Lessons in Process Excellence Leadership


Maria Pamment
06/15/2016

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Getting buy in from executives and managers is a critical part of any process excellence program. Without the engagement and enthusiasm of staff, a program will not succeed. “At each level you need to align it to the corporate imperative but take it down to a level that’s more real for that particular functional group,” says Maria Pamment, Director of Performance Optimization at PPD.

In this interview, Pamment discusses how her company got their Lean Six Sigma program off the ground, offers tips on working with stakeholders from across the organization and underscores the importance of patience and listening.

PEX Network: Leadership buy-in is often cited as one of the biggest challenges by many people in this profession, what have you done at PPD to get leadership buy-in?

Maria Pamment: The first thing we had to do was communicate the vision to the leadership in a way that our executives would relate to. That meant sharing the goals of Six Sigma and how it aligned to corporate imperatives.  Then, we came up with a concrete plan on how we could deploy a Lean Six Sigma program into the organization that leadership could critique. Finally, we had to deploy our program, pilot it and make sure that the organization adopted and engaged with it. 

PEX Network: Of course, it’s not just top leadership that needs to be bought in. How did you engage other stakeholders in the company?

Maria Pamment: Our leadership team gave us their support but not overtly so. This meant that we needed to communicate and collaborate with senior leaders and executives across different functional areas.  At each level we needed to align it to the corporate imperative but then take it down to a level that was applicable for that particular functional group.

We worked with each level to identify pain points and process improvement opportunities. Then, we rolled up our sleeves and did the work with them.  The next step was working with the people who were living and breathing the processes that needed to be fixed. We had to work with them in a way that built understanding and rapport so that they could influence upwards.

PEX Network: It sounds like a huge translation job. How do you figure out what really matters to each level of the organization?

Maria Pamment: There is a bit of trial and error; you learn along the way.  I sought advice by asking for people to mentor me in the different areas so I was better placed to advise what would work and what would not. It took time to built up that network but it was a worthwhile investment.

PEX Network: What has been the biggest challenge in instilling a continuous improvement mindset rather than just jumping to conclusions?

Maria Pamment: It’s human nature to jump to conclusions so it is a big challenge getting people to do root cause analysis. It can feel very unnatural so we must reinforce and communicate why it is important without being patronizing as well. 

It was so important to be patient and listen as well. We found that most of the time people had the best intentions but they might not know how to do root cause analysis.  So we needed to understand what was really happening and come up with ways of addressing the issues, whether that meant training or a new guidance document.

PEX Network: More general questions then: what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about process? 

Maria Pamment: It’s important to ensure that any process excellence approach is adaptive and fit for purpose. Don’t put too many tools on people; use what’s right for the project or that particular circumstance. It also means talking in a language that is accessible and that people understand.

PEX Network: That makes a lot of sense.  Looking into your crystal ball where do you think the profession should head next, or is heading next?

Maria Pamment: I think the next iteration of the profession will involve process innovation; bringing in new processes where one doesn’t exist today.  The transformation activities that we’re seeing businesses go through today mean that we’re no longer just looking at our current state and evolving it. Instead, we’re starting to think about what a process would look like if we could start from scratch.