My summer reading selection: Process improvement anyone?


I am one of those rare people that enjoys process; not rigid process and military-like discipline, but order. Wasted effort drives me insane. I’ve been on projects all through my career where I feel like the project teams are constantly reinventing the wheel, because nobody bothered to capture any documentation or information from the last time a similar initiative was executed.

If no knowledge is captured, then we miss the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and share vital information with others. There are two key areas we can address that help solve this dilemma – knowledge management and process improvement. To help you get started, I’ve got four books that I would like to recommend:

  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Lean Six Sigma, by the Breakthrough Management Group with Neil DeCarlo
    Don’t be put off by the title – I know it’s tough to walk around with a “Dummies” or “Complete Idiot” book, but slap a brown paper cover on it and get reading. This Idiot’s guide provides an excellent introduction to the Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology and gives you practical recommendations and tools for identifying improvement areas within your organization. My favorite quote from the book is: “If you don’t document how you do business, then you probably don’t do it very well or consistently.” I specifically want to recommend this book to my friends in the analytic community, because most large scale production modeling processes are in dire need of process improvement and would hugely benefit from an LSS initiative. (Another tip for those of you plagued by long running modeling processes – this link provides you with a way to capture performance statistics on your SAS jobs).
  • Visual Six Sigma: Making Data Analysis Lean, by Ian Cox et. al.
    This is a great book for Six Sigma fans who use JMP. The book provides step-by-step tips and tricks for analyzing your data along the DMAIC methodology. It’s practical, easy to follow, and shows you how to extend JMP to tackle process improvement initiatives. For those of you who are not mathematically inclined, this book walks you through the different analyses and how to interpret them.
  • Process Mapping, Process Improvement and Process Management, a Practical Guide for Enhancing Work and Information Flow, by Dan Madison
    I like this book so much that the pages are actually falling out. This book provides exhaustive details on ways to analyze processes from all directions, but it’s not a total geek book. There are some excellent chapters on how to identify and work with stakeholders, selling the concept to senior management and identifying “broken processes.” I also like the author’s perspective on enhancing information flow – the purpose of good process management is to create reusable, repeatable and scalable processes, but you can’t do that unless you have a knowledge flow that permeates the organization at all levels, which leads to my next choice …
  • Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow: How to Making Knowledge Sharing Work, by SAS’s own Chief Knowledge Officer, Frank Leistner.
    This book is a great companion piece to anyone engaged in project management or process improvement initiatives. Not only does this book give guidance on how to get started on knowledge flow initiatives, but points out some of the organizational and cultural barriers and tips for getting through them. Like all of the other books here, there is a strong focus on measuring and analyzing your knowledge initiatives. Frank also highlights a SAS case study around technical knowledge management called “Tool Pool” that has worked well internally.

I have also found time to sneak in some fiction and have recently enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy (on my iPad Kindle app, of course). What are you reading this summer?


About Author

Rachel Alt-Simmons

Business Transformation Lead - Customer Intelligence Practice

Rachel Alt-Simmons is a business transformation practitioner whose expertise extends to operationalizing analytic capabilities vertically and horizontally through organizations. As the Business Transformation Lead for customer analytics at SAS Institute, she is responsible for redesign and optimization of operational analytic workflow, business process redesign, training/knowledge transfer, and change management strategies for customers. Prior to SAS, Rachel served as Assistant Vice President, Center of Excellence, Enterprise Business Intelligence & Analytics at Travelers, and as Director, BI & Analytics, Global Wealth Management at The Hartford. Rachel Alt-Simmons is a certified Project Management Professional, certified Agile Practitioner, Six Sigma Black Belt, certified Lean Master, and holds a post as adjunct professor of computer science at Boston University’s Metropolitan College. She received her master’s degree in Computer Information Systems from Boston University.

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