve all been in situations where we’ve been told that a transformational change was going to be happening in the next 12, 18, 24 months, and actually, in reality, it’s taken 24, 36, 48 or even longer. You can’t afford to hold up continuous improvement for that long, so I do think you need to be continually improving until such a point, in order to keep things up to date and, as relevant as possible, and also because of the cultural benefits of involving people in change.

I also think you need to be bringing continuous improvement back very soon after some significant change, but partly because there’s likely to be things that are left outside, that haven’t actually been implemented in the mainstream of the change, because it’s been trying to deliver to a deadline and there’s stuff that’s just got moved into business as usual, but also that post the change, you do make sure that you maximize your investment and you keep the change current, by applying continuous improvement as soon as you possibly can. And the third place where I’d use it is in the whole plethora of things that are going on, that aren’t part of the transformation. I don’t know any organization that’s transforming absolutely everything. I think, if you were changing more than 25 or 30% of stuff that’s going on, you probably need your head examined.

So, the rest of the world and the rest of the people need, also, to have the opportunity to keep everything current. The danger is, of course, that the transformation is thought of as being the sexy place and it’s the only thing that anything gets talked about and the rest of the world is, sort of, again, the Cinderella.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Vince, I’ll come to you next, so we’ll let Gregory be the last one this time. What do you think? Do you think continuous improvement is becoming less relevant? Or as Estelle has talked about, it’s still relevant, it’s just, perhaps, in different areas, you have to think about how you’re using it?

Vince Pierce: Yes, I do agree with several points Estelle made, particularly in the areas that are not being transformed. Assuming continuous improvement is part of the culture, you would expect that to take place. Even in the areas that are being transformed, the assumption is, we’re not stopping production in whatever environment you’re in, it could be a sales operation, but the work still continues. So if you’ve got a culture of continuous improvement and you’ve got some fundamentals in place people can continue to do work and improve in the context of a process, while things are transforming. Unless the change is being implemented at a particular time in a particular area, people still doing things and I would still expect that in those areas, if you have those fundamentals in place and you’re doing daily huddles, for example, you’re looking at yesterday’s performance and things that got in the way, that need to be removed through a set of countermeasures, I would expect that to continue.

I probably wouldn’t introduce continuous improvement as something new in an area that I’m transforming. But assuming it’s there, I wouldn’t want them to stop where we’re off trying to figure out what the changes are. Even if those folks are involved when they go back in their running production, I would expect them to be operating those fundamentals. How we position continuous improvement in our transformation framework here at Office Depot is in the sustain phase, so we ensure that the culture of continuous improvement and the fundamentals that we use to operate it are reinforced at the end of the transformation, if they existed before we got there and if not, we’ve got that culture and we’ve go those fundamentals in place, so we can hold the transformed state. So, it’s absolutely a part of it and how much of it we do, during, depends on the state of the operation were transformed before we got there.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Gregory, do you agree with what’s been said?

Gregory North:Well, first of all, yes. Secondly, I would put it slightly different, though. I would say, even the sequential decisions that, both, Estelle and Vince just spoke about… if you’re making a major change in a given, space, you’ve got to be very careful about introducing new concepts, or even, perhaps, putting some on hold, to make sure that you allow adequate mind-share to drive the change you’re looking for.

The way we think about it in Xerox now, and the way we talk about it is that in Lean Six Sigma 2.0, we have a pyramid. The pyramid has a foundation or base, which is the culture of the corporation. That’s where we talk about a culture of continuous improvement – innovation - we want our employees, every day, who are facing off to our customers, thinking about ways to lean out and ways to add new value. Above that level of culture, there are processes that go across the company. We want those to be designed in a robust, lean way, but we want to continuously optimize and that’s where our master black belts and green belts around the world are working to break down functional silos and optimize them and just, ultimately, improve our game on a month by month, quarter by quarter basis. And then, once again, going up to the capstone of the pyramid, thinking about it, in terms of the cycle of years and strategy versus months. This is not where projects occur, this is where programs occur, and in that business transformation space, leaders are charting a vision for the future that translates into strategy; that’s where we make investments in people, process and technology, as Vince said earlier.

Ultimately, corporations, in our estimation, have sometimes failed, when they’ve looked at any one of these as being sufficient. If you do, for example, the transformation thing, but you don’t do the culture of continuous improvement piece, it’s very disempowering. It’s like saying to your employee base, "attention everyone, we’re improving the company; we’ll let you know when we’re finished." That’s not the message, obviously, that corporations want to send.

Similarly, not every change effort has to be a large transformational program. Some things can be done well and quickly. You want to drive that speed with local control and local optimization, so from our perspective, what’s exciting about the times we’re in, is that no one of these things becomes less relevant. Continuous improvement is never more important than it is today, because it gives every employee in every customer interaction, a chance to improve and that’s the rate of change our customers are looking for.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Another question from our audience now: what role does, or should, information technology play in enabling your continuing improvement initiatives? Vince, I think, in one of your answers, you said, that process professionals need to have, at least, a baseline understanding of technology. We’ve also got an observation coming in here, from another audience member, stating that is it not true that, unless you speak and understand the language of the people you need to work with, IT in particular, do you not require more than just a baseline understanding? Vince, I might get you to start the ball rolling on this topic. I know it’s quite a tough question.

Vince Pierce:In some areas, I’d say yes, for sure. In some areas, I’d say, not necessarily. The role I play, quite often is, one of the village idiot. So, disclosing that I don’t have a ton of domain expertise gives me a license to ask questions that challenge assumptions sometimes; other times, knowledge of the area is very helpful, so it really is, at least, in my opinion, situational.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: It really depends on the context, what technologies you need to know?

Vince Pierce:It does, and it also depends on what you’re trying to accomplish, so if you’re there to understand, if you’re there to influence, there are different ways to approach that and the amount of domain knowledge you need will depend on a lot of those factors.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Gregory, what are your thoughts on this? Does IT play much of a role in, say, the Lean Six Sigma and transformation aspects in your continuous improvement initiatives, or are they kept quite separately?

Gregory North: They’re absolutely - if they’re to be successful - merged at the hip. Our Chief Information Officer, Carol Zierhoffer and I work very closely together, to make sure we understand how process and technology go hand in hand. IT is looking for, often, an angle into the business to truly understand what is the expectation from the strategy and the business process design standpoint, and sometimes, major technology change programs are gated by a lack of sufficient understanding in those areas and they feel like they’re trying to, if you will, drive it from an IT center, versus a business center and we’ve, in our world of business process management of quality and continuous improvement, been, if you will, swimming in that sea forever, of trying to make sure processes are well-defined, and then later coming to technology.

By bringing those two together upfront, there’s a tremendous amount of power, so we’re, right now, looking at global process design, global process ownership and then global IT enablement and the sequencing is very important there, in that if you don’t have a global sense of who owns it and how to design it, it’s very, very difficult later, to think about what the appropriate technology enablement is. So, we see this as being extraordinarily important to see it as a partnership.

Vince Pierce: Diana, could I respond to Greg there for a second?

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Yes, absolutely.

Vince Pierce: Yes, I think he brings up a really good point and I’d like to revise my response to the question, if you will. In doing what Greg just said, in trying to broker the right kind of discussion and relationship between IT and the business, around the topic of making sure they understand their roles, you’ve got the right ownership, because in a lot of IT projects, ERP implementation down to the minor enhancement, a common challenge I hear from IT is, we don’t have the right level of investment on the side of the business. They don’t invest the time in understanding requirements, they don’t take the time to describe exactly what they need and the engagement is less than they desire. We have to do more of that role on behalf of the business, so the ability for folks in our profession to serve as a facilitator between the two, to make sure we’ve got all the bits and pieces in the right spot, is less about one’s ability to understand and explain the value of the service oriented architecture, an agile, versus waterfall SDLC, which is technical domain stuff, as it is influencing both sides to understand each other and to talk about things like process ownership, roles and responsibilities, the value of spending time, understanding requirements, doing the right functional design. Those are more, interpersonal influencing skills, than they are technology acumen or domain expertise related skills.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Interesting. Estelle, do you have anything to add to this particular topic? Anything that you wanted to pick up on any points that Vince or Greg have brought up?

Estelle Clark: Yes, just a couple, if I may, Diana; firstly, I also feel joined at the hip with the IS director and if I thought back five years ago, I don't think that was the case. Now, there’s hardly a conversation that either of us has, that doesn’t involve the other one. I think, in terms of speaking their language, yes, you need to, to a degree, although I like the idea of being a village idiot; I think of myself, sometimes, as Forrest Gump for the same reason. But, I think, IS also need to have our language and sometimes, I feel that they could do more in making efforts towards that. But finally, I used to worry quite a lot about the IS tail wagging the process dog and people thinking that what we need to do is find and IS solution and actually, what the business needs is less important and, actually, IS, if you like, dictates, without fully understanding the business requirements first and understanding the process needs.

Increasingly, I find myself changing my mind, or, at least, thinking that, as much as there’s a concern about the IS tail wagging the process dog, there are times when we shouldn’t have the process tail wagging the IS dog, in the sense that the opportunities that IS can now provide to fundamentally transform businesses – transform with a big T – is such, that you really need their input about the art of the possible, fairly early on before you go to do too much process work, otherwise, you’ll find that you might be missing something significant. I think, because of that change, probably, that’s why – the feeling that I am joined at the hip with the IS director, because we iterate around these conversations all the time.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: So, effectively, you can’t have one without the other. They really do need to go hand in hand today?

Estelle Clark: Yes, I think so.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: That does bring us onto the follow on question, submitted by an audience member, which is, what are your thoughts on bridging the IT/business divide? Vince, I believe you touched on it, when you talked a little bit about the role of the process professional sitting in between the IT and business to almost help translate the requirements one between the other. What do you think, or what would your thoughts be on how you actually do help to bridge that IT and business divide?

Vince Pierce:Well, I don’t want to leave folks with the wrong impression. I don’t want to sit in between anyone. I want to sit, maybe, in a triangle, so I think, putting process excellence between IT and the business is going to have to route their relationship through an unnecessary stop. I prefer to think of it a working relationship between multiple parties, because it’s not just one area of the business, it’s probably cross-functionally several areas of the business working with IT, working with the process excellence folks and I think, like anything else, the thoughtful contemplation and design of how we work together – defining ways of working, ground rules, rules of engagement, etc. – cannot be underestimated…ensuring the proper governance cannot be underestimated.

Anyone that’s led a large-scale change, whether it’s transformational with a big T or a little t, knows the importance of governance; without governance, it often leads to chaos. So, thinking about what are some of the guiding principles that govern the relationship? How do we best work together? How do we make decisions? Who makes what decisions? I think, is work that needs to be done, if not done, it sometimes gets tricky, how you bridge IT, the business, whose role is what, what tail is wagging what dog.

So, we use, for example, a rapid matrix, which is a form of RACI, if you will, but it clearly defines the decision-maker and that’s really important. So who provides the counsel? The advice? The insight? Asks the questions? But ultimately, who makes the decision? And that needs to be clearly understood before we get into the throes of decision-making, and I think, if you take the time and whatever’s appropriate for your culture; however you do that in your climate, if you take the time to have a meta-conversation, so how do we want this relationship to work? So, what’s a win for you? This is a win for me; how do we get to a win/win? How do we make decisions? Who gets involved? When do people not get involved? Because we don’t need the inefficiency of having 20 people make a two person decision, and if you think through that, the actual doing the work just gets lubricated by that understanding and it just, kind of, works.

I found, when I haven’t invested the time to do that or I couldn’t influence people to see the value in it, we’ve struggled, so it’s a pay me now/pay me later proposition, in my opinion.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Estelle, what do you think? What are some of your thoughts on how you actually overcome what people identify as the IT business divide?

Estelle Clark: I do think that there’s a role for process folks to do some translation and not as Vince said, obviously, you don’t want to slow things down and sit between anyone. I know that in the organization I’m part of, myself and my colleagues are quite often used as almost, if you like, as a sounding board; a sanity check about whether the IT guys gone too "gung ho" in terms of some of their thoughts. I do expect it to be able to be adequately skilled, in terms of our understanding in IS, to be able to perform that role. I think, that the people I find that I employ, tend to like to do that too.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Okay, Gregory, just get your thoughts quickly and then I think we’ll move on to, probably, the last question after this, because I see we’re rapidly running out of time.

Gregory North:Understood Diana. Just a quick point, building on what I’ve heard before in this space: companies often bring in consultants to help do this work of bridging the IT/business divide and there are corporations that are really good at that and I think one of the things that we have to do in the process excellence community is learn from that and understand that there is a role to play to facilitate this conversation that’s been set and I think that one of the things that we can do is understand that an expectation, to some extent, of IT and the business is that there will be a process framework, in which, we’re operating on a global basis or on a regional basis, however you might be set up as a corporation. I think, one of the things we have to do as a community is make sure we fully understand our role in helping to create and continue [unclear] the process framework.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Great, so I think we’ll end a future-looking question from the audience which is where do you see Lean Six Sigma headed, going forward? Do you think firms will rely on Lean Six Sigma more? He does say, be careful how you answer. He’s Six Sigma Green Belt + Certified. Gregory, I know you’ve just answered a question but I’ll get you to come in first on that one.

Gregory North:All right, quickly, because I know we’ll run into the top of the hour, Diana. My sense is that – and, I think, Vince might have said this earlier today and certainly, It’s consistent with Xerox’s journey – we change the terminology a lot, decade to decade, but I go back to Juran and quality management systems, as Estelle was talking about and then the introduction of Lean and Six Sigma, and I think what we have to do is, to some extent, be open and willing to be less adherent to labels and more focused on capabilities and competencies. I think, as long as we do that, we need to understand that, A, some things will always be true, and, B, new things always have to be brought in, learnt and deployed.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Vince, what do you think? Will Lean Six Sigma continue to be used? Will it be less used, going forward? What do you think?

Vince Pierce:I tend to shy away from all of it, so I just use process excellence, and the definition we’ve got here is, that encompasses everything and everything in the space that’s relevant to drive improvement in our business. So that’s Lean, that’s Six Sigma, that’s old school TQM, it’s all of it. It’s the quality management systems; it’s all in there, and trying to distinguish the bits and pieces, to me, is just not a value-adding discussion. I think we still will use Lean Six Sigma in the market place, but I think more and more folks that I see are just using… Look at the title of the network that we’re talking in - process excellence network – this isn’t the global Lean Six Sigma network, we’re process excellence and we invite everyone from the various disciplines under that umbrella to the discussion, and it’s always a good one. So I agree with Greg; the importance of labels is somewhat misplaced sometimes and it is about the competencies and ultimately, it’s about improving the business.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Well said. Estelle, what are your closing thoughts on where Lean Six Sigma process excellence is headed?

Estelle Clark:I also don’t use the labels Lean Six Sigma, Lean, etc. I think the organization that I work for is just surprised, because I seem to have a bunch of people who seem to be able to make things happen successfully and if the organization thinks that that’s a miracle and don’t understand that we use some tools, I really don’t mind, almost, as long as they keep coming our way. But I do think that we do need to make sure that use all the tools that we’ve had and we’ve learnt and we recognize. Just heard about how some of them go back many, many generations. And add to them. The new capabilities, that mean that we can link strategy, the new capabilities to make sure we understand the business operating model and the much bigger picture and the new capability of being able to run multiple programs and projects together, in order to fuel the transformation agenda.

Diana Davis, PEX Network: Wonderful. Well, listen, thank you Estelle, Gregory, Vince, for such a great discussion, it’s been great having you on and thanks, also to the audience, for asking such thoughtful questions. So, thank you again.

Estelle Clark: Thank you Diana. Also, thank you Vince and Greg.

Vince Pierce: Likewise. Thank you.

Gregory North:Cheers to all and let’s go off and continuously improve, shall we?


Thank you, for your interest in Evolving the role of quality and continuous improvement.