In our new series, we talk to our experts about how to navigate what’s next in their industries or fields.
Ken Stark is the Operational Excellence Lead in Indianapolis with over 20 years of experience as a process improvement leader in high volume transactional and service environments across the healthcare, finance and insurance industries. Before Centric, Ken worked for more than 11 years at UnitedHealth Group as a Master Black Belt. Ken and his wife live in the Indianapolis area. When he is not working, Ken enjoys blending his process improvement background and desire to create with woodworking and DIY projects.
What’s your story? Why did you decide to become part of your field?
I drank the process improvement kool-aid early on, probably before I even labeled with a specific methodology.
Process makes sense to me. It is structured, has a beginning and end, is measurable, and has some defined output. So, when I worked for a supplemental health insurance company 20 years ago, and they implemented a process excellence program (Six Sigma), I was hooked.
I’d had exposure to Six Sigma through my MBA program and other professional readings and realized that was the space I wanted to work in.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever received?
Not so much feedback, but a saying: “If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right.” As a process improvement professional, I often find myself in an industry or space I am not familiar with and certainly not a subject matter expert in.
So, I break down that space into processes and consume those a bite at a time. It helps me understand what is happening and gives me confidence that I can, rather than I can’t!
How are you guiding clients right now?
With so much technology available today for businesses to apply to their work, one of my key efforts is to help e-clients think process first, then technology. That guidance starts with asking questions, listening and then asking more questions.
If I can’t understand the challenges and pain points a client faces, how would I ever be able to propose an answer to their problem, let alone a technology solution? When a client says they’d like to implement a given technology as a solution, I will always partner with them to ensure they have addressed any underlying process issues first before enabling that process with technology.
What, in your opinion, do companies need the most help with right now?
They just don’t know where to start. They have a myriad of business challenges to address, but either don’t have:
- The structure to identify and prioritize issues and challenges (pipeline)
- The skills and knowledge to lead, manage and execute against that pipeline (program management and operational excellence resources)
- The structure and support to enable managing those initiatives across the broader enterprise (enterprise program management)
- Or any combination of these.
Having a partner help them figure out where and how to start can be the first step.
What do you think they should be thinking about next?
Clients should be thinking about where they are in their process improvement journey and evolution. Consider a simple maturity model with “Minimal Process Focus” on the left of a continuum and “Optimized Processes” at the other end of the continuum. Clients should continually assess where they are on this continuum and then take purposeful steps to move them to a higher level of process excellence.
What are you looking forward to in your industry?
There is always some new approach to improving processes, usually supported by a new or repurposed technology. One example I recently came across was using software to do process mining — in essence, using an application to connect to systems and have it ‘mine’ its way through data in that system to map out the flow of process and information.
But at the end of the day, whether I’m using technology or post-it notes, I’m looking forward to helping the next client solve their problems.
What do you do when you’re not guiding clients?
My wife and I are big DIY’ers, and I am a woodworker. This means you can find us around the house or in the workshop working on projects. During the pandemic, we used the time to complete a lot of projects around the house (made copper-topped walnut tables for great room, made master bed frame, headboard and end tables for bedroom, and put up wainscotting in the dining room.