Alumni interview with graduate Black Belt Liam Mullane

Liam is a graduate of our Lean Sigma Black Belt course and we asked him if he would share some thoughts on how the course has influenced his work journey since attending.  We organised an interview and posed some questions. Here is what he had to say.

To start you might just fill us in on how you came to undertake your Lean Sigma education with us.

My interest in Lean Sigma had sparked in 2018 when I took on the role of project leader for a continuous improvement project within my current employer in the medical device manufacturing industry. I had worked on several different continuous improvement projects in the past, mostly related to the six-sigma aspect of Lean Sigma and driving manufacturing efficiencies. However, this particular project was primarily focused on lead time reduction which was a new area of Lean Sigma that I had not had much exposure to at that time. As project lead, I was lucky to be mentored to a Lean Sigma Black Belt and his coaching fostered my interest in Lean Sigma. When this particular project was complete, I was again keen to apply the knowledge I had learned and also to delve deeper into my own education in the area of Lean Sigma. This led me to researching options for CPD in the area of Lean Sigma and I chose to begin a Lean Sigma Black Belt course with Stockil CI and CAMMS in September 2019. At the time I had also moved to a new project to introduce a new manufacturing process, and I wanted to use this education opportunity to ensure that Lean Sigma principles were considered in this new process form the outset. Also, the NFQ level 8 accreditation through MTU was an element of this course that made it stand out from the rest of courses offered in this area. Accreditation from a respected third level institute was a key factor in my choosing of undertaking my Lean Sigma education with Stockil CI and CAMMS.

Since graduating from your Lean Sigma Course how have you applied Continuous Improvement and what was most beneficial?

I found that the structure of the course highlighted different key areas to be successful in a continuous improvement environment. The course not only delivered the fundamentals of Lean Sigma such as DMAIC methodology, problem solving, statistics etc. but there was also a strong focus on areas such as project management, team formation, finance and supply chain. This end-to-end focus I found beneficial as it gave me perspective on what is takes to successfully implement continuous improvement projects in a fast-paced business environment. I took on the setup of a new manufacturing process as my Lean Sigma project and the application of what I had learned in the course was beneficial to me navigating through the project and ensuring that the best possible result was delivered. I learned that the DMADV (Design, Measure, Analyse, Design & Verify) methodology can be used to setup any process with a Lean Sigma approach from the outset and Lean Sigma is not just something that is done to improve existing processes or to deal with existing problems.

What areas have you found to be most difficult to deal with in your Continuous Improvement journey?

 I’m lucky in that the company I work for are actively engaged in Lean Sigma and there is already an established Lean Sigma culture. However, there are always improvements that can be made, and the greatest challenge can sometimes be convincing stakeholders to change from the status quo and the way things have always been done. However, that reluctance to change is usually overcome as there is recognition of the value that lean sigma can bring to an organisation if it is embraced.

Have you seen any significant change in the application of Lean Sigma over the last 3 to 5 years?

For me the changes are that Lean Sigma is being applied more outside the traditional role of fix problems in manufacturing or making manufacturing more efficient. I have seen that Lean Sigma principles are now being applied very successfully in product design, process design and in service delivery. This is something that I was not as aware of in the past and was something that attending this course opened my eyes up to. There is value in many areas to be got through the application of a Lean Sigma methodology.

 If you were to reinforce one key point you have taken from the classes you attended, what would it be?

 For me the key take away is the Lean Sigma starts at the beginning of any project, not just when an issue arises. There is far more value to be derived from implemented Lean Sigma methods during project planning and engaging more with a problem avoidance mindset than there is in just using Lean Sigma as a problem-solving tool. There’s a quote from Edward de Bono that describes this key take away from the course for me:

“It is well known that “problem avoidance” is an important part of problem-solving. Instead of solving the problem you go upstream and alter the system so that the problem does not occur in the first place.”

 Is there anything extra you feel would be beneficial to the readers?

 For me one of other benefits of this course was the opportunity to network across different industries than one would normally not have exposure to. I learned much from discussions with other course participants and how they were seeking to apply Lean Sigma in their industries. I work in medical device manufacturing and it’s rare to get an insight into areas such as food production, brewing, healthcare and government agencies. There were learnings for me from others in the course in the way that their industries approach Lean Sigma.

Alumni member and interviewee Liam Mullane is a Senior Staff Engineer with a large multinational medical device manufacturer. Liam has worked in the medical device manufacturing industry for the past 10 years primarily in manufacturing process development.

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