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Relevance of Lean Six Sigma in the times of COVID-19

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The lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was announced when Bajaj Allianz General Insurance was amidst a major lean six sigma driven re-engineering-cum-transformation program!

Lean Six Sigma mainly focuses on collaborative team effort that helps enhance efficiency and improve performance by methodically discarding any waste and bring down any fluctuations in the system. This approach plays a critical role in an organization’s culture, wherein it focuses on process optimization which contributes towards increasing profitability and maximizing efficiency. The lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 was announced when we were amidst a major lean six sigma driven re-engineering-cum-transformation program! The value of all the process maps developed by the six sigma team came to the fore when we shifted overnight and seamlessly to digital servicing. Below are some of the benefits that ensued:

  • When using digital collaboration tools to conduct meetings, the detailed process maps made up for the missing whiteboards & marker pens!
  • SOP’s for the new normal could be developed very quickly!!
  • Six sigma is about both content and rigor. The rigor of virtual meetings helped bring a sense of sanity – people felt the same degree of professionalism even while working from home.

As they say, worry is misuse of the imagination. In classic lean six sigma, worry is, therefore, waste! We leveraged six sigma to keep increase our efficiency and productivity. The two key components which contributed were:

  • Digital learning – we conducted a series of virtual training programs on various aspects of our business.
  • Digital connect – even as employees were physically and socially distanced, we kept them digitally and emotionally connected via virtual birthday parties and a variety of engagement activities for both employees and families – the competitions included master chef, a live concert on Mother’s Day, poster making, singing, music, a trip down the memory lane etc. It reminds me of the famous words from Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is Success.”

Problem-solving lies at the core of six sigma. We quickly trained our associates on deployment of six sigma tools since they are on their own working from home in the new normal. Not only have our grievances come down by 90% from the pre-COVID era, the stream of appreciations flowing in from partners & customers alike is a huge testimony to the deployment of six sigma methodology & tools by our team members day in and day out as they cope with new problems during the current lockdown and solve them real-time with no one to reach out physically! 

Agility is an understated and often misunderstood aspect of six sigma. When some of our branches across the country were re-opened in a staggered manner after the gradual lifting of the lockdown, we had to ensure comprehensive training of our employees on social distancing and safety protocols.  Also, given the amoebic propensity with which branches were falling in & out of the red zone category, employees had to be trained to take decisions at very short notice and handle unprecedented situations with élan. As always, six sigma came to the rescue in terms of detailed SOP’s and rigorous training of employees on the various aspects mentioned above. 

Various processes across the enterprise were put to the test during COVID-19. Six sigma rigor prior to the lockdown helped us ensure a seamless shift to digital servicing and aided us to be on top when the situation changed day to day, with all hitherto drawn up plans getting defenestrated. I believe that Six sigma rigor after the lockdown will also help us institutionalize all the process changes and learnings during the current phase. 

Productivity, be it measurement of activity or output, becomes extremely topical during the work-from-home era. Again, we leveraged six sigma to come up with clear process metrics and outcome-based metrics for our associates. Our bouquet of hourly, daily, weekly and monthly metrics have helped us zero in on the voice of process before it moves to the voice of the customer. In other words, if you are sharp enough to catch the yellow signals based on measurement of the process, you can ensure they don’t turn red in terms of receiving negative feedback from the customer.  

The key to incorporation of six sigma rigor in all that you do is practise, practise and practise! As rightly stated by Malcolm Gladwell, “Practise isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

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Posted by KV Dipu

Mr. KV Dipu is President & Head of Operations and Customer Service at Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company, ranked #8 amongst the top 100 global digital insurers. He spearheads the digital transformation drive at Bajaj Allianz GIC, leveraging start-ups from fintech/insure tech globally, while leading a team of ~1600 people in 170 locations. A management graduate from India’s “Ivy League” (IIM), he joined Bajaj Allianz GIC in 2016 after a stellar career of nearly 20 years with GE Capital. Mr. Dipu is a certified lean six sigma black belt. Many of his accomplishments have received industry awards & press coverage. A speaker & author on digital transformation & innovation at various domestic & global industry forums / publications, he has been recognized by various industry forums for his inspirational leadership, with two of his latest leadership awards being BFSI Leadership Award 2020 & 50 Fabulous Innovative Leaders Award 2020. Mr. Dipu writes a monthly column on leadership for a New York based website & is a monthly columnist on the digital world in a newspaper

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