cxl | Customer eXperience Leadership

Driving transformational change through Process Excellence and Lean Six Sigma.

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As part of the blogging partnership I previously announced, Chris Wan and I are pleased to be launching our newest sister site: The Collaborative Edge.  While the Process Excellence & Transformational Leadership blog is intended to be a reference for implementing and leading Lean Six Sigma & Process Excellence deployments with the intent of driving transformational change, this new sister site is focused more specifically on the collaborative space from social influences to methodologies and tools that can be leveraged to drive improved business performance.

We believe that this is an emerging space to which little has been written so far and which will likely trigger a substantial opportunity for the process improvement practitioner. This is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts as a result of our broad experience in tandem with your ideas and strategies. We will touch on topics such as social media, leadership, time and geographical barriers, culture and collaborative ways to drive improved business performance.

We believe that engaging and exploring new avenues with you is the ideal way to share ideas and discover new approaches to achieve process and operational excellence. To that end, we want this blog to be a collaborative exchange of ideas and knowledge so please take every opportunity to provide your feedback and suggest topics for discussion. If you have thoughts as to how we can improve this site, please contact us as well. We will make every attempt to create a collaborative space to foster continued growth.

In addition to regularly checking this site for updates, I encourage you to visit!

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Are we under-leveraging process improvement as a lever to drive team member engagement?

Having reflected on the key themes that came through during the recent Lean Six Sigma & Process Excellence Summit in Orlando, I was surprised by the few examples presented by process improvement practitioners discussing how process improvement can be actively leveraged to drive employee engagement.  There were discussions around employee suggestion programs and some examples of “voice of the employee” exercises but the theme was not apparent in most deployments presented and does not seem to be deemed a metric of deployment success.

One might consider that this is an automatic benefit of a process improvement program but that is not necessarily the case.  In fact, while the Theory of Constraints (TOC) and most Process Design approaches have strong merit, the impact on employee engagement is often a hopeful outcome if the new process improves the employee experience and these approaches don’t typically help evolve an organization’s culture.  On the other hand, Lean and Six Sigma will typically engage team members in the process of driving change but depending on the approach taken by the team, the benefits on engagement can be diluted if these improvements still have the appearance of being driven by “experts”.  However, when Lean is applied holistically (as opposed to as a tool), there are definitely strong engagement benefits (think: Mike Rother in Toyota Kata).  Additionally, when approaches such as WorkOut are applied with a focus on engagement, the benefits are quickly apparent.

Given the importance of team engagement to the financial success of an organization and to the quality of the customer experience, there is no doubt that a well-rounded process improvement program should have a significant positive impact on engagement, particularly around the questions that typically focus on “work processes”, “tools and resources to do my job” and “at work my opinion counts”. 

In fact, in a past role where we took a holistic approach to driving transformational process change within a specific value chain (leveraging tools such as WorkOut, the Cultural elements of Lean, the principles described in “Toyota Kata” as well as fresh leadership style), we saw engagement scores move from the bottom quartile to the top quartile within a year while significant costs were taken out and the Customer experience was dramatically overhauled.  In my current role, we’ve noted that where our team has been highly engaged with process improvement efforts leveraging WorkOut and a highly inclusive approach to Lean Six Sigma, key engagement drivers around “work processes” and “at work my opinion counts” saw significant improvements, quite a bit higher than areas that didn’t benefit from as significant a focus on process improvement initiatives.  There is no doubt that other factors such as leadership are at play, but it does however strongly illustrate the benefit of an engagement focused approach to process improvement.

So what can be done to ensure that the linkages to engagement are a strong focus of a process improvement program?  Some of the things to consider include:

  • Build a strong partnership with HR business partners to focus impacts
  • Include goals around driving engagement in key process improvement portfolio leaders
  • Focus on a holistic toolkit that includes tools that are specifically designed to engage team members in driving and owning process changes (think: WorkOut or Kaizen)
  • Ensure that process improvement is focused on evolving the organization’s culture (think: Lean, Fair Process, “Toyota Kata” concepts)
  • Focus on engaging team members through process changes (i.e. rather than measuring number of team members trained or number of projects completed, consider measuring the number of team members engaged in process improvement projects)
  • Include visibility around engagement metrics as part of process improvement team dashboards
  • Ensure that process improvement team members live processes as much as possible and are not perceived as an “elite squad of statisticians”

I welcome your thoughts and ideas around other approaches that can help ensure that process improvement efforts maximize the organizational drive to improve team member engagement.

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Appreciative Inquiry – The untapped opportunity to drive process change

In a recent interview, the topic of Appreciative Inquiry and the applicability to process improvement came up.  It definitely made me think as while Appreciative Inquiry is an approach to Organizational Development that has been around since the 1980s, it has regrettably been underutilized in the process improvement community.

Essentially, Appreciative Inquiry is a process by which the participants within an organization are consulted to help drive change.  While such engagement approaches in the process improvement space typically look at deconstructing the critical failure points within a process to then identify causality prior to implementing the proposed changes, Appreciative Inquiry take a very different approach.  Teams are first asked to share through story telling some of their best experiences.  From this story telling exercise, the teams start looking at all the critical themes that are present when things are working at their best and then start working on ways to improve overall performance by doing more of what needs to be present to improve overall performance.

So while this approach is not ideal to directly drive process change, there are definitely cases where a similar model can help shift the dialogue to a more constructive one.  The approach brings particular value when dealing with sensitive topics or where some of the challenges result from poor relationships between teams.

In the past, I’ve successfully seen this process work to complement WorkOut events or even Lean Six Sigma project teams where relationships between teams were a critical cause of the process failure.  In one case, we encountered a very strained relationship with a supplier which was starting to impact overall process performance.  A traditional approach of finding all the challenges with the supplier would have alienated the two parties even further whereas Appreciative Inquiry was able to focus on the components that worked well between the two teams in order to help drive the overall process performance.

In a second example, the approach was used between two teams within a critical process.  Both the upstream and downstream teams blamed each other for all the process failures and refused to talk to each other to solve the problems.  Using a model very similar to Appreciative Inquiry as part of a WorkOut event, the teams were brought together to focus on the key elements that were present when the two teams worked well together to improve the process performance.  This approach helped surface the key ingredients needed to improve the relationship and made the subsequent dialogue on improving the process performance much easier to complete.

While I’m not advocating the addition of yet another approach to our process improvement tools, I do think that the philosophy and key attributes of Appreciative Inquiry should be considered when addressing process improvement issues that are directly linked to the relationships between teams or to help shape the change process.  At a later date I’ll post more on the Appreciative Inquiry approach and the opportunity to link these with the process improvement toolkit.

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LIVE from the Lean Six Sigma & Process Excellence Summit

Coming up in just a few days, I will begin my live Twitter feed from the Lean Six Sigma & Process Excellence Summit in Orlando to share some of the key thoughts and insights from the event.  In addition to taking part in the conference to capture the key themes that are emerging in the process improvement space, I will be conducting a workshop for Lean Leaders on the topic of Accelerating deployments and results with 100-day improvement projects (more details in the Upcoming Speaking Engagements tab) where I will cover some of our key successes in leveraging 100-day improvement projects to engage team members in driving rapid improvements across the organization.

Additionally, our team is up for 3 awards at the summit:
– Best Process Improvement Project Under 90 Days: Broadband Build – Test & Turn-up/Migrations
– Master Black Belt of the Year
– Deployment Leader of the Year

Stay tuned for regular updates from the event!


How much untapped opportunity for improvement do we ignore by not engaging our team members?

I apologise for the long pause in my blogging and hope to be able to blog more frequently in 2011.

As I often talk about the importance of engaging front-line teams in leading improvements and turning the role of a process improvement leader into that of a facilitator of change, I’ve regularly been asked whether there have been times where such an approach did not yield results. To this day, I have yet to come across such a case. More often than not, teams have more ideas on how to drive the needed improvements than what we can execute in a reasonable amount of time when the appropriate approach to engagement is undertaken. I’m not talking about employee suggestion boxes or “quality circles” but rather a way to engage teams in focusing on the improvements needed to tackle the critical business challenges. Unfortunately, too often, we omit to tap into our existing knowledge base and miss huge opportunities for business improvement.

As an example, over the Holidays, I found it really interesting to observe how on two occasions the sanitary workers found a way to collect at least 3 hours earlier than on any other day of the year. Interestingly, the same speedier process seems to be in play whenever a pick-up is scheduled immediately prior to a long weekend. So while there are likely many other variables at play, it would lead me to believe that they do know of a way to complete all of the required work in less time than on regular days. The question is whether anyone tapped into that knowledge to drive mutually beneficial improvements!

In his recent book, Simply Effective, Ron Ashkenas shares an example of a question that he has posed to thousands of managers over the years. He asked these managers whether they would take up an offer from their CEO to take on a special one-day a week assignment working directly with them which would involve interesting travel and some exciting work but that would require them to do the rest of their job in the remaining 4 days a week. In 99% of cases, these managers responded that they would take the assignment and figure out a way to do the rest of their regular jobs more efficiently. They typically acknowledge that at least 20 percent of their time is regularly taken up with activities that keep them busy and comfortable but that don’t add much value.

So if all the know-how to dramatically improve productivity is present within the minds of the teams doing the work, why aren’t we better at tapping and executing on these insights to deliver significant operational improvements?

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Welcome to my new blog…

The often-used six sigma symbol.

Image via Wikipedia


After years of sharing my passion for Process Improvement through training programs, Executive offsite sessions and conferences that have connected me with over 1,500 passionate leaders and team members all with a strong desire to improve their business, the time has come to create a forum to discuss and share some of the thoughts  and concepts that are essential to the success of an organizational transformation.   

This blog will be dedicated to leading organizational transformations leveraging Lean Six Sigma, Process Excellence, Process Design/Re-engineering, Organizational Development and Change Management.  As there are many great sources of information on individual approaches, my goal is to create a dialogue for those that are interested in leading broader transformations or Lean Six Sigma / Process Improvement deployments.    

While my background is primarily in Lean Six Sigma, I am a big believer of a broad-based, holistic approach to process improvement.  I intend to provide regular updates, thought leadership and dialogue on topics that regularly come up among those leading new deployments or change initiatives in addition to providing live blogging from key events in the field and examples of successes.   

As I am not a consultant nor have anything to sell or promote, posts will remain unbiased and free from pitches or commercial content.  The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.  

I welcome your thoughts and insights to make this blog as interactive and useful as possible.   




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