The Sky’s the Limit for Six Sigma: An Interview with Vikas Gera of Hewlett Packard

Vikas Gera

Vikas Gera, Worldwide Quality Head Global Business Services for Hewlett Packard, speaks exclusively to Six Sigma IQ to discuss the untapped opportunities, challenges and difficulties in adopting Six Sigma processes into your business.

What are some of the difficulties when working with internal customers compared to working at an enterprise level, and how are these difficulties addressed?

First, let’s understand that "measure of success" is very different from "business excellence." We need to take a step backward to understand what differentiates the "characteristics" of the two environments before we can understand the kind of difficulties or challenges you will face as a Business Excellence practitioner. For a successful Business Excellence program, the program's "Measure of Success" or metrics needs to be linked to the sponsor's "Measure of Success" or "metrics."

In an enterprise level, who will be the sponsor? Most likely the CEO himself or someone else in his leadership team. Now for the Business Excellence program manager, it becomes relatively easier to link the Business Excellence program to an organization's real consumers/customers and their expectations and delighters. If you link that to your customer/consumer, you can directly link it to an organization’s revenues and top line growth.

When a Business Excellence program serves an internal customer, you are enabling something other than directly impacting the organization’s top line growth or revenues situation. Most of the time what you directly impact is your business unit's cost, which you can see as an "impact on cost," and you can drive cost reduction programs, which may look good for initial few years but later will lose their charm.

Now comes the difficult part. You can very well tell from the above description that the two are totally different—in the first you are maximizing revenues and top line growth and in the second you are reducing cost. Challenges of both are very different in nature and in enterprise level, there is no end to how much you can maximize and there is no end goal.

You can aim first to become a market leader by using your Business Excellence program as a structured process based methodology to get there. After you are the market leader, you can still look for top line growth by having a "share of wallet" kind of metrics. You can diversify as well. Disney is a good example of that. They hit a spot in their journey when they found that people coming to Disney World in Orlando only spent a small percentage of their money at Disney World. They may be spending more outside Disney world at hotels, restaurants, buying gifts, souvenirs, etc. They later introduced a range of products and services catering to the needs of their customers and increased Disney's "Share of Wallet". In summary there is no end to this.

In a cost center environment where you have to deal with internal customers, linking the same to top line growth and revenues becomes tough and hence the difficulties start coming in. Sustenance of the Business Excellence program becomes tougher or when the program continues, your ROI from the program keeps getting marginalized...So there is an end to this.

What are some of the most important points that must be taken into account when examining the maturity curve of an organization, and why?

The challenges and expectations at different points in an organization’s curve are different. We already discussed that the Business Excellence program needs to get linked to those challenges and expectations, which are changing as we proceed in our journey toward excellence. This itself has a moving target and on top of it you introduce complexities by different needs and expectations at different points in time.

Now the important points which you need to remember is first of all, be as close to the demand curve, which means be agile as a Business Excellence organization to understand way ahead the needs and challenges that you are going to face. You should not be surprised with the same and should be forecasting the same, as it has a direct impact on the size and skill of your Business Excellence team. Apart from getting people on board with the right skills, timing is key here. You just have to be right. If you are too fast and always way ahead of what your organization can crop up with, you will end up with frustrated team members who may feel helpless about the situation. Organizations may also think that you don't understand their real challenges. On the other hand, if you are late to do the same, your program may not be seen as adding lot of value and people may wrongly conclude that the program is not very relevant or may have lost its shine.

What are some of the untapped opportunities in the IT sector that are not utilized by Six Sigma, and why has the IT sector been unable to tap into these opportunities?

The sky’s the limit. I will say that true Six Sigma has yet to start. We have only begun to uncover the packaging; the real product has yet to come out and people in these sectors have yet to experience the product. Simple concepts of operations are missing currently. It’s tough for practitioners to tailor make the same with regards to an organization’s needs. Industry metrics are yet to be evolved so benchmarking is tough. If you are not able to benchmark, its tough to understand how good or successful you are.

What are some of the challenges faced when adopting Business Excellence perspectives to drive up service levels and how should these challenges be addressed?

The challenges we have are understanding and defining Business Excellence—"Measures of Success" for your organization’s Business Excellence program from your customer's perspective rather than your management’s perspective. The chances of this happening are more for a business unit that serves an internal customer rather than a business unit that serves an external customer. Normally there should be no conflict of interest between the two but sometimes your role is to educate one of these, as the priorities can conflict and decision makers are not aware of it. You play a very critical role while you decide on those "Measure of Success" for your Business Excellence program.

What are some of the difficulties in developing a vision focused on creating a deliberate and differentiated customer experience?

You may have to face different kinds and levels of difficulties. It will depend on a couple of factors, like what kind of industry you are in. Where does your organization fall in the S-Curve/maturity life cycle? Do you have a threat or survival issue if you do not do this? All processes that require customer interface have to be designed differently in case we need to create a deliberate and differentiated customer experience. For an existing organization that does not have this vision, creating vision in the board room was the easy part. The difficult part is to execute. Some of the issues faced are converting this vision into organizational design and in building the same into customer facing processes by design.

When it comes to embedding customer-focused values for managing service delivery people, policy and practices, how difficult is it to get others in organizations to adopt these values and why?

In my experience, the only way this works is top-down. You need to have a strong leader at the top who really believes in this. He makes sure his leadership team understands what we want to do and why we want to do it. If you do not believe in this, you may not take this to others convincingly and have patience—Rome was not built in a day; it takes time to build culture and adopt values.