Tom Pyzdek  |  08/30/2008

Beyond the “0”

Breaking even isn’t good enough.

Steve McDowell, CEO of TechDyno, looked quizzically at the smiling young woman standing at the front of the room. Lorraine Whitcombe finished her presentation by enthusiastically declaring, “That’s how my group will ‘Go for the O!’” That’s when Steve’s expression changed from interested to something resembling a layman at a particle physics convention.

Mary Scott, director of the contact center, cringed. This was Lorraine’s first day back at the contact center from her maternity leave. The day her leave began was the very day Steve McDowell took over as TechDyno’s new CEO. Lorraine had no way of knowing how completely the world of TechDyno had changed in her absence. Steve had deployed Quality 2.0, which was as different from the traditional way of managing a business as night was from day.

Steve had asked for briefings from Mary’s staff regarding future plans, and because Lorraine’s area was the largest in the contact center, she was scheduled to go first. Mary hadn’t considered that Lorraine had missed the transition, the training, and the initial rollout of Quality 2.0. As a result, she delivered a presentation on the program that was going strong when she started her leave. The program was called “Go for the O!” The idea was to reduce costs in the contact center so that they matched the fees customers were charged for basic technical support. Zero additional funding would come from the business units. Zero, as in 0.

“Go for the O?” Steve asked.

Mary explained the general idea to Steve. Steve laughed aloud and motioned for Lorraine to take a seat. “Thanks, Lorraine. I appreciate the effort you put into this, and I realize that such a goal was once good enough.” He looked around the conference table at the assembled managers. “So the goal was to break even? That won’t do. I need to have this contact center, and every other contact center, earn the same return on investment as the business units. The BUs can’t make their numbers if you guys settle for breaking even.”

“I’ve discussed this with my team, Steve,” Mary answered. “Let me tell you where we are and show you our plan.” She clicked the mouse and the graphic seen in figure 1, below, appeared on the screen. “We brainstormed to come up with ways that we might move the contact center drivers. Then we conducted affinity analysis of the brainstorm ideas and used the affinity categories to develop strategies for each stakeholder driver. We know from our training that there are several mechanisms that we can use to deploy our strategies, such as Six Sigma and lean projects, continuous improvement, and most important, changing the way we think about our operations.”


Steve studied the chart. “You’ve done a good job of summarizing the process, Mary. Congratulations to you and your team on that. But there’s something missing. Can you guess what it is?”

Mary paused and studied the graphic. Then she brightened. “Before we start deployment we need to prioritize the strategies. We’ll use the analytic hierarchical process [AHP] to do that. We’ll develop metrics to operationalize our strategies. Then we can use the AHP weights and metrics to develop gemba plans; that’s where we can learn how to develop really exciting contact center products to offer to our customers… from the customers themselves.”

Steve smiled. “You’ve got it, Mary! I’m an action-oriented guy, but you need to make the up-front effort to be sure that the actions you take are the right ones. Once you fill in the missing pieces, the change activities on the left side of the graphic should be properly focused.”

Steve stood and scanned the group. “Go for the goal, people!” he said with a wink.


About The Author

Tom Pyzdek’s picture

Tom Pyzdek

Thomas Pyzdek’s career in business process improvement spans more than 50 years. He is the author more than 50 copyrighted works including The Six Sigma Handbook (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Through the Pyzdek Institute, he provides online certification and training in Six Sigma and Lean.