Well, I’ll tell ya! It does…
Part of the reason I chose to become a black belt focusing on Lean Six Sigma in Service / Contact Center Operations is not merely because I am a born-analyst, dubbed a ‘cracker jack’ because of my ability to apply the application of LSS to many business situations — It doesn’t take rocket science folks to solve most service situations, which I hate to break to you, to use the advanced tools, like applied statistics, in both a practical and analytical/graphical ways — Where I really wanted to make a difference was in mentoring other belts throughout my organization. Given the opportunity, not task, to mentor others (primarily our Green Belts), this became the primary driver of my career path, with a track to becoming a Master Black Belt by 2008 — Each wave of new belts that entered our org, which was about 4 x per year, would introduce about 3 belts to my team of mentees. The 1st and 3rd quarters of the year were always light in my mentee load, with some belts brand new while other waves of belts were rolling off having completed their projects. The 2nd and 4th quarters were always heavier in nature since our GB projects tend to last about 4-5 months, so there was always overlap between Green Belt waves. I believe that successfully completing a project truly requires a change agent to drive the project modifications throughout the organization, not just a set of tools to be used.
In addition, I bring with me a fresh eyes perspective, having both held the roles of BSC deployment leader, program owner & evangelizer of the BSC principles throughout my company — For those of you not in the BI/PM industry (business intelligence / performance management), the BSC concepts were fathered by someone of the most ingenious minds of our lifetime, Drs. David Norton and Robert Kaplan, who indoctrinated that the balanced scorecard (BSC) framework needed to be cross functional in an org, with all performance indicators tied to the top line $$ and ideally, cascade down from the executive/corporate strategy down to the business unit, cascaded further down to product lines, where many companies then stop, another shortsighted action in my opinion. We continue to parachute down to the individual employee and how the work they do can be measured and tied to what their department is focusing on to reach their targets, which can be rolled up into the exact company wide target that our CEO is attempting to achieve each year, followed lastly by the final one metric that our shareholders care about (though we are not there yet, we have tied all KPIs from our BSC to the top line goals that are CEO is held to and that our operating President must achieve. Not only did I build the overall program and strategy for deploying both two types of programs: a) a proof of concept program, nesting within a business unit like operations, addressing mostly operational inefficiencies in our Global contact centers and fulfillment operations and b) enterprise-wide across IT, product development and customer loyalty, specializing in project tracking and measurement reporting, building ties between performance indicators (KPIs) and financial returns/costs. In the most simplistic means possible, it provides a pictorial view into the Voice of the Process (VOP) so ubiquitous in nature, that any black belt or PMPs can speak the same financial language as the CEO or President, because satisfaction for the sake of satisfaction is qualitative in nature, which by design, is subjective and can be argued. By cascading Cost of Sales (COGS) down from an aggregated % of some total like COGS as a % of margin or revenue to the individual buckets that make up the cost of good sold, eg. Total Direct People costs [Laura’s Tip: I always say "the best resolution takes one more zero out of the solution" or one should break out a number into as much granularity as possible without costing too much $$ in terms of data defects or wasting too much time trying to collect your data. In this case, I recommend parachuting down once more to street level and breaking Total Direct People Costs out into 2 primary buckets, again keeping costs in mind which are 1)Headcount costs, and 2) Other direct people costs, the latter of which is a representative bundling of the other costs an org pays for its employees, like benefits, attrition costs, vacation/time off, FMLA/disability costs and bonus or raises. And this is only 1 bucket of COGS.
<diverted rant time>…feeling dizzy yet? I am…But persevere…I promise that the short-term pains that come with contact center LSS projects are always worth [yes, the short term gains] in the end — We have the opportunity to make our mark as the true "Toyota of the Service Space" company, using what’s applicable from the LSS methodology and applying it to a nontraditional internet travel company filled within archaic yet germane processes with a desperate need for a process overhaul in their operations and contact centers, though only in the minds of quality specialists and our belt program participants. Remember, staying on the cutting edge (which BTW, you are, if you searched for any of the keywords that brought you to my blog, eg. balanced scorecard, six sigma, lean, etc) requires living a life that’s rather disruptive in nature, which if immersed for long-enough in the transactional/service space to know what you are talking about, will become your defining achievement.
<back on track>Driving capabilities and a much needed steady state into any contact center, when you have the normal waste seen in most companies will take patience and ability to read between the lines. In the centers, you will experience the powerful effect of human intervention and subjectivity on a transactional or service related process. Why…? Think of a Waste Map…Modern thinking has a waste called ‘Human Intellect’ on the newer LSS maps which, as any contact center person will tell you, is often non-leveled or resourced efficiently, resulting in wasted opportunities. As many in the industry continue to misalign their call center agents with their assigned workload types, you will be to achieve an optimized staffing model with leveled out work to such input factors as tenure, natural skill and quality scores along with Takt time, OEE and first call resolution rate. This will ease your assignment of work load across your population of agents. Even better, if you are one of those lucky companies that has been graced by visionary leaders, who saw the future of telecom and invested early in a dynamic network/call routing system, than I want to be your friend. If you are like most, who is reading my blog right now, how helpful would it be to be reading a passage on visionary call centers who admit to no mistakes in their operations centers? Silly..and you wouldn’t continue to read … I propose a solution based on those who have what I call a visionary "6-STUD" system in place, which is introduced once a company learns from past mistakes, and takes those lessons learned to deploy (or redeploy) a LSS program only when true readiness has been achieved — Not all of the "visionary giants" out there were visionary from the start; in fact, many of them have acknowledged and learned from their prior mistakes, even if it meant taking a short-term hit in the stock market (a common mistake in LSS rollouts is the common misconception that terminating a young program in its infancy due to a short-term decrease in the value of your company’s stock). Furthermore, those former failures, turned practice leaders, gained much knowledge about how to parallel path or fast track deployment steps, and while some of you may be cringing while reading this, it is more often the case, in today’s workplace, that your belts will be asked to "speed up the process/project."
Remember, it is ok to introduce common applications that are associated with some of the disruptive changes in the performance management thought process in a parallel path motion at your company with one caveat: if the functionality is too similar, eg. a PM system, business intelligence platform, & strategic scorecard / BSC tool represent different but very similar tools in nature and should not introduced at the same time, or you risk end-user knowledge over saturation of PM-related information — The result: the sum of the parts is greater than the whole: you will dilute the entire pool that any one tool would have if it were stand alone when introduced to market — it’s a laugh, but we are still on the old school routers with manual intervention required by folks who hard code %-based allocations to a given set of centers for a standard, static call type…It’s laughable, but in deed, it is plausible!
<back in thought track> But my point is, if you have DNR, this becomes even simpler and your speed to market your new process/product becomes that much faster…But lets face it…not everyone has a fancy Avaya system which can answer your phone or heat your lunch–I have even heard it can wipe your ___, if needed — you get what you pay for in the Telecom space especially, and anyone can run a Telecom operations like AT & T if they bought enough of the add-in components and plug-in modules that are offered with the base Avaya package. (BTW, don’t think that I don’t know what you’re thinking…TMI, Laura – What a visual to create –> but I ask this, did it not put a visual in your head immediately? Pretty effective when you assign the "spin-factor, no?"
OK…Back to the example…
Add to the Total Direct People Costs the following cost bucket that roll into a typical P & L for a given cost center: direct costs (overhead, telecom/IT, facilities/rent), discretionary spending and expenses (this is where I am binning outsource related costs from my insourced cost centers), you can then cascade the individual buckets, eg. Headcount costs, with the actual FTE that are part of the ‘Headcount’ calculation; for us, this includes our internal call center call center FT agents, supervisory staff, quality, IT and Telecom, Management, Executives (in center), Rent, Credit Card expenses (for agent errors, trip protection, etc), associated how much an individual agent is costing you total time to resolve an escalated incident to Tier 2 or 3 in your contact center, for example, can read the same document as the call center supervisor or project manager regarding a cost or return as associated to their own performance as a leader and communicate n customer retention, segmentation and satisfaction as measured , but I worked again as a mentor and change agent to the rest of the org to help them learn about the 4 perspectives within a BSC and how the program could help them (naturally, getting to the WIIFY, or ‘What’s in it for You’ concept as soon as possible is key to executive buy-in, with the importance stressed on the ‘soon as possible’ part–this goes back to the quick wins will buy many supporters of any quality program) But, we are not in it for the short term. Instead, I see mentoring as part of a holistic roadmap for building line of sight from the executives down to each, individual call center agent, both insourced and outsourced.
With my niche background, I have also been asked to speak at many conferences about leveraging a similar proverbial toolkit filled with a generic set of quality tools and programs for transactional industries, inclusive of call center services, help desk operations, new product development / IT and my personal favorite, new process development or what I call the Expedia "6-STUDS" program (or "6 Sigma Toolkit for Updating Designs for Service") — This roadmap also allows for full utilization of the tools offered to the belts germane to the methodology (a standard prescription advised to the belts during almost any training program) and, most importantly, it also builds clear synergies between your new initiative and any existing quality programs: for us, we introduced the Customer Sat survey program first (a traditional quality program), followed by the more disruptive or new programs like BSC first, followed by LSS and lastly, DFSS/DMADV).
While the order of the programs you deploy isn’t the make or break it point, I strongly recommend launching Lean before DMAIC, if going with the traditional, stand alone programs. However, the two may be deployed together, if and only if your organization is going down the newer LSS path, especially if your program is new to the general concepts of Six Sigma. Moreover, starting with Lean, if you are building a stand alone program and are looking to save costs quickly, is the better choice as you can achieve some quick wins to prove out your business case before diving into the longer term DMAIC projects. I caveat this by saying that you should push back for your belts regardless if your management wants to see overnight results, and explain the core principles of the Six Sigma discipline. In summary, if you are looking to creating a faster time to process or answer calls in your call center or to save COGS in your operations unit, some form of Lean is the way to go. Don’t forget that time and quality are functions of cost, so by reducing time or defects, you reduce cost, while at the same time, you can attain some quick wins, and prove/justify the merits of your program.
To be more explicit, to execute upon this concept, I recommend using the concepts of Kaizen, BSC (structured using the A3 [Toyota concept]) and 5 S, when you are looking to optimize your call centers because those projects tend to be shorter in nature than true Six Sigma projects (eg. the Kaizen concept resolves the problem during that event, often 5 – 10 days max before you achieve visible results, though not necessarily monetary in nature), and always involve a orthogonal structure with who you chose to study in the center, meaning the SMEs from the floor should include agents from both sides of the quality coin: the fastest ones as well as the slowest agents; those with a ton of tenure vs. the newbie’s fresh out of training & nesting. We do this because the pairing of the two provides the belts with an interesting dichotomy to analyze against the key drivers and results that the belt is looking to achieve.