Organizational Quality and Industrial Strength

This is the ninth  installment of a multi-part blog series by Hart Williford, CEO and president of Ingenious Med.

Since leaving the multinational corporate world, I have taken over as the CEO in four solutions companies that were ready to mature from start-up to established enterprise. One of the key things that needed to be accomplished was moving an organization to what I consider to be industrial strength. This means you begin to scale the operation, typically moving to larger customers, and ensuring true scalability and reliability into the organizational structure. There are a lot of processes involved, sometimes improving what’s already there, sometimes building new approaches. It’s not a short process, usually taking three years. After doing this four times, I thought that at Ingenious Med I could do it in two years, but it still took three.

One of the key elements involves building operational excellence into the fabric of the organization. You’ve got to teach everyone that when something goes wrong, you do a root cause analysis, and you build processes and controls that ensure that the issue is resolved once and forever. Through this, I truly try to practice the Japanese practice of Kaizen, continual improvement.

Early on at Ingenious Med, one of our hires was a director of operational excellence; we sought out someone with this particular skillset. This individual had done multiple successful turnarounds at not-for-profit organizations. When we brought her on board, I challenged her to become Six Sigma Black Belt certified (which she did).

Now, Black Belt projects are large scale, cross functional projects that have the opportunity to seriously move the dial from a quality and financial perspective. We currently have two such projects underway, one is to utilize SalesForce automation in all areas of the company operationally, from sales to implementation, finance; the list goes on. That project, which we’ve been pursuing for 12 months, has already vastly improved workflows in the three targeted departments. It has resulted in accurate, real-time data being made available to the c-suite, finance, really anyone that could benefit from that sort of information. This is true real-time data, too. With the charts we’ve built, someone with appropriate access can see how many licenses have been implemented this month, as well as year-to-date, how many are scheduled for the rest of the month, how many are upcoming beyond that. The Black Belt projects have also served to standardize not only definitions, but the way information is shared between departments creating unprecedented cross-functional insight. The concrete financial benefits we’re already experiencing from those sorts of gains in efficiency are a home run.

When you build result-delivering quality like that into an organization, when you make it a regular part of operations, it allows you to scale and grow while improving customer satisfaction and bringing new leverage to your financial model.

At Ingenious Med, as we’ve continued to grow, we have now hired our second individual in the operational excellence area, and they too are now pursuing their Six Sigma Black Belt. However, it goes broader and deeper than that. While we have our dedicated quality stewardship in OpEx, quality is not a department, it is a discipline. Under the guidance of that OpEx team, we now have 30% of our employees pursuing Six Sigma Yellow and Green Belt certification. 92% of all employees have been trained in basic lean six sigma methodologies.

So much of what I’ve discussed here is internal; this does apply externally as well. We use this same methodology to constantly monitor the performance of our system and ensure that we meet thresholds for workflow that are significantly above what a customer would consider acceptable. We typically experience over 99.997% uptime in our system. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we do customer satisfaction surveys. Every survey we’ve done, despite our rapid growth, the results have improved every time. Customer satisfaction is continuing to improve as we grow at a very rapid rate. Internally, externally, all processes are repetitive and yield proven, efficient success. It works. As a company, we’ve grown at a rate of over 40% a year.

You never reach your destination. Quality and operational excellence is a perpetual journey, and you have to embrace that, understand that it never ends and that you must always improve every aspect of an organization. You have to ensure robust processes and continue to scale. With the right people and the right culture, you continue to grow past that industrial strength threshold. And if you do that? You always stay ahead of the game.

Other parts in this series:

The Most Beneficial Event in the Calendar
Management by Corporate Beliefs
Nurturing Work-Life Balance
Strategic Imperatives: Repeatable Success
Strategic Imperatives: Theory and Action
The Value and Motivation of Customer Surveys
Proactivity and the Slow Bleed
Entrepreneur v. the Implementer