As change has become a mantra in the business world, executive responsibilities and job titles are evolving quickly. An occasional series this summer will ask Canadians about how their roles are changing.
New Title: Director, Continuous Improvement
Who: Callie Woodward, Director of CI at Tim Hortons, since late 2007
How did your role come to be?
In about late 2007 we were trying to increase operational efficiencies in our warehouses. We had done a bit of an experiment working with a consultant using the lean philosophy [a strategy traditionally used by manufacturing companies to eliminate waste in time and resources] at one warehouse.
We were trying to reduce the time between when an order comes in and when it gets out the door. They looked at how they schedule staff, the routes within the warehouse, where they keep the tools …. We had great success at that warehouse and after that, the executive team said 'Wow, what if we did this more broadly within the organization?' So we set out to look at key areas and tried to understand where we could remove waste. We looked at the new products group, new restaurant and renovations development, and the supply chain.
I had a little bit of background in process work and organizational design from previous jobs. [The executive team] said we need somebody to manage this program, and my name came up, so managed it as a project as part of my regular job. At the time I was the manager of human resources for the corporate office.
Fast forward through the years and I very quickly ended up doing the facilitation [of continuous improvement across the entire organization] … assembled a small team in the organization, and built an apprentice program. There are about 25 people across the organization studying lean [right now.] We started as the lean team and became the continuous improvement department.
How did your department help in the development of new products such as the Tim Hortons latte?
We have a new product innovation and introduction process and I started with that group in early 2008. We started by analyzing current state [of our products] and starting to design future state … I helped them create the process that brings new products to market. You want a good quality product that the consumer values, you want it to be easy for restaurant owners to produce consistently across all locations, and you want to bring it to market as soon as you can.
For the latte project, we had very aggressive time lines. It would normally have taken us 12 months, and we did it in six. That was through understanding what you call "parallel pass." Process steps are usually sequential, but in carefully analyzing the process you can figure out which [steps] you can run concurrently without causing risk to the project. [In dong that] we cut our time line in half, which was great.
What's your typical day like?
I walk the gemba – a Japanese term for where the work happens. I do not hide behind my desk. I walk around. I talk to people. I find out what's going on, what's working and what isn't … A good part of my day is spent on that.
Employees in the organization know [our department] and they can send us ideas in general. We pool [the ideas] and try to prioritize them.
I spend a good portion of my day coaching people in the organization who want to make an improvement in their area. They are capable and willing to do it, they just need a bit of coaching and guidance on the approach and philosophy.
We also facilitate workshops or educational sessions. We're always trying to teach people: First learn how to see the waste and recognize what your end consumer values, and then learn how to get them that value sooner or eliminate the waste.
How do you prepare for a job like this?
I started in human resources and evolved. When I look back in my career I've probably been working on [continuous improvement] for 15 years, but it's never been called this.
At [lean] conferences, [most people would have] an engineering background and I would be the one person, saying 'I used to work in HR.' They're like 'What are you doing here?' But my background in this area has been recognized for giving me a specific advantage to integrate [continuous improvement] successfully within our culture. [Coming from a my background is] one of the emerging trends in lean work. I know this person does that in their job and I know how departments work, so there's an advantage to really understanding organizational design.
You need to have your credentials in lean or Six Sigma [the business management strategy developed by Motorola in the 1980s]. You need to understand what the philosophy is at its core, and how to apply it within your own company culture.
Why should other organizations have a director of continuous improvement?
It's a very competitive world. What you do when you have continuous improvement is you look inside your organization … and you get more from the same – the same dollars, the same people – by removing waste. I see it as a big competitive advantage.
If you think of the areas of your business that truly drive your revenue, and you get every employee in your business focusing on that, then you have something powerful.
What have you learned in your role?
I've learned that the people who do the work are closest to the problems, but they're [also] closest to the solutions. The more you empower people to fix those problems, the more you can get them fixed at the root source.
You've got to realize problems are treasures …You want people to bring them to you. The more you follow those clues [the more you will learn] about the organization.
You really have to be passionate about your customer, about giving them the ultimate experience. And you have to have perseverance. We started in 2007, there are still tons of opportunities. You've got to be curious and you can't be afraid to ask questions.
And you've got to be humble. You don't know all the answers, people know more than you, but you [need to be] absolutely confident that the answers are right in front of you. As long as you can ask those questions and work with those people, you're going to solve the crux of the organization's issues.
And how do you get your Tim's fix?
I drink lemonade in the summer, and lattes in the winter.