Interview With Wendy Hamilton - SVP Global Operations
“When someone gets through the Lean journey, they change their mindset in subtle ways that they would never have believed at the outset”
What was at stake?
We needed to do three things to get to where we needed to be: improve capacity metrics to meet business KPIs; increase our people’s awareness of the principles behind Lean and the goodness behind it and following that, equip our teams with the right problem-solving and continuous improvement skills.
What was the result?
The process laid the foundations for expansion. With Expertivity’s support, we started to build new revenue in without increasing cost. The process enabled us to invest in new markets and we were able to grow our market engagement without increasing labour. The business became more resilient. People came to appreciate problems as opportunities to make changes. We freed up capacity and, at the same time, the day-to-day experience for people improved. Labour was our biggest expense, but we were able to grow our market engagement without increasing labour. We weren’t interested in reducing our workforce either, Lean really isn’t about that. We freed up capacity and, at the same time, the day-to-day experience for people improved.
We were delivering a good service level but not scaling the way we wanted to or adding activity at pace. We had to prepare to scale, to achieve our ambitions. The challenge we faced was that, for us, scaling could be a very labour-intensive process.
We needed to absorb new activity without an increase in labour – our staff are highly skilled, so this was about freeing up their capacity to allow them to fulfil on new business. We had already made a significant investment in infrastructure; Sales were driving more business through the platform. We had to change business practices to get a better return.
We needed to do three things to get to where we needed to be. First, we wanted to improve capacity metrics to meet business KPIs. To do that, we needed to determine our baseline.
Second, we needed to increase our people’s awareness of the principles behind Lean and the goodness behind it. We didn’t want to tell our teams what to do; we wanted our teams to participate in deciding what was the right thing to do next. Reframing that psychology would allow our teams do their jobs in a more satisfying, confident and robust way.
Third, we needed to equip the team with the right problem-solving skills. That was key – people are generally comfortable describing issues but sometimes feel it’s not their job to solve them. We wanted to solve problems where they lay, which meant enabling operations teams at all levels to solve their problems in a scientific way.
The tools were straightforward, not high tech and very basic. We would identify a problem, speculate as to what could work, act and then check if it the situation had improved. If so, great. If not, let’s go back and see what we learned. People in that cycle want only one outcome – to make things better. If they act methodically they will make progress.
What we did:
We engaged three times with Expertivity over three years – first off, we had team workshops around how to map processes. It was a comfortable visual and a good way to get people to articulate what was going on. It also fostered connections between departments, so everyone could share information with each other.
We had team training around Lean in general – basically, fun exercises around making processes better. We identified improvements we wanted to make. We also had a priority matrix, identifying how the team should evaluate which things to do and in what sequence, and what not to bother doing.
As a second engagement we connected Expertivity into a Leadership and Management Programme we were doing with UCC, again with support from EI. This provided a crucial activity-based learning component; as part of the college programme the teams solved workplace problems and delivered benefits directly and promptly to the organisation.
Thirdly, as a follow-on we worked with Expertivity on a large data-modelling project to better align our roster with activity levels in the Communications Hub. By doing this we were able to remove some of the peaks and troughs from our workload planning – this freed up capacity and, importantly, lead to more predictability for our Specialist.
The second and third engagements were key – had we only done one take, then the learnings probably wouldn’t have stuck. The layering approach deepened skills and also gave us material results.
The confidence that Lean brought has stayed with the team. When someone gets through the Lean journey, they change their mindset in subtle ways that they would never have believed at the outset. The attitude was, if I can go through this methodically, I will make the situation better. This buy-in gives people confidence and control.
The introduction of the priority matrix and the Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) processes were notable. The PDCA is essentially problem-solving on an A3 sheet of paper: these are accessible and easily shared with others. Each A3 sheet documented the starting point, the actions taken, and the improvements achieved. They went into a ring binder which we called our ‘Book of Goodness’.
After the second engagement we began seeing results before it even finished. Those results were maintained and, by the time we finished the third set, they became self-sustaining. We were tapping into people’s curiosity and interest in doing good.
Labour was our biggest expense, but we were able to grow our market engagement without increasing labour. We weren’t interested in reducing our workforce either, Lean really isn’t about that. We freed up capacity and, at the same time, the day-to-day experience for people improved.
Also, the business became more resilient. People came to appreciate problems as opportunities to make changes. There was an increased curiosity about how challenges could be solved, and this helped us win new business. The UCC leadership group said they wanted to deliver the same return within a year as the expense of their course – and they did that in spades.
The process laid the foundations for expansion, the adoption of new business process and an understanding of how to apply them. It also enabled us to invest in new markets. After this experience, we started to bring new revenue in without increasing cost.
What was it like to work with Expertivity?
It was very straightforward. Expertivity understood from the start how the work needed to fit in with our business objectives. One of the things they did was accept that I didn’t want someone to come in and write a strategic level Lean deployment plan. I would have lost people’s interest and buy-in if that had happened. We wanted something that would grow from the ground up.
What advice would you give to leaders of growing businesses?
You have to knit Lean practices in through people. You don’t take it in as a standalone entity and assign one person to run the Programme. It needs to come in on the ground with people who are willing to roll up their sleeves, including managers. Humility is needed – managers especially need to look to their teams for guidance. Learn about the practice of Gemba – go sit with the people who are delivering a process and learn how it really works.