Lean & Six Sigma World Conference 2017 – Key Learnings

Author: Diana Martinez, Ph.D.

Posted: April 2017

This past month I had the pleasure to attend and participate as a speaker in the 12th Lean & Six Sigma World Conference.  Hosted by the American Quality Institute (AQI), this year’s conference was held in Nashville on March 29 – 30.

The conference attracted over 400 attendees from more than 20 different countries including Japan, India, Mexico, Brazil, Ireland and Scotland. It encompassed multiple keynote speakers,   including none other than the admirable former NASA astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin. Attendees also learned about Keys to a Successful Deployment from an executive panel made up of CFOs. Outstanding achievements in LSS were highlighted during a recognition session for “Deployment of the Year,” “Project of the Year,”  and “innovation of the Year.”

When  Dr. Aldrin entered the room he was met with a standing ovation. After acknowledging the cheers Dr. Aldrin smiled, then opened the conference by asking the question “How many of you really understand what six sigma means?” which immediately engaged the audience. His ability to relate his experience to key LSS concepts was incredible. He talked about the importance of setting goals by sharing an interesting fact: The original goal for NASA was not to land on the moon, but to land on Mars. After an intense investigation conducted over a weekend, the NASA team concluded that a more realistic goal was to shoot for the moon! How many times do we face this situation in our organizations? Leaders sometimes define goals that might not be achievable in a specific time frame and this directly impacts a project’s chances for success.

Dr. Aldrin also talked about the importance of team recognition. He emphasized that the accolades received by the astronauts that landed on the moon almost 50 years ago was not only for those three individuals but also for the entire NASA team that achieved the goal and overcame all the obstacles.

The conference offered an incredible amount of information including LSS deployment, applicability, case studies, and best practices. Three of my favorite presentations were:

  1. Driving Business Transformation with Rapid Continuous Improvement by Marty Ellen – He shared a story about improvement initiatives with a different perspective. An employee worked in a company for 39 years, never missed a day of work. The average setup time for a piece of equipment where he worked was 30 minutes. Just before he retired a team reduced the setup time to 15 minutes. The employee then said “I knew I could have done it faster but nobody asked me to do it”. Then Marty asked “Was he a good employee?” – The answer might not be as simple as it seems. Think about this, what if the company failed to promote a win-win atmosphere, where employees feel confident to speak and are part of the decisions?
  2. Selling Quality and Service to the CFO based on Revenue and Word of Mouth Impact by John Goodman – He explained a way to quantify revenue damage of status quo using a tree diagram. John showed the possible paths a customer with problems can take and added the financial element at each step into his analysis.
  3. Lean & Six Sigma Tools that take you from Volume to Value in Healthcare by David Kashmer – He talked about the transition from volume to value in healthcare and the importance of first identifying the Voice of the Customer, which can be challenging in the healthcare industry because it is not always clear who the customer is (patient, doctor, insurance company, a state regulatory agency?). David also mentioned why he thinks that healthcare is re-inventing the wheel when it comes to quality improvement tools.

One message which came through clearly from multiple speakers was that each LSS deployment needs to be customized for each organization. Most importantly, we need to comprehend the “why” we do what we do. The importance of understanding the “Why” was mentioned by Kimberly Watson-Hemphill, who referenced her favorite TED talk “How great leaders inspire action” by Simon Sinek.

My experience as a speaker was very gratifying. I have had the opportunity to work with the City of El Paso in their LSS deployment over the past 18 months. During this time I had the privilege to work closely with Nancy Bartlett, Deputy City Manager. Nancy and I were co-speakers at the conference where we talked about the journey and achievements so far at City of El Paso.

I definitely recommend anyone interested in LSS to attend the Lean and Six Sigma World Conference, as it also offers an incredible opportunity for networking and meeting LSS leaders and practitioners. Without hesitation, I look forward to the next year’s conference!

More about Diana Martinez, Ph.D.:

Diana is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with 10+ years of experience working with dozens of companies in a variety of industries, from healthcare to government to aerospace. She has taught more than 15 LSS classes and conducted dozens of coaching sessions for Green Belts and Black Belts. She has also worked closely with many firms in applying lean best practices resulting in reduced costs, higher productivity, and a more skilled workforce. Diana has a PhD in Industrial Engineering.


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