ATLANTA-Credit unions looking to improve efficiencies should first make sure they have a scorecard to track results.

That's the advice of Open Solutions' Rob Pinataro, VP strategic business engineering, who is leading a Lean Six Sigma program within Open Solutions to further improve the company's customer service and drive operational efficiencies.

Pinataro, a Six Sigma Black Belt (the program's second-highest skill ranking) with 12 years' experience in the well-known business-management strategies, said that without metrics, efficiency programs fail.

"In sports, teams have to have a way to keep score, otherwise they don't know why they are playing together and individuals head in their own direction," Pinataro said. "Process improvement programs have to have a way to pull everyone together and show how they are doing. Metrics do that."

Pinataro contended that many credit unions could be more efficient, and often have too many employees involved in a workflow. "There can be an awful lot of rework, things cycling around, and too many approvals," he said.

Open Solutions faced a similar situation a few years ago, and through Lean Six Sigma made a "huge transformation" in the service quality and timeliness of its image payments group. Headquartered in Glastonbury, Conn., Open Solutions is now using Lean Six Sigma on a new effort. "We have been through an important transformation of our company, acquiring and integrating a number of firms. We want to make sure that we are building a culture of continuous improvement to drive workflow efficiencies and improve the quality of customer service throughout the organization."

Lean Six Sigma drives process speed and quality. With Lean Six Sigma, Pinataro said Open Solutions is tracking to deliver results that exceed the metrics it has set out to achieve. "Again, though, it comes down to having a scorecard," he said.

But to get the right measurements, you have to first understand what the customer wants. Open Solutions did that through Six Sigma. "Six Sigma is ruthless about asking customers what they need. Often times, where companies fall short, is when process improvement programs rely on what internal people determine are the customers' needs. And, in those cases, they often settle for 'good enough.' Six Sigma shows you what your customers want and then Lean shows you how to improve your processes."

Open Solutions' current Six Sigma effort focuses on client services, implementation, and billing. The company's scorecard includes metrics around speed of case closure, speed and quality of on-time performance, and billing accuracy and clarity. Costs for Six Sigma tools are not high, Pinataro said, saying Open Solutions paid $2,000 for its curriculum.

To effectively run Lean Six Sigma, though, you have to have a mix of experienced Black Belts and employees newly trained on the program. "You cannot launch a Lean Six Sigma initiative with just freshly trained people," warned Pinataro. "You will fall flat on your face."

The first time it employed Lean Six Sigma, Open Solutions hired an experienced GE operations leader and an experienced GE Six Sigma Black Belt, and they have remained on staff. The company also hired additional Black Belts for the current initiative, and with employees newly trained, Open Solutions has a team of 13 Black Belts and Master Black Belts.

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