Catching Up with IQPC's 2010 Best Deployment Leader of the Year Award Winner for North America

Chandeep Singh

On January 19, 2010, IQPC bestowed its North American Process Excellence award for best deployment leader of the year upon Chandeep Singh, the executive vice president of Process Excellence and work force management for Firstsource Solutions, a leading global provider of business process outsourcing services.

In this interview, Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ caught up with Singh to learn about how he has met the challenges of his organization and to find out how his deployment program is shaping up nearly eight months after his win at IQPC's 11th annual Lean Six Sigma and Process Improvement Summit in Orlando, Florida.

Interview by Genna Weiss

Tell us a bit about the history of your tenure at Firstsource Solutions. What were your responsibilities upon your arrival, and what were some of the challenges you faced in leading a Process Excellence deployment initiative?

Since its inception in 2001, Firstsource has had a strong and diversified growth story, which includes several key off-shoring domains. By mid-2005 Firstsource was keen to capitalize and leverage an operational excellence framework, moving beyond preliminary advantages of institutionalizing the functional capability. During this dynamic period, the company grew — both organically and inorganically — at a blistering compounded annual rate of about 70 percent.

When I joined the organization in late 2005, some of the preliminary challenges I faced were:

  • Integrating a common quality management system across the various lines of the business;
  • Creating awareness of Process Excellence and building a strong delivery team, which included not only hiring, but also ensuring realignment of some of the existing resources that were being used for other activities; and
  • Ensuring that there was direction setting and alignment of diverse improvement initiatives operating across the organization spread over several geographies.

What then were some of the key initiatives you put in place in order to address these challenges and ultimately improve Firstsource’s operations?

As the first step, all of the organization’s initiatives were consolidated under one governing body. Detailed multi-level review/governance structures were initiated. Chaired by the COO to review ongoing and pipeline initiatives, a business quality council evolved; it later transitioned from a geography-wise to a vertical-wise monthly global review. Now currently chaired by vertical heads and myself, this forum aggressively pursues and tracks various activities and best practices across centers and functions.

With Firstsource’s objective in delivering high impact improvement projects and driving culture-change in the organization, embedding quality into the company’s DNA became an important element of deployment. This started with the CEO becoming trained in the Six Sigma methodology, followed by the entire leadership completing Green Belt certification under a company mandate. More than 92 percent of our leadership team is now Green Belt trained.

In addition, a training plan mandated that each employee complete a pre-requisite number of identified and signed off projects before undergoing training. This approach, apart from attracting the right talent, ensured prioritization of pain areas from a business perspective and necessary sponsorship for successful closure of initiatives.

Integration of a common approach to quality management was aided by the phased deployment of the Business Process Management System (BPMS). This system has now provided a platform going beyond basic quality reports by giving performance management capabilities to the front-line staff.

Training around the seven quality control tools, combined with BPMS dashboards, provided an excellent start to institutionalizing data-orientated decision making on the operations floor.

Developing high caliber functional Black Belts was initiated via an annual in-house program. This program has gained exceptional operational acceptability over the past five years. Currently we are in the fifth phase of this cycle; over 25 percent of high performing individuals from this program are now in a full-time Process Excellence role. This has ensured adequate staffing for the Process Excellence team and has brought in useful domain expertise.

You were the winner of this year’s IQPC North American Process Excellence award for best deployment leader. What do you believe made you stand out from the competition?

My demonstration of deploying the ethos over a sustained period of time, embedding it in the executive governance level, and ensuring its uniform penetration across Firstsource globally has been one of the key differentiators.

My direction in assisting Firstsource to capture, meet and exceed the customer’s expectations has been another key distinguisher; recurring client and industry testimonials on the deployment are an acknowledgment of this achievement.

In addition, I have consistently delivered value to the business over the years while raising the bar year after year, have taken new initiatives in stride, and have not lost focus on the ones we already have implemented. This in fact was the specific feedback I was given by the judging panel after the awards had been announced.

Since your award win, how have you shaped your deployment efforts at Firstsource? Have you done anything differently?

I’ve had the deployment plan continue to focus on the execution of high impact projects while consolidating the Process Excellence culture within the organization. As our Process Excellence deployment has matured, the nature of our high impact initiatives has also changed. We now have initiatives that are cross-functional and cross-geographical in nature.

This year we have embarked on the global deployment of a Kaizen program to broaden the appeal of the Process Excellence philosophy at the grass root level. While currently the executive focus is on developing a consulting model to leverage existing relationships, strategic plans to impact upstream and downstream processes, benchmarking of key metrics, et al. remain tactically important.

What strategy do you have in place that will ensure that the program will grow with the business over time?

The strategy is simple: continue to add tangible value to our internal and external customers. As customer’s expectations change, we proactively align our initiatives to the changing expectations. Our evolving governance structure has reflected that we are constantly recognizing our client’s key drivers; we now work on key industry performance indicators rather than contractual obligations.

For example, it was identified that committed turn-around-time (TAT) of a key customer to their end users had a significant impact on their revenue yield. This indicated that reduced TAT increases revenue. Keeping this in mind, projects were initiated to study and identify the current transactional process that we control onshore. Through these projects, the customer’s entire processes were studied end-to-end and solutions were identified and implemented. This was done across various sales channels the customer utilized; these projects resulted in us taking responsibility of the committed TAT for the business, and the reduction seen was in the range of 50 to 25 percent across various channels.

We identified a key contributor to the process — employer/accountant referrals, which was improved by 29 percent over the baseline. This drove up the revenue yield of our customers by 2 percent, which was a delighter. This whole initiative of driving projects was purely a proactive approach from our end, which gave the desired results. I am sure it will continue to do so in the future as well.

Looking over your career as deployment leader at Firstsource, what would you say have been the most significant lessons you have learned along the way?

While each company is unique in its own way of operations, all business heads who want to ensure a successful deployment ask themselves, "What is keeping me awake at night?" It is no different at Firstsource.

It follows that there needs to be a proper understanding of the needs of the business and the ability to walk the talk of delivering value to the business. In this journey, it is important not to be bogged down by categorizing initiatives as DMAIC or Lean. The ability of the team to facilitate and mentor the correct usage of tools and techniques to drive business problems without using jargon and being bureaucratic on documentation remains relevant.

Enabling change by engaging key leaders in helping to design and execute the deployment by giving them a voice in project selection, priorities and ongoing monitoringpays in dividends. In specific cases, the chief executive expressing the need for the deployment, as well as the leveraging of relationships, have made all the difference.

As the popular saying goes, "What does not get measured and reviewed does not improve." The ultimate piece of the jigsaw puzzle is having in place a well thought out and executed governance framework that oversees all aspects of the roll out. Firstsource’s business quality councils have helped create a culture committed to Process Excellence.