"Process professionals must learn to think more like a CEO": Interview with DuPont's Don Linsenmann (transcript)

Don Linsenmann

Trying to figure out ways to get executives excited about process? Don Linsenmann has one piece of advice: think more a CEO.

It’s time, he says, for process professionals to transcend petty politics and overcome the usual "methodology silos" in order to focus on delivering improved business outcomes and better customer satisfaction. Only then, will we see process excellence moving up the business agenda.

Linsenmann is Vice President Business Process Excellence and Corporate Six Sigma Champion for DuPont Corporation where he has worked since 1999 when he was appointed the company’s first and only Corporate Six Sigma Champion. In this PEX Network interview, Linsenmann discusses the changes he’s seen in the process space over that time and how he expects the concepts of convergence and "transcedency" to shape the space in the years ahead.

Editor's note: this is a transcript of a video interview and has been edited for readability. Watch the original video here.

PEX Network: You have been involved in the process excellence space for a number of years, what are some of the big changes that you’ve seen over your time?

Don Linsenmann: The most important change that I’ve seen is called a word convergence. Early on there was a Six Sigma camp, there was a Lean camp, a Business Process Management camp and so on. People ran those as individual silos.

Now I think people are starting to come together and think about the whole concept of improving the quality of their business through continuous improvement with less focus on the individual silos and more on the integrated whole. I think that’s the biggest change I’ve seen through the times.

PEX Network: How does that represent itself? How does that look in terms of Business Process Excellence today?

Don Linsenmann: It represents itself in regard to how we train, and what we train. Back in the day, when we were just Six Sigma, you were a Six Sigma black belt, and you got trained in the traditional Six Sigma technologies. Today, you can become a certified black belt, but you can also have a Lean curriculum, and you can also have some process knowledge given to you.

We've added roles in the company, like an Innovation Process Champion, where we take our R&D expertise, our Six Sigma expertise, and marry them with process owner expertise. We are interfacing with our people in this integrated, converged way, so you would see that being very different.

PEX Network: Now, one of the things that some people are saying is that process, and process excellence, is moving up the agenda of the C-level. Do you see any signs that C-level executives are getting more interested in process, and if not, why not?

Don Linsenmann: If I do, I think the signs are still in early days. I still feel our CEOs are driven by quarterly performance, shareholders needs, being able to meet customer’s needs, but under very strict financial criteria So, they're still worrying about the big Y in Six Sigma terms, the deliverables.

I do think, though, that as companies start seeing what they can do to improve and move to world-class. They're moving back to look at what the critical Xs are and that might be opening the book a bit about process. But I wouldn’t suggest that if we surveyed the next ten CEOs walking by, they would say the number one issue on their plate was improving their process performance. I think it's crawling up and it's still not yet near the top of their list.

PEX Network: What do you think that process professionals can do then to help to illustrate, or demonstrate, that real value of process excellence to their business executive?

Don Linsenmann: I think a Six Sigma professional, a Lean professional, or a Business Process Management professional, is always conflicted with the business over the short-term - the dollars. They can transcend those little internal fights and more act like a CEO by focussing on the strategy: what are we trying to do and what’s the overriding goal?

If we focus on improving the quality of our business and delivering better customer satisfaction, then CEOs will start seeing their process resources acting more like they are, strategically, resolving these smaller conflicts, reconciling them for the good of the company. Then I think you’ll start to see things catch on. So, I put the ownership to this transcendency on the process workers.

PEX Network: Following on from your last answer, where do you think process excellence really needs to go next?

Don Linsenmann: I don’t see somebody inventing Seven Sigma, or Super Lean, or Hyper Business Process Management. I really do see it as this convergence and this notion of transcendency. It’s time for people to step back, see the bigger picture, use it to enable and empower their organizations. Then it will move up the agenda and deliver what all of us know in the industry can be very significant and substantial benefits to our companies and our customers.