A Day In The Life of A Director of Operational Performance Solutions

Nancy Riebling

Red arrows

Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to work in a different job or industry within process improvement? PEX Network's twice monthly "A Day in the Life" series continues this week with Nancy B. Riebling, Director of Operational Performance Solutions and a Master Black Belt for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, the second-largest non-profit, secular healthcare system in the United States.


I have a very full yet very fulfilling set of responsibilities in my role as the director of Operational Performance Solutions at North Shore-LIJ. I oversee three system master black belts, teach the Six Sigma and lean methodologies, and mentor projects throughout the health system. Working with senior leadership, I translate strategic goals and initiatives into Six Sigma, lean or FTD (fast-track decision making) projects to drive improvement across the organization.

Nancy Riebling is Director of Operational Performance Solutions at North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System

Here is the basic setup: At North Shore-LIJ, our health system managers turn to the Center for Learning & Innovation to learn how to implement Operational Performance Solutions, or OPS. That is where I come in. Managers send their teams to CLI to learn the OPS methodologies. The teams then bring these techniques and concepts back to their worksites for implementation. I and the other members of the OPS group play a unique role in driving successful change throughout the health system.

In many instances, refining the process results in financial savings, increased revenue, increased patient safety, improved customer and employee satisfaction, and overall enhancements to the way that the organization performs. What I and the OPS group do each day makes a difference to North Shore-LIJ patients, employees and the business. On an almost daily basis, we use – and explain how to use – five main methodologies to improve processes.

The first of these is Six Sigma. CLI uses the Six Sigma quality methodology to improve processes, manage costs and increase employee satisfaction. The Six Sigma methodology, which has proved to be effective in areas of the healthcare industry, focuses on the measurement system and enables healthcare providers to measure how many errors or defects occur in the existing processes. During a Six Sigma project, a systematic approach is utilized to reduce or eliminate the causes for the defects, getting as close to zero defects as possible. These benefits are eventually seen by patients in terms of lower costs and enhanced services.

The second methodology is lean.This program takes its name from the concepts of eliminating fat. The lean process analyzes flow and delay times for each activity in a process and separates value-added steps (activities that truly yield value) from non-value-added steps. Deployed through an approach called kaizen, a Japanese term for continuous improvement, employees work together and learn by doing as they apply structured improvement methods and monitor results on a targeted process, ensuring that the value-added steps are done efficiently.

The third methodology is capstone projects.Employees in the core management program participate in a capstone project at the end of their program. Employees are placed into teams and each team is encouraged to identify a process improvement project that aligns with the health system’s strategic goals. Capstone projects are intended to be intensive, active learning projects, requiring considerable effort in the planning and implementation of solutions. A member of the OPS group serves as a mentor for each of the capstone projects. Employees are expected to present their work in written and oral formats to senior leadership.

The next methodology is fast-track decision making.FTD sessions are run by change facilitators and staffed by employees. This collection of people utilizes team-based problem solving to resolve issues, improve processes and empower staff to seek management buy-in. The team is accountable to leadership for implementation and follow-up action plans.

Last but not least, there are focus/feedback groups. A team of employees led by a change facilitator explores underlying issues within a facility/department to generate solutions and provide feedback to management. Management then develops new ways of doing business defined to implement the recommended changes.

As you can see, there are plenty of tools and plenty of projects tied to my daily role as the director of OPS and as a master black belt at North Shore-LIJ. On top of all that, though, in my ‘free time’ outside of work, I serve as an adjunct professor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. I have been doing this since 2007. I teach a class in Six Sigma as part of the health system’s joint MBA program with a specialization in quality. I am also regularly a speaker at Six Sigma and quality conferences, and write papers and articles on these subjects for various technical journals and magazines.

Do you want to share your story with PEX Network? If you work in process improvement we'd love to hear what your day is like! "A Day in the Life" submissions should be between 700-1000 words and can be sent to us at info@pexnetwork.com. Please include a brief professional biography, and a jpeg photograph. Please note: submission does not guarantee publication.