Interview with Kim C. Kubiak – Six Sigma Green belt with 3 completed projects.

SSCE had the opportunity to interview Kim Kubiak, a certified Six Sigma Green Belt who has worked on 3 different improvement projects for her organization. Kim works in manufacturing as the production manager for a chemical company in the Northeast.

The company develops compounds for new drug therapies. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management and over 12 years of experience in her current position.
SSCE – Kim, thank you for talking with us today. How did you come to work for this company, in this position?

Kim – I started with the company about 15 years ago. I worked in the business development office for a year, then I transferred to production, where I worked as a supervisor. In my third year the production manager position opened up, and I was offered the job. I’ve held that position ever since.

SSCE – When were you first introduced to Six Sigma?

Kim – I was introduced to it as soon as I was hired. I had to take a short class on it during orientation. I wasn’t involved with any projects until I was promoted to production supervisor. Part of my promotion required me to get certified as a Green belt. The company has an in-house Master Black Belt who conducts all the training and he certified me.  I also took an online certification program.

SSCE – How long did the training take?

Kim – About 3 weeks. Then I shadowed another Green Belt who had experience for a while.

SSCE – What was the first project you worked on?

Kim – My first six sigma project involved analyzing the logistics involved with our glass vials. We would find ourselves in a position where we would have excess supply one month, then limited supply the next. It was creating slowdowns in our manufacturing process.

SSCE – Why was excess inventory a problem?

Kim – There are stringent sterilization requirements on medical supplies, so having inventory sitting around for months unused is not permitted. There also simply wasn’t enough room to store them.

SSCE – This sounds like a difficult first project.

Kim – It wasn’t too bad because our Black Belt had a lot of experience. I also used a lot of reference books like the book SSCE recommends, Lean Six Sigma Demystified (ISBN: 978-0-07-175949-6) and the Green Belt Core Concept Guide.

SSCE – What did you find out during the project?

Kim – We didn’t have an automated way to reorder the vials. Basically the person in charge of ordering the vials was just eyeballing the supply and reordering when they felt the inventory was low. There was no set process to automatically trigger a reorder.

SSCE – Did you purchase new inventory tracking software to correct the issue?

Kim – Surprisingly no, they took a very low-tech approach, but it worked. We used 5S techniques to organize the inventory boxes along a wall. The vials were then removed in order as needed. Since demand was consistent, we marked a spot on the wall. When that box was taken, the inventory manager knew to reorder.

SSCE – That was the solution?

Kim - Haha, yes! It was very low-tech, but it worked.

SSCE – That’s more of a 5S approach. I guess not all projects need a high-tech solution. That’s probably a good lesson for other companies.

Kim – Probably yes. The point of a six sigma project is to save money, not spend money on high-tech solutions.

SSCE – Tell us about your second project.

Kim – The second project revolved around pharmaceutical billing. This was a much bigger project that involved the entire company, not just our department. It was spread out over several states.

SSCE – Were you deeply involved?

Kim – On the production side yes, but the problem they were trying to fix was on the billing side. I believe there was shrinkage on the books and they were trying to figure out why production showed more output than what was being billed. The problem was discovered, but it was on the billing side, so I never got feedback on the final solution. The production process was fully analyzed though, which was good. We found some small items we could fix that improved profits a little.

SSCE – The third project is still ongoing, correct?

Kim – Yes, this project is focused on food allergy research and the insurance claims process. The project is looking at the process for insurance claims to ensure accurate billing, reimbursement, accuracy of claims and resolve rejections. There is a lot of regulations around the manufacturing process and we need to coordinate with insurance companies on aspects of production. We use a log of lean techniques because production is so complex. The value stream has to be perfect.

SSCE – What processes do you use?

Kim – We implement the Kano model and break our products down into classes. It’s all about ensuring value and safety. There are a lot of critical-to-quality characteristics that need to be considered.

SSCE – I assume these help you remove variation in manufacturing?

Kim – Yes, there is no room for common-cause variation. The human systems are eliminated as much as possible. The system is highly complex. We do try to remove complexity when possible. Complexity escalates under volume.

SSCE – It sounds like continuous improvement is very important to your company.

Kim – Yes, it is at the forefront of everything we do. We have many government contracts and they all require Lean processes be in place.

SSCE – Does every project go through the full DMAIC method?

Kim – For the most part yes, although sometimes you can find problems quickly and very little “Measure stage” processes are needed. Sometimes we’ll validate the data that’s been collected in the analyze stage. These are usually the small Kaizen sprints that we’ll take on within our own department.

SSCE – So you’ll convert the statistical solution to a practical solution.

Kim – Exactly, this is why most of the six sigma projects we take on are successful. It’s important to keep things as simple as possible.

SSCE – Does your company leadership ever do Genchi Genbutsu, or Gemba walks?

Kim – Oh yes, all the time. The CEO of the company walks our department at least once a month and watches our processes, even if there isn’t a problem.

SSCE – Do you feel all these projects have a positive financial impact?

Kim – Yes, our profit margins are very high and the company has never had to lay anyone off. We even saw strong profits during the height of the Corona Virus, when only essential personnel were allowed in the office.

SSCE – Kim, that you so much for talking with us and good luck on your future six sigma projects.
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