The routine “Best Places to Work” features that offer a snapshot of what it’s like to be a part of Columbus-based CoverMyMeds often focus on what stands out at first glance: The pool tables, the beer tap, the jeans-day-every-day vibe.
Nate Lusher, an agile coach at the health-care software startup, says the key to understanding the company’s culture is to look closer.
“Those are great, but they’re not what’s going to keep you there for the long haul,” Lusher told attendees at a Center for Operational Excellence event Tuesday. “They’re an expression of our deeper culture.”
Lusher and colleague Rick Neighbarger, director of quality and risk management at CoverMyMeds, offered a peek inside the Columbus company’s culture at the latest meeting of COE’s IT Leadership Network series. They also detailed their own efforts to make tools and behaviors key to continuous improvement a part of it, a challenge that’s intrinsic to process improvement efforts at companies of any size.
CoverMyMeds, which automates the once-cumbersome prior-approval process for prescriptions, has been a part of the Columbus business community for not even a decade but has drawn attention for its rapid growth and status as a sought-after place of employment. The last time CoverMyMeds disclosed its annual revenue – about two years ago – it was nearing the $100 million mark, and the company just this year closed a deal to be acquired by health-care giant McKesson Corp. for more than $1 billion. Columbus Business First called the acquisition the biggest tech startup exit in the city’s history.
Beneath that surface layer of culture, which the company notably pledged to keep following the sale, is one that values and trusts its people. And the people themselves, Neighbarger and Lusher said, are primed to experiment and take action.
“We’re not afraid to try something out,” Lusher said. “We’d much rather dive in and do it and learn from something.”
The effort of turning that experimentation into lessons learned and, eventually, better processes has included the introduction of a number of lean and agile tools at CoverMyMeds: Kanbans and story cards, metrics on cycle time and work in process (WIP), and an articulated vision of product ownership, just to name a few.
What’s crucial, Neighbarger said, is not what the tools are but how they’re deployed.
“You can’t just pick up techniques that a large multi-national bank uses and drop them into a small health-care IT company,” he said. “You have to tailor your techniques to principles.”
That principle-first approach ultimately has helped gain traction at CoverMyMeds as the company works to deploy a broader quality strategy that continues to manage risks amid continued growth. In short, the jargon matters much less than the results.
“Our goal is not to become ‘agile,’” Lusher said. “Our goal is to become great.”
Fast-growing and routinely honored as one of the region’s best places to work, CoverMyMeds also has been working to ingrain a culture of continuous improvement into everything from its day-to-day software development to its big-picture strategy. But how does a structured approach to lean and agile thrive in a casual, jeans-day-every-day culture?
The Center for Operational Excellence is thrilled to host for its next IT Leadership Network forum on Tuesday, June 6, two leaders at CoverMyMeds at the forefront of its efforts to drive lean practices: Director of Quality and Risk Management Rick Neighbarger (pictured, right) and Agile Coach Nate Lusher. Neighbarger and Lusher in this wide-ranging discussion will offer insights on:
Operational excellence in a startup culture: Driving change in a consensus-building, not top-down, environment;
“Stealth lean:” Teaching the tools and behaviors without getting lost in the lingo;
Garnering buy-in: Selling change up and down the ladder; and
Moving forward in the face of change: Continuing a lean journey after the McKesson deal.
This session not only offers an inside look at the nationally recognized culture at CoverMyMeds but offers insights on leading and sustaining change that leaders can apply no matter the industry or company.
Miss last year’s Leading Through Excellence summit? Looking to revisit one of our most popular keynotes?
The Center for Operational Excellence is partnering with Fisher College of Business’ Master of Business Operational Excellence program to bring to campus Rich Sheridan, CEO of award-winning software developer Menlo Innovations LLC and author of Joy Inc. Employees of COE member companies are invited to join MBOE program alumni the morning of Friday, May 13, for a keynote by Sheridan, who kicked off the 2015 Leading Through Excellence summit and led a half-day workshop.
A programmer by trade, Sheridan entered the corporate world and found at the midpoint of his career that he no longer experienced the joy that had drawn him to the industry. After losing his job as a software development executive when the dot-com bubble burst, he founded Menlo Innovations in 2001, saying the company’s purpose was to “bring joy to the world through software.” Menlo has gone on to win the Alfred P. Sloan award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility for eight straight years and has earned five revenue awards from Inc. magazine.
In his keynote, based on Joy Inc., Sheridan will offer an inside look at the culture that’s flourished at Menlo over the last 15 years that leverages visual management, an open and collaborative workspace, and a “fail fast” ethos that has garnered attention nationwide. All attendees will receive a complimentary copy of Sheridan’s book,Joy Inc.
Click here to register for this limited-capacity event.
The two featured speakers at the Center for Operational Excellence’s upcoming quarterly seminar might be from two wildly different industries, but they’re both bringing stories that illustrate a stark truth about the world today: The rules of the game are changing, and standing still isn’t an option.
In the greater Columbus area, AEP and Abbott each rank among its 50 largest employers, with a combined local payroll of nearly 6,000, according to research from Columbus Business First.
While both companies have well-deserved reputations as leaders in their respective industries, they also share common ground in facing serious external headwinds in recent years .
For AEP, it’s national and state-level energy policies that can have far-reaching implications for the company’s short- and long-term growth strategies and generation profile. Just in the last half-decade, AEP has seen its home state – where its AEP Ohio subsidiary lights up nearly 1.5 million customers – decisively shift toward electricity deregulation, leaving behind the days of a more predictable fixed-rate structure.
As the purveyor of products ranging from Similac to Ensure, Abbott Nutrition not only is at the mercy of changing customer tastes but shifting demographics – namely longer-living seniors. At the turn of the new century, people ages 65 and older in the U.S. represented about one in eight Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates they’ll represent one in five just 15 years from now.
On a day-to-day level, these changes to the business environment have spurred each company to action in different ways. For AEP, this has taken the form of a still-young but promising lean transformation that grew out of the company’s generation facilities, closely linked to traditional “shop floor” applications of its principles, and has steadily made its way to more “invisible” processes across the organization, namely information technology. Abbott, meanwhile, has mounted an organizational transformation of its people and processes within its research and development function as it fills its innovation pipeline and drives growth.
Don’t miss the chance to hear from McCullough and Roberts on what they’ve learned along the way and what the future holds for their organizations.
At a glance
Date: Friday, Feb. 13, 2015
Time: 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (networking lunch included)
Location: The Blackwell, 2110 Tuttle Park Place, Columbus, OH
Connecting far-flung employees – across an office or across the globe – is becoming an increasingly common challenge for companies of any size. A number of organizations have turned to technological solutions for town halls, top leadership updates and team meetings – but how can they ensure communication leads to results and isn’t lost along the way?
The Center for Operational Excellence is thrilled to partner with member Mills James to offer a hybrid case study / discussion panel webinar featuring leaders from two of the largest companies in Ohio who have successfully embedded technology into their communication efforts: Procter & Gamble and Cardinal Health.
Joining the webcast on Friday, Nov. 14, from noon to 1 p.m. EST from P&G is Kip Fanta, associate director of Employee Experience/Meetings and Collaboration, an employee of the Cincinnati-based consumer products giant for more than 20 years who has worked in a variety of roles. From Cardinal Health is Eileen Lehmann, who directs internal communications and oversees the application of technology to communications problems.
Fanta and Lehmann will be joined by Mills James VP Bruce Reid and COE Executive Director Peg Pennington.
This isn’t a webinar about what technology your organization should choose – it’s an exploration of how these can be used to drive employee engagement, align an organization with strategic goals and drive results in the short and long term. Participants will offer their insights on what worked, what didn’t, and how companies of any size can take action.
In addition to the trio of keynotes, Lean Into Agile will feature three rounds of breakout sessions throughout the day, a mix of consultants, coaches and business leaders specializing in Lean IT, Agile or the successful combination of the two in an organization. This diversity enables attendees to “choose your own adventure” throughout the conference, filling in knowledge gaps and gaining a clearer, broader picture of the underlying process improvement principles that drive IT success.
Many companies today simply equate Lean IT and Agile, a common misconception but one that can lead to crucial missed opportunities, said Tom Paider, associate vice president for IT Build Capability at Nationwide and champion of COE’s IT Leadership Network.
“It’s not enough to focus on the creation of Agile teams,” Paider said. “In order to scale agile, there are so many other aspects that come into play: The management system, development of people, problem solving capability, and setting the correct expectations. Lean gives us an avenue to create the whole system, from purpose to process to people.”
Featured breakout session speakers throughout the day come from organizations including Fortune 20 health-care distributor Cardinal Health, software developer CI&T, Columbus IT solutions firm Pillar, Ohio State, Lean/Agile consultancy LitheSpeed LLC, and the State of Ohio Department of Administrative Services, among others.
Check out the list of keynote and breakout speakers at leanintoagile.org, where registration is open as well. Conference admission, which includes breakfast, lunch and a post-event networking happy hour, is $224. Group sign-ups of five or more people receive a discount of $45 per person.
The stream of shapeless information dubbed “big data” in recent years has swelled to a full-blown waterfall– and for any company looking to maintain competitive edge, it’s drink or drown.
The Center for Operational Excellence at its April Leading Through Excellence summit tackled the issue of big data and analytics through the lens of operations management with a panel discussion that illuminated both the opportunities in wrestling with fast-moving torrents of information and the challenges many organizations still face.
From the discussion, moderated by Ralph Greco, director of the Business Analytics Initiative at Fisher College of Business, here are some key insights from Anson Asoka, VP of global insights and analytics at Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.; Andy Keller, VP of analytics and global process owner at Cardinal Health Inc.; and Dihan Rosenburg, director of product planning at LexisNexis:
1. There’s much more room in the big-data sandbox
High-profile victors at making the most of this ever-growing flood of social media, mobile, customer activity, and market information include titans such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The panelists, however, were a great example of how savvy companies are making the most of information to improve the supply chain, increase customer value, and make better decisions.
Scotts’ Asoka said it’s “an inherent part of our culture to capture information … and be able to leverage it.” That extends to constantly tracking a wide range of customer information before, during, and after product launches and feeding that back to the organization.
“We make products based on customer needs,” Asoka said of the $2.8 billion-a-year lawn and garden giant. “We don’t make products and then go find consumers.”
Cardinal, the $100 billion-a-year pharmaceutical and medical product distributor, is investing in keeping eyes trained on data tied to seasonally fluctuating illnesses, from the flu to allergies, and supply chain disruptions, such as product recalls, Keller said. That includes staying up-to-date on Google Flu Trends, a highly visible – but somewhat controversial – example of data analytics that Keller said is “surprisingly accurate.”
2. Data aren’t the meal – they’re the raw ingredients.
Panelists repeatedly stressed the fact that regardless of how much data a company is able to collect, it’s the sorting and analysis that ultimately create true value.
“Any one data point isn’t going to tell you the answer,” said Cardinal’s Keller. “It’s how we pull it all together, and use the tools and knowledge to pull (the value) out.”
One such tool was developed by Rosenburg at LexisNexis, the online information powerhouse commonly known for its exhaustive stash of archived news and public records.
SmartWatch, launched in 2012, allows customers to monitor supply chain risk through a range of market intelligence that’s color-coded and categorized by its political, economic, societal, technical, legal and environmental factors. The goal, Rosenburg said, is to get customers “ahead of the curve” – noticing, for example, that labor unrest is occurring in a factory’s home country before a full-blown strike occurs.
“When information becomes plentiful and free, the information about information is where the real gold is,” Rosenburg said.
Scotts’ Asoka said the root of the company’s approach to big data and analytics is simply a constant thirst for more.
“We need a lot (of data), and we don’t turn any down,” he said.
3. Infrastructure is important – very important.
Despite its status as a relatively new challenge for companies, the management of the data analytics function isn’t immune to some classic hurdles: Silos, project burn-out, and lack of infrastructure.
Keller of Cardinal said the company has taken a similar approach to the development of its analytics capabilities as its highly successful lean/Six Sigma deployment. In less than a decade, Cardinal’s operational excellence rollout has gone from a supply chain efficiency effort to a catalyst for enterprise-wide culture change.
“As I describe our (analytics) journey, it’s similar to our operational excellence journey,” Keller said. “It’s all about developing a structure, setting up career paths, and getting rigor around establishing a common language.”
This broad-based effort to align people and processes, though, can’t exist on an island, said Asoka of Scotts.
“Infrastructure is important,” he said. “I’ve seen over time that what really benefits an organization is to have analytics people within functions – and if you can have a horizontal cut across all those verticals you can properly manage data, tools and people.”
Most crucially is how data analytics ultimately fits into a company’s broader strategic course, said Rosenburg of LexisNexis.
“Quality requires vigilance,” she said. “It’s not a project you do and forget about.”
4. People are key – and we need many, many more of them.
In the end, panelists said, making better decisions through data analytics doesn’t come down to having the best software program or the biggest data center. It comes down to having people with the skills to sort, scour and shape the information into something valuable.
“If you don’t have the right people to really accelerate (your efforts), you’re going to continue to struggle, spending a lot of time as an organization getting alignment,” said Keller of Cardinal.
So who are these “data scientists?” Asoka of Scotts said there’s no rigid set of skills that can flag a slam-dunk analytics hire – rather, it’s an employee’s relentless sense of curiosity, paired with proven experience in problem-solving, that’s key.
Efforts to develop these data scientists of tomorrow are under way all around the country, but Fisher and The Ohio State University are taking an especially aggressive approach. The university just this year unveiled an undergraduate major in data analytics set to be offered this fall.
At Fisher, Greco said, the college for years has been providing its students with the skills needed to work in analytics, but efforts are afoot to develop an undergraduate business analytics minor and a graduate major for full-time MBA students.
“Students with an outstanding business acumen and skills in logistics, supply chain, HR, finance and other areas combined with analytics will be the managers of the future,” Greco said.
This article appears in the April 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at email@example.com.
It’s the sea of information inside and outside your organization that’s so vast, and often so unstructured, it’s spawning a multibillion-dollar industry among those with the tools and skills to analyze it. It also has reaped huge benefits for a number of big-name companies, including Target and Amazon.com, among many, many others.
These days, though, big data isn’t just a game-changer for the retail and technology sectors. It holds promise for any industry, anywhere, and a wealth of potential lies in the field of operations management. But how do companies just wrapping their heads around the big data explosion harness, and profit, from it?
We’re exploring that very topic in the latest addition to our Leading Through Excellence summit, which kicks off exactly two weeks from today on Wednesday, April 9. On the final day of the summit, Friday, April 11, we’re offering you the chance to hear from leaders at three organizations that are making major inroads in big data and analytics: Anson Asoka, VP of global insights and analytics at COE member Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.; Andy Keller, VP of analytics and global process owner at COE member Cardinal Health; and Dihan Rosenburg, director of product planning at online information powerhouse LexisNexis. The panel will be moderated by Ralph Greco, director of the Business Analytics Initiative at the Fisher College of Business.
At this panel, set for the Fawcett Center theater after a morning address from restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, you’ll hear the ways in which these companies are leveraging big data from an operations perspective. They’ll also be on hand to take questions and scope trends in what will continue to be an increasingly important – and ever-challenging – facet of corporate growth and strategy.
Only six days remain to sign up for Leading Through Excellence before an April 1 price increase that applies to our COE members and non-members. Non-members, though, can save 10 percent on registration through March 31 by using discount code “save” at registration.
McKinsey & Co. Partner Krish Krishnakanthan shared a number of sharp insights about the application of lean principles to the world of information technology, but what seemed to resonate the most were his thoughts on how we view two very important features of any organization: Meetings and managers.
Meetings, Krishnakanthan (pictured) told a crowd of 80 at last week’s IT Leadership Network forum, often serve the function of an all-hands-on-deck “firefighting” session. Here, issues that could be resolved on individual team members’ time instead are tackled en masse, contributing very little value or eroding what value there is.
“Staff meetings truly have become problem-solving meetings, not status-reporting meetings,” Krishnakanthan said.
Where organizations often fail to contain much-dreaded waste in processes, he said, is in firmly establishing objectives among individual team members and leveraging “huddles” or meetings for valuable communication – not triage.
This same attraction to firefighting, Krishnakthanthan said, has seeped into the role of managers. These leaders, he said, should find themselves coaching their teams to develop the skills they need to solve problems – not solve the problems themselves.
“Most managers, though, would love to just solve the problem,” Krishnakanthan said, “and they get rewarded for this. A reward system must be built to reward really good problem solvers, not crisis managers.”
The key, he said, is to be a leader who knows how to ask the right questions, not jump to provide the answer.
Krishnakanthan was the featured speaker at COE’s sixth forum in its IT Leadership Network series, which began with a visit from Lean IT co-author Mike Orzen in April 2012. Check out go.osu.edu/ITLN for a look at past speakers and our upcoming events.
For Fisher’s Master of Business Operational Excellence cohort this year, paper is so 2011.
MBOE took the leap to become a paper-free program this year with each student of the 2012-13 cohort receiving an iPad. Students can now access all materials on the iPad using iTunes University, type in notes, and then access them anytime without flipping through pages within a huge binder.
A big thanks to Randy Spears and Jacob Bane in Fisher’s Information Technology Services, who helped make it happen and were on hand to walk students through the various applications and modules on orientation day this week.
Orientation takes place not only for our students but for coaches. As they were briefed in a separate room, eventually everyone got together to get acquainted. Bill Constantino senior partner at the W3 Group, introduced students the concept of Toyota Kata, a method that Toyota uses to innovate their products with built-in quality. He talked about change and what it takes human beings to change by posing this question: Why do humans have the ability to develop new neural synapses? That’s because humans have the ability to learn new things. Why is it then change is so hard? That’s because the uncertainty that lies between a current condition and target condition is not addressed in a way that facilitates change, Constantino said. So how do you address it? The answer is deliberate practice and asking the right questions over and over with a coach helping to do that. Some helpful questions to ask:
What is the current state?
What is the target condition?
What idea will you implement?
What do you expect to happen?
What did you learn?
The more people consistently follow this process, he said, change will become second nature.
With the work of MBOE also comes some play. We hosted an evening reception after orientation for students to relax and mingle with each other. Many students spent time with their coaches to get an understanding of the process, a great benefit the program offers by giving up-close access to major operational excellence experts.
With orientation finished, students began their year-long quest with the first official day.
Peg Pennington, Executive Director of COE, introduced the concept of systems thinking and exploring all possible root causes of any problem. The key to coming up with the right countermeasures/solutions to any problem is:
Define the problem
Understand the root causes of the problem
According to Peg, there are various tools available for root cause analysis, most of which are limited in some way. A cause map helps to deep dive into all possible reasons that led to the problem and also helps link to the corporate that is impacted because of the problem. Peg drove the point home interactively using various fun exercises.
In the afternoon, Gary Butler reinforced the learning on cause mapping by walking the students through analyzing the reasons behind the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle that killed seven astronauts in 1986. He also stressed upon defining metric and defining them S.M.A.R.T.ly (Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Actionable, Relevant/Reliable and Timely).