Kevin McMullen finds operational efficiencies at Omnova Solutions

Kevin McMullen, Chairman, PResident and CEO, Omnova Solutions Inc.

Acquisitions left Omnova Solutions Inc. with a fragmented IT platform composed of 27 disparate systems several years ago, complicating communications for the emulsion polymer specialty chemicals and decorative and functional services company.

Omnova decided to standardize and streamline its platform using lean Six Sigma in its process improvement efforts, eventually choosing a new platform with SAP. This change cut costs and improved communications for the 2,300 employees among its facilities in America, Europe and Asia.

Chairman, President and CEO Kevin McMullen served as a panelist at the October Smart Business Toolbox Series presented by Hyland Software, speaking about lean manufacturing initiatives to drive success in a global economy. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A session.

What are keys for operational efficiencies?

It starts with a culture that is embedded with continuous improvement mentality. In everything you do, there’s an opportunity to improve it tomorrow better than you’re doing today. If you don’t have that as a culture, then a lot of the other things fall short of the mark.

Secondly, you clearly need to have solid leadership and solid capability for people to work on solving problems and improving process.

Third, it’s a framework. We chose lean Six Sigma as our primary framework for problem solving and operational excellence. It allows us to get a lot of people involved — the people that are closest to the action who know the most about any individual process.

What are the initial steps that need to be taken to get initiatives off the ground?

Are you really defining the problem that needs to be solved? Or are you trying to solve a symptom of the problem? Getting to the root causes of what the problem really is, and getting a very clear definition of the problem that you’re going to charter a team to go solve, is job one.  You need to involve a lot of people to get a lot of different perspectives on that to ensure you have the right problem.

One technique in lean Six Sigma is called the ‘five whys.’ We don’t do anything until we’ve asked the question ‘Why?’ five times to try to get to root cause.

After that, it’s making sure that you have the right team in place and the right resources in place to do it. Make sure that they understand what the business case is for — ‘Why is this worth me spending my time doing this? What are we going to achieve if Fraunhofer F we’re wildly successful?’ — so that everyone who’s involved in it understands what the goal is.

Who decides what the problem and goals are?

We will have top-down ideas of areas we think that there’s opportunity. We will then charter a team to study that and potentially redefine the problem but working in that area.

We will have a framework of what we think the improvement can be. We’ll ask the team as they are getting chartered and getting set up to reaffirm that ‘Yes, in fact, after we looked at this, we believe that this is the right problem to solve. Here are the metrics we think we should be held accountable for.’

Surprisingly enough, the metrics that they come up with are frequently tougher than the metrics we had from our top-down standpoint, because they’re closer to the issue and they believe that they can achieve things at certain rates.

How do you get buy-in for initiatives?

Once you really nail what the issue is and what the impact will be on your enterprise if you’re able to go from here to there, once you get that and you are able to communicate that effectively to people, all of a sudden buy-in becomes a lot easier.

I’ve seen a lot of situations with organizations where someone is promoting going one direction or another and they don’t really have a strong business case. People are questioning, ‘Why do we want to do that? Is this motivated out of some other reason?’

The biggest detractors of saying, ‘There’s no way we should do that,’ you want to get them involved. Maybe they have a great idea that’s actually going to help improve what you’re going to do from A to B.

If they’re involved in coming up with the answer, they’re very enthusiastic about seeing it through.