Lean Six Sigma in one of the Middle East’s Fastest Growing Companies

The IMF forecasts growth in the Middle East to top 4% this year, according to a recent Bloomberg newswire. But dealing with growth presents a challenge in itself for one of the biggest employers in the region.

Emirates Group has more than 57,000 workers, spread across its myriad of brands which includes the airline, hotels, and tourism operators in addition to ancillary services like airline catering and engineering. The group reported earnings of $1.6 billion in fiscal 2010, according to a recent Associated Press report, and expects to post another annual profit later this month. How does Lean Six Sigma and process improvement help the company gear up for growth?

Musa Faisal is responsible for promoting awareness and application of Lean Six Sigma within Emirates Group. The company has been utilising Lean Six Sigma since 2003 as part of its process improvement tool kit to address business growth challenges and opportunities. Musa focuses on initiating, leading and managing business transformation programmes and initiatives that target organisational efficiency and effectiveness.

Can you give us an overview of your business excellence programme?

In my capacity I operate as a corporate advisor to senior leadership teams on business performance excellence, hence, along with my team we partner with leadership teams in the business to identify and initiate business transformation programs and initiatives necessary to successfully manage profitable growth. These are then enabled through our tool kit of which lean six sigma is a part.

Within my division, I am the only Black Belt and we currently have over 10 team members trained to a Green Belt level. We are planning to train more people up to Green Belt level during this financial year.

How has the use of Lean Six Sigma improved the quality of the projects taking place in Emirates Airlines?

The thinking behind the DMAIC approach as well as the agility that lean thinking and tools bring has helped us in enhancing our problem solving approach and speed in addressing some of the growth challenges.

When we scope an engagement around Lean Six Sigma, for instance, we are capable to turn around a project up to the recommendation stage within 3 weeks. The business would highly favour this approach as they are able to see what the future state looks like in a quick manner as opposed to spending significant time in stakeholders meetings/ interviews and extensive analysis. A typical Six Sigma project would typically take from 3-6months based on complexity of the problem on hand and the availability of data.

Which aspect of Lean Six Sigma do you think is hardest to implement and why?

The implementation of the recommendations is always be the difficult phase. But I think the control phase is also quite difficult because it requires full leadership commitment to address the change management aspect of the project.

What do you think its essential to focus on to ensure success of your project?

I would always stress on the Define/ Measure phases as it sets the scene for the opportunity on hand. It helps put in context and helps create commitment from senior management which is important during the whole DMAIC journey.