The Leadership Files: Bruce Miyashita, Vice President of Six Sigma at Maple Leaf Foods Inc.

Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ brings you the top Process Improvement executives to watch out for in 2011. In this Q&A, we profile Bruce Miyashita, vice president of Six Sigma at Maple Leaf Foods Inc.

Interview by Helen Winsor

Please provide a brief background of your Process Improvement program.

Maple Leaf Foods is one of Canada’s largest food processing companies, with sales of $5.8 billion and 24,000 employees. It launched its performance improvement effort in 2000 and now has 130 full-time Six Sigma resources along with 4,500 certified Green Belts. Annual savings are approximately $60 million per year along with various ancillary benefits from other strategic projects.

What are the top three components to your overall business strategy in 2011?

  1. Establishing and maintaining world-class food safety
  2. Implementing the supply chain network transformations
  3. Implementing our ERP (SAP)

Why is the Process Improvement program an important focus for your business and what role does it play in the business strategy?

All Six Sigma projects are aligned to either one of six model layer framework strategic priorities or a business unit-specific strategic element in order to qualify for Black Belt resource staffing. Six Sigma project management office leaders ensure projects, Six Sigma resources and business resources are focused on these priorities.

Six Sigma projects encompass both strategy formulation (category strategy development, manufacturing and distribution strategy projects, organization design projects, etc.) and strategy execution (manufacturing network changes, major capital-build projects, SAP change management, etc.). Six Sigma also acts as a vehicle for employees to walk the talk on the Maple Leaf values.

What is your stance on the different Process Improvement approaches and what approach do you favor?

The labeling of different approaches is extremely unhelpful (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.). For the purposes of internal communication a single title must be selected, but whatever the label the effort should include all relevant tools whatever their origin, and every effort should be made to use the names of tools (for example, process behavior charts) versus using program titles (business process management) in order to avoid time-wasting "religious wars."

How do you ensure your Process Improvement/Operational Excellence program stays sustainable?

We are approaching this need through several efforts: a more robust knowledge management effort; innovations in adult education and training; pilots of a process management cycle to move away from "projects" to on-the-job application of process management disciplines; a process management effort to better define the process organizational chart and process owner role; and efforts to establish "meta-processes" to resist degradation over time due to employee turnover and management changes.

How did you develop into this role and what steps did you take to get there?

I joined Maple Leaf in 1999 in order to launch the Six Sigma effort. The opportunity to build from bottom-up was attractive and could leverage my experiences from launching the Six Sigma effort at Bombardier. My interest in improvement goes back to my consulting career at McKinsey & Company, in the mid-1980s, where I focused primarily on process diagnostics and improvement. My current Six Sigma role is, therefore, a natural extension of a long interest in this field.

What challenges did you have to face as a change leader and how did you overcome them?

My biggest challenge is to manage my own vision of where Six Sigma and Maple Leaf need to head and the current reality of what the organization is ready to do at any given moment. The wider the gap, the more challenging the need is to manage this dissonance and find ways to close the gap.