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Speaker will discuss efficiency strategies

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West Coast innovation consultant Peter Coughlan thinks Lean Six Sigma — an intricate business process used to maintain efficiency — doesn’t always go far enough to help companies evolve.

And on March 4 at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon, Coughlan will be on hand to explain why.

Coughlan, a staff member with the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., will deliver the keynote speech at the chamber’s annual luncheon at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center. And when that wraps up, he’ll conduct a two-and-a-half hour innovation workshop to give participants a taste of how observation, brainstorming and valuing ideas over corporate titles can help companies grow.

“Six Sigma is used to design the thing right. Sometimes you have to take a step back and ask, ‘Are we designing the right thing?’ Rather than polishing our favorite process, maybe we need to replace it entirely,” said Coughlan, who has worked with Columbus Regional Hospital on becoming more patient-focused when tweaking hospital processes. “That’s the sort of freedom you want to have.”

Work with hospital

Lynne Maguire, chief strategy officer with Columbus Regional, said Coughlan worked with the hospital about two years ago when he was a part of IDEO consultants, another Palo Alto-based think tank.

Coughlan’s approach to identifying problems usually starts with observation, which Maguire called “a helpful and powerful tool.

“We all want to be more customer-centered, but there is a natural tendency to design systems around ourselves or the way we have always done things,” Maguire said.

Instead, Coughlan recommends beginning from ground zero.

At Columbus Regional, the design process began with a small group taking a hospital tour and watching as patients were admitted and discharged, Coughlan said in a telephone interview.

Maguire said observing patients in a real-life setting revealed ways to make improvements at the hospital.

One eventual change was appointing health coaches to work with diabetic patients by phone and in face-to-face meetings between their doctors’ visits to improve health outcomes.

“These were lay people (not doctors or nurses) assigned to specific patients. The idea was to help the patient stay on track with measuring the insulin they take or watching their diet,” Maguire said.

It’s not brand new for an organization to listen to its customers to find better approaches to care, Maguire said, but Coughlan’s approach relies on different tools than a sales team might use.

“Most of us who come from a business background are accustomed to focus groups and customer interviews as tools to use when doing marketing research,” Maguire said. “But observation works, too.”

Sometimes it reveals truths that even the consumer can’t envision yet.

“It’s like the famous saying attributed to inventor Henry Ford,” Maguire said, referring to his creation of the Model-T automobile. “Ford said, ‘If I had asked the customer what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.’”

The power of us

Coughlan said taking that great leap forward as a company or organization requires brave leadership willing to relinquish control to let a true 360-degree evaluation of products and processes occur.

“This is a group process,” Coughlan said, “and it starts with participants telling stories from their own experience and being open to all sorts of ideas.”

In a true innovative approach to mastering change, bosses and underlings are equals, he said.

“Often the people who know the most are those on the front lines implementing things, not the CEO,” Coughlan said.

“You should be open to brainstorming hundreds of ideas; then you choose a few, experiment, make them real, gather data and get feedback about what’s working,” he said.

“A colleague of mine says you always have to keep your knees bent to adjust to new information. You never really know where things are going. There will be change,” Coughlan said. “But you create a process that makes sure that even if your path shifts, the next step moves you toward something better.”

Topics of workshop

Coughlan’s Columbus workshop next month will focus on two topics.

One will be how to make Columbus a more welcoming city, and various subtopics that could spin off from that, he said. Another topic will be about creating a business-friendly environment.

Cindy Frey, president of the chamber, said she’s particularly excited that Coughlan is willing to spend additional time leading the afternoon workshop as part of his visit.

“The fact that he has offered to take us through an interactive workshop ... will allow participants to use design thinking to develop innovative responses to community challenges. It’s a unique opportunity to teach the concepts of human-centered design to a large number of local business, community and government leaders. We’ll also invite design students from Ivy Tech and IUCA+D,” Frey said.

Coughlan said his luncheon speech will discuss how to become a more innovative city.

Columbus Chamber of Commerce luncheon

What: 2014 annual meeting, awards presentation

When: 11:30 a.m. March 4

Where: Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, 2480 Jonathan Moore Pike

Speaker: Peter Coughlan, an organizational change consultant on staff at the Institute of the Future, a non-profit in Palo Alto, Calif.

Background: Coughlan has more than 20 years’ experience applying research and design methods to help clients envision and implement projects to manage growth or adapt their operations for the future.

Career: He previously spent 15 years at IDEO, a global consulting firm.

Up close: In addition to speaking, Coughlan will illustrate how highly successful organizations foster an innovative mindset at a special workshop. It will take place from 2 to 4:30 p.m., immediately after the annual luncheon.

How to register: Cost to register is $45 per person. Visit or call 379-4457.

Source: Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce

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