In 2013 Kevin Slattery attended the Lean Sigma Black Belt course. At the same time, an opportunity to take on a new challenge presented itself and Kevin grasped it. Now eight years later we have a chance to catch up with Kevin and get his thoughts on how Lean Sigma has impacted on his thinking in meeting that challenge.
We organised an interview and posed some questions. Hope you enjoy reading his thoughts.
Kevin it is great to catch up after so long. To start you might just fill us in on how you came to undertake the Black Belt course back in 2013?
After having 11 fantastic years working with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) an opportunity arose for me to leave the company that was financially viable. At the age of 55 I felt there was another interesting challenge out there for me, however, little did I know one year later I would be in China. I have always been an advocate for Continuous Improvement. I wanted to equip myself with robust tools and a process improvement methodology capable of using data to do in depth analysis that would result in sustainable decision making. I also wanted the opportunity to meet people from other Industries with the same mindset. So, I researched available courses and found Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and luckily, there were places available.
And how would you say your Lean Sigma training and qualification influenced you in your roles since then, or has it?
The main influence of Lean Six Sigma for me is the way I have learned to approach projects I have been involved in. I have a more structured approach using the methodology of DMAIC- Define Measure Analyse Improve and Control. Specifically, I find I am focusing on Define Measure and Analyse and the use of data before going too far in a project or decision. Another area of the Lean Six Sigma influence is Team Selection and Team Dynamic. Building the right team is the key to a successful project and using the methodology of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing helps to achieve that goal.
For example, I have seen that all the projects I have been involved in since I moved to China have required an in-depth Analysis phase. A Motor Dealership is made up of at least 5 business units all with different processes but serving the same customers. I have found that DMAIC helps greatly in creating the right working environment for teams. Being responsible for 12 Consulting Teams made up of 36 people requires effective team selection and the creation of an environment where the team are empowered to achieve their potential. I encouraged regular team self-reflection that resulted in a continuous improvement mindset within the teams.
Since graduating from the Lean Sigma Black Belt course, you have worked almost exclusively in China. What have you encountered in relation to Continuous Improvement in China?
From my experience the Automotive Industry is very young here in China and is still growing and learning. While they are using established processes and methodology from other markets, they continually look to improve their business. I see this especially in areas of Digitalization, Customer experience and different sales channels such as on-line, and now with the introduction of direct selling from the manufacturer.
Is teamwork viewed any differently in China?
Culturally the workplace in Chinese owned companies is different to the Western owned companies but it is changing. China has a very young work force and although the young people are very well educated, they lack work experience and management skills. People empowerment within many organisations is not commonplace. To help this one of the coaching modules we deliver is cross departmental cooperation and people empowerment. This is making a difference in thinking for those we reach.
What tips or suggestions have worked for you in the past in building collaboration on a project?
I found that building a dynamic team, empowered, and not afraid to question the status quo is crucial. In addition, having a robust process to follow with the tools and methodology helps reinforce engagement.
I would ask people to focus on building trust through transparency and sharing information. Regular feedback and review and the ability to predict “what’s next?” to show the way forward are important.
And, of course, you need to have passion for the project.
We are hearing more about Robotic Process Automation, RPA, Machine Learning, Blockchain and AI in industry today. Digitalization is a huge buzz word in the service industry today. How do you think Lean and Six Sigma will fit with these new technologies?
While Digitalization is moving at pace and we will see more and more innovation, Lean Six Sigma will play a crucial part in new technologies. These new technologies need to be effective, efficient, and relevant, and this is where the Lean Six Sigma process can support. An example is having access to AI Big Data is important for the service industry, however, what you do with that data is of greater significance.
Are you seeing any significant changes to Lean Sigma over the last 5 years?
The principals of Lean Sigma remain the same, the key changes I see are making sure that Lean Sigma has the flexibility to adapt to new innovations, new processes and changing markets.
Having undertaken the roles, you have up to now, how do you convince leaders in industry to move to data driven decisions rather than gut-based decision making?
To convince leaders in industry to move to data driven decisions you require the data to be of the highest quality and relevant. Particularly then, the “Define, Measure, Analyse”, process must produce undisputed evidence of what needs to be Improved. Once you have followed these principals your decisions on how you deliver the improvement will follow. However, using and demonstrating past experience is also part of the solution.
Finally, if you were to reinforce one key point you have taken from the classes you attended what would it be?
My key takeaway point has to be continuous improvement. But it must be sustainable continuous improvement and that will only happen if you create an environment that allows continuous improvement to become part of your company’s DNA. This old saying is still relevant today,
“If you continue to do what you have always done, you will continue to get what you have always got.”
Thanks’ again Kevin, it was great to gain those insights. I am certain our Alumni will enjoy hearing your thoughts.
Interview by Mark Stockil, MD Stockil Continuous Improvement.
Alumni member and interviewee Kevin Slattery is Senior Project Manager, Audi Retail Consulting, Audi China Enterprise Management Co. Ltd., Beijing, PR China
Kevin has been worked in the Automotive Industry in Europe and Asia for the past 42 years. Working with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), BMW China and Audi China. He has extensive experience in Retail and OEM Automotive management. His last 8 years have been based in China. His profile on LinkedIn can be found at https://www.linkedin.com/in/slatterykevin/
Check out our April Alumni Event recording on YouTube where Susan Wolfe, Managing Director at Vexcolt Ltd. and Gary Leonard, Group Operations Director at SteriPack Contract Manufacturing, shared their journeys after graduating.