Day in the Life of a Director of Process Improvement

Mark Steward

Have you ever want to know what it would be like to work in a different job or industry? PEX Network's twice monthly "A Day in the Life" series continues this week as Mark Steward, Director of Process Improvement at Poudre Valley Health System, describes his daily routine.

My work day starts with coffee and time for making lunch for my daughter to take to school. I always work to have that moment in the day to share it with the ones who are the closest to me. I then pack my lunch, throw it in my backpack and ride to work. Yes, I ride my bicycle during a brief 12-minute commute to work each day. It’s where I do my freest thinking for how to improve our company’s performance.

Greeting the folks I work with and asking how they are doing, and listening to a tale of the weekend, is always a nice way to start the work day. Afterward, I usually make my hit list of tasks to accomplish before I go home. I do try to mark them all off for the day, but even the best plans do change course over time. I try to capture a few of these for our 8:15 morning huddle. This is one of the 15-minute stand-ups we do to try and capture what we are doing well, what we are up to, find out what is happening, and get a chance to say hello.

After this meeting, it is off to review some e-mail. I try to address those that can be immediately taken care of.

Mark Steward is Director Process Improvement at Poudre Valley Health Systems

Next is to begin work on the items I thought could have value that I had jotted down in my notebook. These are continuous improvement ideas that should help to stepwise improve our team’s level of performance. As an example, huddle meetings – and the way they look and operate – was one of the ideas that happened on my 12-minute ride to work.

As the steward of our Performance Excellence process, my day also is spent working to ensure that the seven teams have the 90 minutes available each month to review and improve our approach and deployment of plans to help us succeed. These seven teams represent the different Baldrige categories, and each team has a specific purpose. I do actively support these teams by attending each and every review session. I also work to ensure that the teams have the agendas prepped and supplied a week prior to each meeting for review and that a week after each meeting the minutes are in the hands of all stakeholders.

Lean is our initiative to support our excellence journey. Working to ensure that I support and offer guidance when necessary to our value streams and associated rapid improvement events also is a daily process. The Lean initiative keeps us busy as we work to guarantee that our teams are collecting and analyzing drivers of performance consistently and that the updates to the mission control boards are complete. Thankfully, we have some wonderful facilitators working to make sure that this is done.

Outside of the Lean initiative are groups that need assistance with departmental PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) process improvements. We are always working to address how we prioritize and support them effectively. I am currently working with a newer facilitator as we kick off three new improvement teams this month. This is always fun, and it is so enjoyable to see and support the active engagement of staff members wanting to improve their performance.

Yes, there are organizational meeting and committee commitments, performance reviews, monthly one-on-one meetings, organizational new employee orientations (where we have our five minutes of fame to showcase Lean), development of training modules, and (once in a while) employee grill-out days. This last one is a great opportunity to meet and say hello to a small portion of the roughly 5,000 employees who represent our healthcare system. I enjoy meeting and working to improve our environment for all of those who work here, and this helps.

Lunch for me is usually located at my desk. A simple peanut butter sandwich and a banana carry me through the day. My goal each day is to be able to cross off those few items I identified in the daily huddle, meet my ongoing commitments, have a little spare time to think outside the norm of how we do things, and try to make a difference. Continuous improvement is my way of life. I as an individual have a long journey ahead, and I try not to stray too far from the path I have set.

The work day ends with my 12-minute bike ride home, where I get to kiss and hug the ones I love best.


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 Please include a brief professional biography, and a jpeg photograph.