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Expert Excerpts: Jacqueline Riphenburg on Lean Six Sigma in Insurance - 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 Jacqueline Riphenburg who shares key insights to being successful with Lean Six Sigma in Insurance.

Jacqueline has over 10 years of experience leading, training, and coaching teams and executives to achieve operational excellence. She has played a transformative role in Lean Six Sigma implementations in both public and private sectors. As a current Lean Consultant at American Family Insurance, Jacqueline engages with diverse groups to achieve Lean maturity growth and business results.

In her prior role as a Process Improvement Manager at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Jacqueline created vision and set strategy for the Agency’s Lean program. Jacqueline has a passion for developing others and continuous education. She is a dynamic leader and has served as a part-time Project Management and Lean instructor for Madison College. Jacqueline received her MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Project Manager.

What advice do you have for someone who is getting started with applying Lean Six Sigma in Insurance?

Two things: Identify ways to quickly understand your customer’s basic needs and focus on simplifying complex systems and processes to meet these needs. Customer needs can be fairly simple—fair, affordable premiums, transparent policy coverage, quick claim response time, knowledgeable agents, etc. Organizations often overly complicate customer needs.

Identification of customer needs is the first step to improve a process, and without clear direction, teams will struggle with the next steps. Be creative and find ways to rapidly identify customer needs and experiment. Use customer empathy or invite the customer to show you their experience through the process.

It’s also important to simplify complex IT systems early in a cultural transformation so that you are agile enough to meet changing customer needs and market trends. Eliminate legacy systems. Reduce data defects and backlogs. You will not only see significant expense savings, but you will set your organization up for success on the rest of their journey towards a problem-solving culture.

What are some common mistakes you see people making when applying Lean Six Sigma in Insurance?

Insurance companies typically have a significant amount of data available to use which can lead to analysis paralysis. Since Lean Six Sigma is fundamentally built on using data to make decisions, teams can get caught up in the idea of needing perfect data to move forward with an experiment rather than looking for basic trends or capturing new data to identify leading indicators the old fashioned tick-and-tally method. The quicker teams learn to embrace this concept, the quicker they will be able to practice Plan-Do-Check-Adjust thinking and achieve results.

Do you have any pet peeves related to applying Lean Six Sigma in Insurance?

The values and principles of Lean Six Sigma can be applied in any industry. While it is not unique to the insurance industry, I hear time and time again from employees that they do not create widgets and therefore, Lean Six Sigma does not apply to their work processes. The “art” vs. “science” conversation comes up often from teams such as Underwriters and Actuaries who take a great deal of pride in the art of their work. It is important to help these employees identify those repeatable, predictable processes that can be standardized that will allow them more time to focus on the creative work they enjoy the most.

What is one of the biggest challenges you see people face when applying Lean Six Sigma?

It’s important to recognize that Lean Six Sigma behaviors are much more foundational than the tools and critical to sustaining a successful problem solving culture. When organizations try to apply Lean Six Sigma as just a set of tools rather than a way to do and improve work, they often plateau with what they are able to accomplish and experience frustration with the methodology. That being said, changing behaviors is more difficult than applying tools, and therefore, it is important to have strong leadership buy-in for this culture change.

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

I truly enjoy the opportunity to teach people a skill, a mindset, etc. and see how it can positively impact their life. There are so many small, simple changes that can be made with minimal effort, and yet have a significant impact. I enjoy helping people find those opportunities and coaching them on how to improve.

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

It’s exciting to work with teams that are innovating for the future in the industry. Market trends and new technology is driving a lot of conversation around future customer needs and how we will need to adjust the design of current processes and products to stay competitive. Whether it’s understanding how to embrace blockchain technology or experimenting with using drones to investigate claim damage, there are always so many new ideas being created that it keeps the work interesting.

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

That’s easy—visual management! Visual management helps to keep our household organized and provides clear communication for things like schedules, to-do lists, and grocery reminders. Without having this tool to influence our behaviors, things would be a lot more hectic!

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

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