Ensuring Flexible Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement Culture

Last session of the day is Jennifer Thompson of Royal Bank of Canada on process improvement culture within an organization: how to maintain a relevant Six Sigma culture in changing economic times, and how to keep people engaged in the program. RBC is Canada’s largest bank, with 80,000 people in 50 countries; they were a customer of mine for a couple of years in the past through a somewhat drawn-out BPM and process improvement project, so it’s good to see them getting a bit more rigor around this. They’ve embraced Kaizen, and the idea that you can make significant change in a short period of time, which created quite a bit of interest from the business, then followed this with a reworking of their Lean Six Sigma program into a business performance excellence program for their operations areas. More recently, they’ve taken these ideas and pushed them beyond the operations areas, deploying Six Sigma in areas across the organization, such as IT and finance. They maintain a small core group of trained LSS people: 3 master black belts and 20 black belts in the center of excellence, and 105 belts across the enterprise; they measured $35M in benefits in 2009, making this a definitely worthwhile undertaking.

Effectiveness of the program is a function of both the quality of what is produced, and the acceptance of the program, or E = f(Q,A). Their real challenge is in acceptance: becoming and staying relevant, especially considering that they’re applying what could be seen as a manufacturing technique within a financial services organization. Project metrics need to be relevant to the business that you’re in; in RBC’s case, that’s profits and savings, not green belt utilization ratios (which I can’t believe that they even considered as a useful metric). You need to engage and partner with the business, and read their feedback properly to fine tune the skills and offerings of your LSS program.

RBC came to the realization that one size does not fit all, and developed a flexible methodology that leads with Lean, then works towards the ideal methodology as the business needs are understood. It’s important to recognize the size and complexity of the project as you get into it, and adjust the governance to match the project effort. They’ve developed a toolbox of training courses for various stakeholders, from executive/champion training to green belt to Kaizen to their internal business performance excellence programs. They no longer have a separate black belt training, but only an upgrade from a green belt due to the high level of overlap in the required skills.

She covered some points on keeping people engaged in the LSS program: a bi-annual LSS forum and monthly lunch-and-learns for the belts; a monthly dashboard for executives for sharing best practices; and a champion roundtable for champions and sponsors. The LSS program at RBC is not driven from the top down; there is no unequivocal, from the top mandate for it, and some of their challenges are to get people to adopt it when they have no management-driven motivation to do so. That has required the LSS program to show value on multiple programs, then use that to motivate interest in other areas by showing it as a way to improve their business, not a corporate directive.

I’m glad that I dropped in on these sessions, and I’ll be back tomorrow to see more of the ones on wrapping this back into automated processes and BPM. The whole conference is really tiny, only about 30-40 attendees, but the quality of the presentations and conversations is really high. With no open wifi (grumble, grumble) but in my home data network area, I promise that I’ll remember my iPhone tether cable tomorrow so that I can post as I go.

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