skip to Main Content

Just-In-Time Cafe Podcast, Episode 10: Transforming the User Experience by Finding Joy in Problem-Solving With Holly North -

This month we invite featured British UX Strategist Holly North to the Cafe to find out why an expert at designing user experience finds so much joy in problem solving.

We’ll review an app that can make your Process Walks come alive. We’ll find out how our very own Tracy O’Rourke became a news item. We’ll uncover the downside to the “Zero Defects” credo and what a hospital did about it. For this month’s book we’ll discuss the views of a passionately unorthodox Lean genius and we’ll answer a subscriber’s question about what happens once the project is done and everyone disappears. Come and stay warm with a “Caffè Corretto,” as the Italians say, at the Just-In-Time Cafe!

Also Listen On:

YouTube-logo-full_coloriTunesStitcher -


Tools Referenced

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Just-In-Time Cafe,’s official podcast, where we help you build your problem solving muscles. We share best practices from over 20 years of success helping organizations from the Fortune 500, to small and medium size business, to government achieve their goals using Lean Six Sigma.


Elisabeth: Hey, Tracy. How are you doing?

Tracy: I’m good, Elizabeth. How are you today?

Elisabeth: I’m great. I can’t really hear you over the den but how about we go to our little private room?

Tracy: That sounds great.

Elisabeth: And I’m going to grab my menu.

Tracy: Okay. Sounds good. So Elisabeth, can’t wait to hear what’s on the menu today.

What’s on the Menu (Podcast Agenda)

Elisabeth: And I can’t wait to tell you, Tracy. So first off, we’re going to review an app that could make your process walks come alive. Then we’re going to find out how Tracy became a news item. Tracy? Alright. Then we’re going to uncover the downside to the zero defects credo and what a hospital did about that. Then we’re going to discuss a book about an unorthodox lean practitioner who found lean gold in two second improvements. Maybe small improvements, Tracy.

Tracy: Can’t wait to hear how 2 Second Lean is implemented on that.

Elisabeth: Oh yeah. And then we’ll answer subscriber’s question what happens once the projects and certification are done. And for today’s special, we’re going to find out what user experience strategist, Holly North, sees in Lean Six Sigma.

Tracy: Awesome.

Elisabeth: Yeah. It’s going to be a great one.

Appetizer: Paper by FiftyThree

Elisabeth: OK, Tracy. This app coming up next for our appetizer, it’s called Paper, which is an interesting name for a digital tool, isn’t it?

Tracy: It really is. And I think this is a great app to share and talk about especially in the lean world. It’s really interesting because it allows you to – what I like about it is it’s available obviously on a phone and on a computer. But it basically allows you to capture and connect notes, photos, sketches, checklist, and spotlight details in photos all in one. And what I think is great is it’s very fun and you can actually do some of this capturing, more fun than other ways to capture.

And I really like it for activities like process walks or kaizen events where we want to capture pictures of events and let’s say capture process walk video or pictures of people doing their interviews. And I think what’s really great is this idea that you can spotlight something in the photo to say, “Oh, we should look at that.” Or let’s say you go to someone’s desk and they have piles of paperwork and you take a picture and you circle the paperwork saying, “This is waste!”

So I really think on the fly, you can save a lot more time than having to go into an app later and doing it. So I can imagine that people would use this while they’re actually going on a process walk as an example. Sometimes these are sort of impromptu customer interviews and you may not necessarily have the checklist or the process walk interview sheet but you can capture things in a very fun real-time way.

What were you going to say, Elisabeth?

Elisabeth: Just come back to what you mentioned about it being really fun. And I think that if something is fun and engaging then people would use it. And I have to say, I understand why it won an Apple award for – I forgot what the award was but it was so easy to use like drawing. I’ve never seen such nice drawing tools where you could circle pieces on a photograph and zero in and annotate. Like it was inviting. It was nice.

Tracy: Yes. And to your point, it was the winner, the original iPad version is the winner of Apple’s App of the Year Award. It is used by millions around the world and it’s supported by iPhone. It will take text photos, sketching. It’s all very well-designed and it’s completely free with no in-app purchases, which is always nice.

Elisabeth: It’s kind of amazing. It’s amazing.

Tracy: Yes.

Elisabeth: So that’s great. It’s called Paper by FiftyThree and as Tracy said, it’s free. So up next on our bulletin board, Tracy is going to give us a first-hand account of what happens when an entire state adapts lean.

Bulletin Board

Tracy: Okay, so the Lean Washington Conference as a matter of fact. So the state of Washington does a conference specifically for government. It’s actually sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Washington and they sponsor a Lean Washington Conference for all government employees, and originally, it started in the state of Washington for Washington State employees.

But lately, as a matter of fact this year, 2016, they actually had many states present and share best practices of what they’re doing to implement lean within their organizations. And it’s very exciting. They can only hold 2,800 people because they have it at the Tacoma Convention Center and they are packed every year.

And the reason why I know so much about this is because I actually presented. Actually, I’ve been presenting every year there. And most of the time, I’m presenting with successful government agencies that have implemented lean and process improvement within their organizations. So it’s really exciting. It’s capturing a lot of – it’s getting a lot traction and it’s very exciting to see.

And I think what’s really exciting about this too is last year, Nordstrom and Costco came to a government lean conference. And I think what’s really exciting about this is now private sector organizations are looking to government for how to implement this stuff.

Elisabeth: Which is – that’s wild. I love that. And I’ve only been to that conference once but I can say that there are people I listened to, there are examples I got that I use in every class. I’ve used them in blogs. That is just an energizing and fascinating conference. I love it.

Tracy: Yes. It’s very much a success story. I would love to see this kind of a conference in all states or at least more than just Washington. And maybe they are happening but I don’t know about other government-sponsored lean transformation conferences. And this is definitely one of those benchmarking events where if someone was going to do a conference, this would be the way to do it. If everybody participates, it’s all free. Everyone donates their time. So when I do a presentation there, there’s no charge. Everybody is doing it on their own time. So it doesn’t cost anything either.

Elisabeth: All the way around, it’s a great thing. And I’m with you. I love to see it spread.

Tracy: So up next, I would love to hear, Elisabeth, about something that in the past, zero defects sounded really like a great idea. So what I want to know is how did Memorial Health System realize that the zero defects credo might be counterproductive?

Elisabeth: It’s a great story. And I have to say, I love going over the news items. It’s our bulletin board but these are online, the lean news roundup. And Tracy and I do deep dives whenever we’re doing a podcast and I’m so happy I do them because I found out things. I don’t know if I would have done the deep dive before. But this was a great one.

It’s Memorial Health System. It’s a 4-hospital complex in Springfield, Illinois and they were saying that the data shows hospitals in general squander about 30% of their annual growth revenue, which is shocking, and it’s due to defective practices. So they are looking to basically knock that out. They’ve got an effort called 30-30-30, and part of it comes from this 30% squandering of revenue.

So they’ve launched the Lean Six Sigma after about 6 years ago. And what I zeroed in on was this interesting roadblock. Their rallying cry is zero defects but it can be counterproductive if people become afraid to fail. They become risk-averse. And one of the impacts of becoming risk-averse is that people fail to report near misses. And that’s a big deal in hospitals. People don’t say they almost gave the wrong medication. They almost operated on the wrong leg. Things like that are near misses or actual misses.

And if that reporting goes down, they don’t learn. They don’t learn how to prevent it the next time. So it’s really dangerous. And yeah, it’s a big deal.

And the solution, they got leadership involved and they have sort of a 2-pronged effort. They do computer modeling. Someone has an idea they want to change something, they want to try something, they do a computer model. They also do live team simulation of care processes. So people try it out with a live team but it’s simulated. So they are safe. But leadership is in total support of this which is very powerful. So basically, dealing with that cultural side of it.

So the results after 6 years, $30 million in positive financial impact and they just received the 2016 American Hospital Association McKesson Quest of Quality Award, which is pretty awesome.

Tracy: That is great. And I really love this story, Elisabeth, because I actually think the bigger issue is, I have a sense that most people are running into this problem and they don’t even necessarily know it. And the problem that I think it’s identifying or highlighting is picking a measure and then just saying, “This is how we’re going to do it,” and that’s it, we have to look at how does it change behavior? Does it drive the behavior that we want? And if it doesn’t then what are we going to do about it?

And I think this is a great example of somebody saying, “Hey, zero defects sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it.” And then recognizing that it’s actually creating this culture of fear of failure. So kudos to them for recognizing that it maybe didn’t have the impact that they were looking for and that they were putting in counter measures to address that. So that is really exciting and I think that the message here is we should be looking at the measures that drive the wrong behavior a little bit more in all of our organizations.

The message here is we should be looking at the measures that drive the wrong behavior a little bit more in all of our organizations.

Elisabeth: Absolutely.

Tracy: And what we could do to make it better.

Elisabeth: Great.

Tools of the Trade: 2 Second Lean by Paul Akers

Elisabeth: So up next is our Tools of the Trade. And Tracy, you suggested this book and I’m glad you did. But why don’t you tell our listeners why you chose Two Second Lean?

Tracy: Okay. That sounds great. Well ironically, I actually got to see Paul Akers present at the Lean Washington Conference. He was one of the keynote speakers. His company is based in Washington as well. And when I originally heard about the book, 2 Second Lean, I was very skeptical. I thought, “There’s no way you can do lean in two seconds.” I mean that’s honestly my original thought. Like, “Okay, what is he going to tell me about 2 Second Lean?” Because we encounter the opposite that it’s a lifetime journey if you will.

So – but he was a very engaging speaker. And so, I picked up the book and I absolutely love it for lots of reasons. A couple of things that I like is his humble approach. If I have to think of three adjectives to describe the book, it’s funny. There’s passion there. He is so passionate about this stuff. I mean he has so many personal examples of how he has implemented lean in his own personal life as part of the book and I love that.

And then the other one is humble. I really think he is a lifelong learner and it is obvious. And he kind of tells the story at the very beginning that these two young kids came in to fix their processes and he’s like, “Look, I could be your dad and I’ve been doing this for years and there’s no way you’re going to take this change over process of 45 minutes down to 5.”

And sure enough, they did. And he said, “I went through my stages of improvement, whatever you want to call it. I was in disbelief and I had a lot of doubt and then I had to humbly resign to the fact that this was a better way.” I love that.

Elisabeth: Yes, stages of grief. He is in stages of grief after seeing what they’ve done.

Tracy: Yeah.

Elisabeth: Yeah. I am with you. I came at this book, which I’m really happy you asked me to read. I was totally skeptical. First off, the title, 2 Second Lean, what? And then it just seemed a little hooky. I think it’s self-published. The pages are a little thick. The layout is not great. But I read this on the train and the by end of the train ride, I had like a dozen ideas. I dog-eared about 80 pages. I was just really inspired.

I read this on the train and the by end of the train ride, I had like a dozen ideas. I dog-eared about 80 pages. I was just really inspired.

And one of the things I came to is, I think you do too, I always tell my learners, “Make the tool work for you.” And he lives that, right? So think about the whole book. He’s kaizen-centered too much. Baby steps work. So he just made people find two seconds of improvement. So it made it accessible which is I think is a great thing to do for learners and it aligns with our philosophy, right? Lean Six Sigma doesn’t have to be complex. It’s simple stuff. This is not hard.

He also really focuses on his people as well as his customers. And I think that is such a great message about lean, which, yeah, you’ve got a satisfied customer. But you want to grow your people. And he truly grows his people. He reads books. He asks everyone to read books. Constant education.

And you and I are both all about that. I love that he gives tours, because tours keep you honest. And I think about, this is a terrible example but my husband’s family is – they are neat freaks. And when they’re coming to visit, I suddenly look at my house through their eyes and I am horrified. [Laughter] Suddenly, I run around the house cleaning and I feel like – that’s what happens. When they have tours, they’re on display. Their processes are there for criticism and they start looking at their processes through someone’s eyes and they would see more than they would have.

The other message in there is profit is a by-product. His passion, the passion for learning, the passion for improvement and bringing what the customers need that yeah, if you make money, great. That means you are doing the right job. But the focus isn’t to make money.

And my last piece that I kind of love is this recognition that being organized is not necessarily being lean. You can organize waste. He gave this great description of this shelving of all this inventory that was excess inventory. Waste. Really nicely organized, beautifully labeled, but total waste.

So I love those revelations from him. He got me going. He is really good.

Tracy: Yeah. I think that’s a great message, Elisabeth, and a great insight so thanks for bringing that up because I do think that people don’t see waste. You got to see the waste first. And the fact that it’s beautifully organized sometimes makes all that look really nice. No, it’s waste! Get rid of it! And so, I think that’s a great message. How do we get people to see more waste?

And then the last thing I’ll say about this book is I can’t emphasize enough. I mean he does a lot of personal examples but lean is actually – the best way to implement lean is a mindset. I mean it is obvious that this is a mindset to him. And no improvement is too small. I mean he writes a page and a half I think on his tea in the morning where he basically says, “I improved the process. I’ve saved myself at least 30 seconds every time I made tea but I make tea 5 times a day so this is really good.”

The best way to implement lean is a mindset. And no improvement is too small. I mean he writes a page and a half on his tea in the morning where he basically says, “I improved the process. I’ve saved myself at least 30 seconds every time I made tea but I make tea 5 times a day so this is really good.”

And he actually put – he would open the Splenda packet and then take the cinnamon out and he basically said, “Well, I’m the only one that uses this. I’m just going to put it all together in one shaker.” And he took a picture of the shaker. I mean it’s like those examples to me elevate that it’s not about money. It’s just about the way you think.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: And I love that.

Elisabeth: Me too.

Special Request

Elisabeth: Next up, we’ve got our special request from one of our learners. Today’s question is, how do you get people to keep doing improvement after they’ve been certified as Green Belt?

Tracy: This is a great question, Elisabeth, because we see this a lot. People go through Green Belt certification, a project is required as part of that Green Belt certification. So they do – they make an effort to complete that project. And some of them are great and some of them are not so great because again, you’re trying on your process improvement, you’re stretching your process improvement legs.

So you know what? Sometimes the first one out of the gate isn’t the greatest one that you have. The issue though is this check the box mentality. I’ve checked the box. I’ve done my certification. I can put it on my resume and on my LinkedIn profile. But now what? So I think it’s really important for organizations to encourage Green Belts to continue the journey. And there are lots of ways to do that.

The issue though is this check the box mentality. I’ve checked the box. I’ve done my certification. I can put it on my resume and on my LinkedIn profile. But now what? So I think it’s really important for organizations to encourage Green Belts to continue the journey.

One way is to say that it’s just not about the certification. As a Green Belt, there’s some sort of encouragement whether it would be a requirement or not that they complete projects every year. It shouldn’t just be one and you’re done. It should be – you should do two Green Belt projects a year for however long you work here.

And then it should not be, here’s the other thing I think that people make the mistake, it shouldn’t be the Black Belt asking the Green Belt where their project is because you just turned in the Black Belt into a what I would call an ankle-biter. No authority and just bugging people.

And so ultimately, and this is – when I was at GE Appliances, this is how they did it. They had a Black Belt and that Black Belt was a resource to me when I was a Green Belt. But my Black Belt did not ask me about my projects. It was my manager. So anytime I met with my manager, if I met with my manager 3 or 4 times a month, at least twice a month they’d be asking me how I was coming along with my Green Belt projects.

So guess what? If my boss is asking me about my Green Belt, it’s going to get done.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Tracy: So to me, those are two things that organizations can do to help promote continued Green Belt projects.

Elisabeth: Those are great, Tracy. I’m with you. That’s a nice description. I like it.

Tracy: So up next is today’s special. So Elisabeth, who is today’s interview with?

Elisabeth: Today’s interview is with Holly North. She is a user experience strategist but she finds herself helping clients do process improvement and she loves it. She has been part of Google Glass. She did an app for The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She worked with Best Buy. She has got an impressive lineup of projects and clients and she is from London. So it’s really great to listen to her. So I highly encouraged you to tune in for this interview.

Tracy: That sounds great. I can’t wait to hear it.

Today’s Special: Interview with Holly North, User Experience Designer and Strategist

Elisabeth: Today’s guest is Holy North. Holly North is talking to us today from Vermont. But I think you’ll realize very quickly when she starts speaking, she is originally from England. Holly, would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Holly: Sure. I am from England. I’ve been in the US for a few years now. I’m an experienced strategist, UX designer. Some people will call me an interaction designer. And I worked with all sorts of organizations, big and small in the US, in the UK, across Europe, helping them to either launch a new product or service or redesign an existing one across a variety of platforms, devices, channels, you name it in the digital and also in the physical world. So there’s real connection between the two.

Elisabeth: Thanks, Holly. And just for our listeners, Holly and I realized that there are similarities between what she does in the user or experience strategy world and what we do in the process improvement world. And that’s what we’re looking at today. What’s that crossover between UX and Lean Six Sigma? And that’s where we’re going.

So I think what I first want to ask is just sort of a little bit of background on you, Holly, how did you get into UX? What drew you into that user experience strategy world?

Holly: Well, it’s a funny little story. I started off in television production. Well actually, further back than that, I’m a sociologist by training. I got into television and know what’s behind TV is to try and make shows that engage and enthrall and delight people. The internet happened. And then there was – started to be a lot of crossover with technology and TV. I think it’s the bloom from that really, I realized it was a new and exciting thing that was going to have an impact from what I was doing professionally.

And really, UX, formally as a discipline didn’t start when I started working into what was then called the multimedia world. And I think it grew and developed as businesses realized that they really needed to, if they were to try and stay ahead, they really needed to have a much better understanding of who their viewers, listeners, consumers, customers, and audience was. And so, I think I just sort of started to do a bit more of that.

And momentum grew and the discipline grew. So I think I sort of fell into it really but it was something I was very familiar with because I am genuinely interested in sort of what makes people tick whether it’s a TV show that we’re creating or a product or service. I’m often not the target audience so you to spend some time with the target audience in order to design something successfully. So I guess I fell into it really.

Elisabeth: You fell into it but your point, sociology is probably the perfect background for doing something like that. And I’m just going to say, I really like the term, “the internet happened.” Then the internet happened. And also, just listening to you, it brings to the fore what goes on in our world which is this total focus on the voice of the customer and it feels like that’s really what you are doing a deep dive into is what are they saying, what do they want, really trying to understand from their perspective.

And since you’re not necessarily the target audience for the groups you’re doing these strategies for, you really got to find ways to understand them. And I think you have better ways than we do. How do you that? How do you get the voice of the customer?

Holly: Well, so I did a lot of ethnographic research during my years of study. And that is one technique or approach used in all discipline. But again, it’s all what’s feasible really. I think a lot of user experience designers would love to be able to invest a huge amount of time really getting a deep understanding who their target audience is but that’s often not feasible with the budget or the nature of the project. So you have to sort of tempo what you can do with the resources available.

So I rarely get to do – spend a lot of time in the field with whomever the target audience is. So we can do it by – I mean lots of methods. We can do it by working with businesses who already have a customer base and getting access to them, going out and recruiting people depending on what the particular engagement might be. I may be able to do something myself if it’s around how people buy something or how people want to do a particular service online. I can go through that myself. I can get other people to do it. There are sort of guerilla ways of doing it.

So yeah, literally we try any means we possibly can to put ourselves in the place of the target audience. So we’re that groups advocate within the business.

Elisabeth: I remember working with Starwood where they would have, I don’t know if it was secret shoppers, I forget what they called it. But they would go and just basically check in at the desk as if they were just a normal guest. So if I’m trying to, like you said, try to go online and have that user experience, put yourselves in their shoes, what it’s feel like, or ultimately watch people as they use a service or go online and see how they actually interact. Those are interesting ways.

The other thing that we tried to do early on when we’re working with organizations is understand what is it that they’re trying to do or I ask the question, “Why do you exist? Why does this company exist? What’s their purpose?” And that helps me understand where to focus and where to target improvement.

The other thing that we tried to do early on when we’re working with organizations is understand what is it that they’re trying to do or I ask the question, “Why do you exist? Why does this company exist? What’s their purpose?” And that helps me understand where to focus and where to target improvement.

Do you do anything like that trying to understand what is the mission or the purpose of organization?

Holly: We have to. I mean although I’m often considered the voice or the advocate of the customer, I wouldn’t be there if it were not for a particular organization. And so, it’s this balance really. I’m brought in because a client wants to – has a problem to solve or wants to achieve something. I’m often brought in to sort of represent the customer but I can’t hope to design a product or a service without fundamentally understanding what the business wants to achieve.

So I have to sort of bury myself deep into that organization and find out, which interestingly isn’t always the initial brief. I have to find out what’s underpinning that. Who is the organization? What do they want to achieve? What are their resources? What is feasible from a business perspective, from a tech perspective?

If I don’t have all of that information in addition to what their customer base wants, my job is to bring people together and to design something which supports the business goals as well as the needs, wants, and desires of its target audience.

Elisabeth: Yeah. That’s so fascinating because I think that happens a lot. People just make this assumption that yeah, yeah, we do what we do. But we want more customers. It’s like, okay, but I need to understand what you’re bringing to them and why they want you.

And the same in our world, they’ll say, “Okay, we want to reduce how long it takes to do check-in or something like that.” Or they’ll give us a metric or something to hit. And it’s like, well, for the sake of what? Give me the bigger picture here.

And it feels like when you do that, you have to deal in the same way we deal with sort of breaking down silos. You’ve got to understand kind of what’s happening at a big picture which means you’ve probably got to reach into different areas of the business. Is that fair?

Holly: Yeah. I’d say that’s fair because the customer – the various touch points the customer has with the business are throughout the organization. So I might be working with say, the marketing team for example. And they will make everyone within the marketing team available because they have a particular goal in mind. But it’s not just the marketing team. Intrinsically, in order to offer service to customers, it involves the whole organization.

And so, I need to somehow and sometimes it takes some persuasion to go beyond just the marketing team, is there a call center? What is tech support like? What are your sort of business goals? Which encompass the marketing teams, but also what is the business strategy as a whole? And sometimes I find out that there are some misalignments within the organization, some sort of strategic alignment or there isn’t a shared of a vision about what the business is trying to achieve as one had thought there maybe.

So, you have to be a little delicate when you’re moving around within organization because sometimes I’m playing more of a sort of diplomatic role in trying to bring people and departments together in order to be able to offer a consistent experience across all, generally in the digital space, but also beyond that, all the digital touch points that the customer has with that business.

If I’m doing a website, it touches the finance department. It touches many aspects of the organization. So yes, if I don’t try and widen the brief sometimes then what could happen is we’re delivering an experience which is a bit conky.

Also, you’re – every time a business has an interaction with a customer, there’s valuable data or information that is being absorbed on both sides. And from a business perspective, that something which is incredibly valuable when it’s shared within the organization as a whole because it is relevant to often many areas within the organization and that data is often sitting in silos which hampers how a business can sort of not only react but offer a more relevant solution at each touch point back to the consumer.

Elisabeth: That’s fascinating because in our world, we’ll call those touch points moments of truth, so where your customer interacts with your process. And to you, you’re looking at the digital touch point which is probably more and more the vast majority of those interactions. Even a call center, there’s both going on, right?

Holly: Right.

Elisabeth: An actual interaction and a digital interaction. The other thing you’re saying which really resonates for me is this idea again, your sociology background coming into play that you’re becoming a diplomat, you’re trying to connect these different silos, these groups that have become over time misaligned and trying to bring that alignment so that you can do your job.

But we’ll say something like it’s the soft stuff is the hard stuff. You were known for Lean Six Sigma. Even the name conjures up something kind of arcane and mysterious and analytical. And if I break it – and then there’s also this overlay of data and analytics and it’s like, okay, fair enough. But what really matters is that interaction of people, is getting that agreement, is pulling those groups together. So that really feels like a strong parallel.

The other thing I know from talking to you over the years is that you’ve ended up having to do process improvement. And I wanted to know if you could give me an example of a time where that made a big difference that you actually had to do that to do your job.

Holly: Well, there is I think a couple. One was I was brought in with an organization who creates tests for some professional testing and certifications based in the US. And management felt that they weren’t being as efficient as they could be in one particular element of the business. It was about redesigning the system. They asked me to come in and redesign a system which is easier to use so more people could use it a lot easier and a lot quicker to get rid of a lot of the duplication of process which was happening.

My first task was just to get in and try to understand the business as a whole. They wanted to try and achieve – I spoke to many of the stakeholders and those within the organization who used various other systems which integrated with this one particular system and just did a whole bunch of requirements gathering.

And then for me, I think the problem was bigger than this one system. I could have simply have redesigned this one system and made it a lot easier for those using it to use it. I saw a lot of duplication across the organization, a lot of their processes were people and sort paper-based. There were a lot of work around what’s happening.

And so, as part of the first phase of the project, the sort of discovery phase, I presented back an idea that perhaps what we could do is we could start with this system but think about how that dovetails into the rest of the organization and reduce some of the waste that was happening in terms of people’s time. And people were – again, the organization was fairly siloed too. So, there were departments doing the same thing very differently to different sets of end users. So depending on which point of the organization you came into, the process was very different.

So I spent I think a year or so, literally I think the first 4 months was an enormous amount of time which is interviewing people, sitting behind them while they were working, just watching what they were doing, which I think is also depending on if you’re doing something like this which is essentially a certain level of organizational change, a lot of it, the focus was on the system but actually, it’s the people.

It’s the people you need to focus on because that’s where the requirements are coming from. That’s where certain needs become apparent. They are tasked for the job that they want to be able to do. And you also want them to take delight in doing their job. So if you can create that in addition, you’re going to sort of elevate the feeling of the workforce too.

It’s the people you need to focus on because that’s where the requirements are coming from. That’s where certain needs become apparent. They are tasked for the job that they want to be able to do. And you also want them to take delight in doing their job. So if you can create that in addition, you’re going to sort of elevate the feeling of the workforce too.

And so, to make a long story short, I think we managed to do that. We started with one system and used that as a sort of a testing ground to create very slowly the sort of organizational change because it was a lot of change for a lot of people. They’ve been there for – people had been in this organization for 40 odd years. Part of the process was being very transparent about what was happening which culturally wasn’t something people were used to. There was management and those in the workforce who feel they did the work.

And so, we needed half of the project sort of breaking down those barriers and also enabling those who would ultimately use the system to feel that they were part of the design process. And so, we literally had a space where people could come in at any one time every time everything was up on the wall. And that’s where I was working primarily. People could come in at any point. See what was happening. Offer their opinion. We would have workshops in there not only with management but also with essentially the end users of this one particular system.

And we used the system improvements that we made to this one system as we needed to demonstrate value in order to create sort of trust in the organization that the direction that the organization wanted to go was the right one and everyone was on board and people’s opinions mattered.

I saw some of that shift within that organization and I think that’s where I get the most joy after what I did. It’s not creating some beautiful like content management system or financial system or whatever it happens to be. The joy comes with making people’s lives better in that space.

It’s not creating some beautiful like content management system or financial system or whatever it happens to be. The joy comes with making people’s lives better in that space.

Elisabeth: That’s so nice. I can hear the joy. You know what, Holly? You’re not just a process improvement consultant. You are a very good one because you just hit on what is essential when you do this that it’s really about the people doing the work and they understand best how to make that change. So engaging them, the words are so clear in your description, you engaged people that it was fluid that people came in, that it was visible. That’s another big piece in the process improvement world. Make it visible. Include people. Bring them in. It’s about them.

And it’s about not just the voice of the customers. It’s the voice of the employee and that everything works in concert. So I back you on that. I think it is a joyous thing when you can pull that off. But it’s not an easy thing.

Holly: It’s not. And really, like I am not the subject matter expert in almost every engagement I’m on. I am not the subject matter expert. So I need to work very closely with subject matter expert, end users. It’s collaborative design.

Elisabeth: Yeah.

Holly: That’s what it is.

Elisabeth: And that’s true with our world too. We are not process experts either. So you have to come at it from the point of view of learning and understanding from the people in the system.

Holly: Yes.

Elisabeth: That is so fascinating. I appreciate you’re taking the time to talk to me, talk to our listeners about it. Can you tell me a few things just how people could – where we could find you online and what’s your latest interests are? Where are you going from here?

Holly: I might start backwards. So at the moment, I’ve always really enjoyed working with sort of new and emerging technologies because it’s a fascinating – it’s sort of a frontier. So when interactive TV started to emerge, I was there because I love television and it was an emerging television with technology.

I was working with the Google Glass team when wearables were really starting to sort of explode. And it’s just fascinating to me taking something which might be so new to a particular group of people and just trying to figure out what’s going to work and how we can sort of create delightful experiences for all involved. So that’s in a space that I’m sort of working with now.

You can find me at That’s a sense of who I am and some of the projects that I’m working on. Everything is there because not everything is out and about yet in the public arena. I’m on LinkedIn.

Oddly, I don’t do a huge amount on sort of social. I’m much more interested in picking up the phone and talking to people which seems very old fashion.

Elisabeth: Shocking. Shocking, Holly. I’m glad you do because you did it today. Holly is also featured in a new book called UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want with Jamie Levy. So you can check out more of her philosophy around this there.

Thank you, Holly, for joining us today. I appreciate your time and looking forward to talking to you again.

Holly: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Elisabeth: Bye-bye.

Holly: Bye.


Tracy: So, we hope you enjoyed this episode and found it valuable. We would love your feedback. Please leave us a review on iTunes about our podcast and one website. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I really enjoyed my coffee today with you, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth: I truly enjoyed my coffee with you, Tracy. Thanks for joining us everybody. Come and visit us again at the Café next month for the Just-In-Time Café.

Tracy: We’ll see you next time.

Thanks for Listening!

Listen to more podcasts.

Tracy O'Rourke

Tracy is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. She is also a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Instructor at UC San Diego and teaches in San Diego State University’s Lean Enterprise Program. For almost 20 years, she has helped leading organizations like Washington State, Charles Schwab and GE build problem-solving muscles.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.