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Expert Excerpts: Helen Jackson on Strategic Planning - GoLeanSixSigma.com

Whether you’re just starting your Lean Six Sigma journey, or you’re in the middle of improving a process, guidance from Experts can help make your efforts easier – and more successful! In this Expert Excerpt, we interview Strategic Planning Expert Helen Jackson, who shares key insights to being successful with strategic planning.

Helen Jackson is the founder of Develop Your, a process improvement company based in Derbyshire, England. After spending 19 years working for a range of manufacturing businesses, including Toyota, Helen started the consultancy in 2004. She was joined by her husband in 2010 and together they work across manufacturing, service and public sector organizations, getting people engaged with, and actually working on, delivering the future for their organizations.

What advice do you have for someone who is getting started with leading Strategic Planning efforts for Lean Six Sigma?

The most critical factor is to have a long-term vision and take short steps towards it. It is so important to create clarity and then achieve early successes to build confidence.

I would also say take the time to train the team together. Building a common language and understanding around your vision, plan and actions is critical to keeping everyone on the same page. That way everyone learns from each other’s challenges as well as their own.

What are some common mistakes you see people making when leading Strategic Planning efforts involving Lean Six Sigma?

The most common mistake that organizations make is that they tend to come at their strategy with a vision that is 12 months long and involves a huge hit list of learning and programs and goals to achieve. When they do that they lose commitment very quickly because the team knows that they cannot achieve it all. Even if they could get started, the timeframe for anything to change is too short.

Having a longer term view can be a real challenge, especially in organizations with short lead times and moving customer bases. Vision and strategy should be underpinned by how the organization intends to treat its customers, how it intends to behave as an employer and how it intends to stay in business for the long term. These things are more stable.

The other common mistake is to focus on the Lean and Six Sigma tools without an overall vision: so they are “doing” Lean rather than “becoming” Lean. The tools only work in the long term if the organization changes the way it thinks and behaves fundamentally – the skills it recruits, the way that it manages itself, the way it rewards staff, the way it understands its finances, what it is prepared to challenge, how it builds customer relationships, how it builds supply chain relationships, its willingness to hold its own standards persistently, and so on. The tools are the means to the end, not the end in themselves.

Do you have any pet peeves related to applying Strategic Planning to Lean Six Sigma Efforts?

Precision. Be precise about where you are headed. Be precise about how you will get there. Be precise about how the journey is going. Be precise about how you will know when you have arrived.

I get very frustrated when people set a goal – at any level – and then put in place all sorts of actions, teams and measures that may or may not get them there. So often organizations end up with belt and braces overkill, when precisely targeted efforts that are much less resource intensive would get the same or better result.

Is there anyone who has significantly influenced you over the years?

When I worked at Toyota in the UK, I was fortunate to work with the first Managing Director, Sir Alan Jones. He taught me a great deal about how to think in the Toyota way and I gained a deep understanding of the importance of the people. Sir Alan was very good at spending time when it was needed and not spending time when it wasn’t. He put time into setting out new strategies or activities, coordinating actions across the business, coaching people to think deeply and broadly, getting to know as many members as possible of the (5,000 strong) team.

In my early years I also spent time with a Managing Director who taught me a great deal about how not to be a leader.

Why do you do what you do? (What motivates you?)

I have two key motivations. Firstly, I believe very strongly that work should be a place where people feel valued and that their work is meaningful. We spend most of our waking lives at work for 40 years or more. We should be able to go home at the end of each day and know that we have added value for our customers and be able to see how we have moved the organization towards achieving its goals.

In return for that, we should have the opportunity to develop our knowledge, understanding and responsibility, whether through deeper skill in what we do now, promotion or moving around the business – if we want to. Feeling valued isn’t about the pounds in our pockets, it’s whether we are engaged in the success of the organization and feel that the organization is engaged in our success.

Secondly, I hate waste in all its forms. We are an enormous enough strain on this planet without wasting its resources. And reducing much of that waste is not difficult, we just need to be looking with the right pair of eyes.

What’s something exciting that you’re currently working on?

I have just started working with a network marketing business who are having some difficulty with moving people from running their own sales to running a sales team. On the face of this, the problems appeared to be around confidence and commitment, but once we started digging there are issues with strategy and process, and how those are skills are developed. I am hopeful that we can build a development program that will roll out nationally as the business grows.

What’s your favorite application of Lean Six Sigma in your personal life (away from work)?

I don’t know if it’s a favorite since I do it because I hate shopping, but it’s certainly my most used. I write my food shopping list in the order that I will come to things in the supermarket so that it takes the least possible time to complete. I also fill my shopping basket so that I can load the conveyor in the order I want to pack things so that they don’t get damaged. I get really itchy fingers when I see the person in front putting tins into the bag that their loaf of bread has just gone in!

Have a question for Helen? Please feel free to ask in the comments below.

Helen Jackson

Helen Jackson is the founder of Develop Your, a process improvement company based in Derbyshire, England. After spending 19 years working for a range of manufacturing businesses, including Toyota, Helen started the consultancy in 2004. She was joined by her husband in 2010 and together they work across manufacturing, service and public sector organizations, getting people engaged with, and actually working on, delivering the future for their organizations.