Wonder Women of Quality: Kirsty Dykes

Wonder Women of Quality: Kirsty Dykes -

They’re delivering a one-two punch to defects. They’re ridding the earth of process waste. They’re on the front lines delivering customer service perfection. They’re in leadership striving to make a difference in the world. They’re kicking process improvement butt! The Wonder Women of Quality are here!

This month in the Wonder Women of Quality pantheon we are honored to highlight Kirsty Dykes! Originally from London, England, Kirsty Dykes is the OpX Program Administrator in the Division of Unemployment Insurance for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. For the past 12 years, Kirsty has been a passionate and dedicated Lean and Six Sigma coach across dozens of industries and sectors. She’s increased sales in one of the world’s oldest telecommunications companies, optimized workflow in a network of garages, and mentored 100+ people through Lean and Six Sigma qualifications in the US and abroad.

Here are Kirsty’s answers to a few of our questions:

What is your Quality Mission?

To inspire, coach and enable people to solve the problems that impact them the most. The artistry and methods behind problem solving and continuous improvement are so universally applicable, but people need to get excited about change first, then be shown how, then given permission to try.

I want to pull back this mysterious Continuous Improvement curtain for as many people as possible. Imagine how impactful we could be as a species if we all approached problems in a data-driven, structured, common sense way. I want to see people inciting their own, brilliant, meaningful changes.

What is your Quality Superpower?

I’m from the Monty Python school of thought and tend to always look on the bright side of life. I’m also known for being high energy and of sunny disposition which helps me hugely. Being able to see the positive, even in the most difficult times has never served me wrong.

Sometimes this work can be nebulous and difficult to define. One of my super powers is in translating what can be a relatively complex skill set into something tangible and relatable. I taught risk mitigation and problem solving to a class of change agents based on an experience I had with my son’s after-school program, when — rightfully so — they wouldn’t let me pick him up without an ID.

I taught a leadership class about understanding the power of descriptive data using 10 dice and an Excel spreadsheet. I taught process mapping using origami and Lego. I talk about continuous improvement using real life application.

Finally, I’m painfully organized in my work. To counteract this; at home, I’m the opposite — messy and cluttered. Life is all about balance… at least that’s what I tell my husband.

What is your Quality Kryptonite?

I hear “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” quite a lot in my career, and it’s incredibly dangerous. As a mindset, it’s dismissive and resistant. As an idiom, it’s ingrained from us from birth which makes it alluring to those who were on the fence to start with.

I like to flip it on it’s head and reply with, “So if it’s working, we should fix (or improve) it.” It can be seen as slightly passive-aggressive, but the simple flip certainly makes people think differently!

Time is another big one. It’s the 21st century — everyone is always busy and there are a million other priorities. Normally, I’ll seek out a couple Quick Wins to free up a person for a little while — maybe even 5 minutes a day. Then I’ll ask them to reinvest that time in problem solving for themselves and help them understand the value of continuous tiny improvements. It’s better to improve 100 things by 1% than try to improve 1 thing by 100%!

What are some of your Quality Victories?

There have been quite a few! Most recently, four of my internal change agents came up with a process they wanted to improve, got stakeholder sign off, scoped the project, set aside a day and mapped the current condition, the problems it caused, the future state and the gaps between the two. Then they agreed on an action plan to plug the gaps. The same day, tired and exhausted, they presented to their leadership who were in feverish agreement it was the right thing to do. I offered to sit in the room with them in case they needed help… and they didn’t.

Now, I appreciate this is an everyday occurrence in full-time Lean roles, but these are four front line staff who worked a super long day. They had ‘real’ work to catch up on when they returned, but they were passionate enough, tenacious enough, and brilliant enough to solve a years-long problem that will fundamentally improve processes for our customers.

It feels strange to say one of my greatest victories is something I had little to do with — the fact that they felt motivated and passionate enough to do it independently…. to say I’m immensely proud of them is an understatement.

In a previous role, there was a particularly tricky process which involved 7 layers of checking and authorizations, multiple rework loops and customer facing errors. It was a well established problem, and before I even broached the topic, the senior leader told me, “Better people than [you] have tried and failed to solve this. It is the way it’s always going to be.”

I left work defeated and deflated, and it sparked a deep-seated fire in me to do something positive with this process. By working with his front-line staff we reduced the cycle time by over 90% and increased our right-first-time, and we did it all by error proofing our process. It took almost a year, the process wasn’t perfect but it was significantly better than it was.

I moved on to a different project and 18 months after that first encounter, this same senior leader gave me a huge hug and apologized. Seeing his own journey unfold and having a new stakeholder who was now 100% on board still remains a victory.

Being elected as a Lean Champion for the Colorado Lean Network was a huge personal victory — to help direct the growth and diversification of a professional network and to be in the company of some of the most brilliant, smart, people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting is hugely empowering. I also love writing… so the opportunity to blog about the tools and philosophies I love? I’m all in!

Do you have any Words of Wisdom?

It was Salvador Dali who said, “Have no fear or perfection — you’ll never reach it.” I think everyone gets hung up on not making any improvements because perfection seems so far away. But incremental improvements are equally as important as giant leaps forward.

Celebrate. Project reached a milestone? Someone stepped out of their comfort zone? Had a project fail? Celebrate. There is always always something to celebrate, even if it’s, “Hey, we’ve found a bunch of ways this doesn’t work!”

Thanks again to Kirsty Dykes for her quality thoughts!

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