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Employee Spotlight – Efficiency and Innovation through Lean Six Sigma

Posted: 7/27/23


Service Type(s): #Careers and Culture


By investing in business excellence, innovative technology, and research and development, the Heritage Family works together to develop methods that create commercially viable solutions from what was once waste. Our teams and partners work with our customers to find industry-leading solutions to some of the most challenging wastestreams, revolutionizing our ability to turn waste into products.

One of our secret ingredients to success in this effort is our Lean Six Sigma program. A team-focused, process improvement strategy program, Lean Six Sigma seeks to improve process output by eliminating resource waste and defects. Fostering a culture of continuous improvement, this program empowers Heritage teams to identify and solve problems through their collaborative efforts.

At Heritage Environmental Services, we have a defined Lean Six Sigma team staffed with problem solvers to help us optimize and solution our customers’ toughest waste challenges. Here to tell that story is Ethan Puckett, Corporate Black Belt at Heritage Environmental Services. In today’s employee spotlight, Ethan shares more about the value business excellence provides, and how it positions us as an industry leader in innovation and strategic thinking.

As part of his role, Ethan leads Lean Six Sigma working groups on large-scale projects within the organization, or he leverages this skill set in other areas such as mentorship. “Lean Six Sigma is lots of things, but for me it’s most centered around a way of thinking about problems,” Ethan said. “It’s a structured way of thinking about a problem, such as a list of phases that you go through in order. As you’re tackling that problem data, you’re looking at it in a way that’s very helpful.”

This methodical problem-solving process provides clarity to his project groups, as they tackle complex problems spanning across multiple teams, regions, and data sets. “I think my favorite part of the problem-solving process has to do with the ‘a-ha’ moments that come from using these tools like these,” Ethan said. “It’s always a fun win for me when you can take this complicated problem and pair some data alongside it and then you find just the right tool to use at the right time for that group. You can just sit back at the end of it and say, ‘Wow, we have a really clear picture of what to do next.’”

A key part of this process is stripping away the things that don’t provide value, Ethan shared, and efficiency is a key concept of this approach. His team pursues efficient solutions that add value to our customers while getting rid of steps that maybe we’re doing multiple times. He said, “How can we get that down to just doing it once and doing it right that first time? That’s a concept that I think resonates with everybody. Let’s do things efficiently and be respectful of people’s time.”

At the core of this process is the partnership within the working project teams he leads. He said, “If we’re not doing our job well, it feels like we’re coming in as outsiders and trying to overhaul a process that we don’t know anything about. If we’re not embodying a partnership attitude and partnership position with the people that are dealing with these problems every day, we’re going to fail.”

In navigating this partnership, Ethan relies on efficiency, empathy, and respect. Learning from experts in each project area and being respectful of their time allows him to gain a better understanding of issues the team may be dealing with – and allows him to uncover new pieces of information that unlock new opportunities for the team. Ethan said, “Sometimes I think, ‘How do I step into this room and feel like I’m supposed to be the one leading the conversation?’ Its then that I have to lean on the skill set of being good facilitator of the conversation, knowing that I probably don’t know anything about this problem. Hopefully I learn a little bit along the way.”

With experts staffed across each one of our service areas boasting decades of experience, the Heritage family is defined by industry-leading perspectives, which fuel the Lean Six Sigma program. “That’s something we rely a lot on from the Lean Six Sigma side – we like to have process experts as part of these teams. Coming in as a Lean Six Sigma professional, we may not know anything in particular about the problem on day one, but we have the have the tool set and framework to bring to the table,” Ethan said. “We need process experts and there is no shortage of them here at Heritage. It makes our projects a lot of fun because we have so much expertise in a room with just a few people.”

This degree of expertise is invaluable in situations where it is clear from the beginning that the solution needed is something entirely new, Ethan said. On projects such as this, the team realizes they must develop a new tool to do something that’s never been done before – and the Lean Six Sigma skill set helps set the team up for success in innovation.

“It’s fun to know you’re building something new that solves a problem that we’ve dealt with for a long time, or that we’ve tried to fix in the past and just didn’t quite get there,” Ethan said. “Those projects are really fun for me because you do get to be really creative and you can come up with something that, if that group wasn’t together in the way that it is working on this project, you wouldn’t have achieved on your own.”

As Lean Six Sigma continues to add value at Heritage through successes like these, it also begins to grow and develop in the industry. “We’ve reached a point now where you bring up Lean Six Sigma concepts in a conversation and people are not completely unfamiliar with it,” Ethan said. “It’s really getting out there into HES as a whole and people are requesting that skill set for meetings or strategic projects that are not necessarily part of the Lean Six Sigma program.”

Through its investments in a forward-thinking approach like Lean Six Sigma – and staffing a group with its methodology as its sole focus – Ethan is proud of where Heritage is headed. Heritage’s prioritization of these efforts embody a philosophy of continuous improvement based on proactively serving our customers and the environment. “This group is seen as essential and the work that we do is seen as really important,” Ethan said. “I think business excellence and our commitment to it is something that makes us stand out. As industry leaders, it’s an area that we can really take pride in and say, ‘We know that we’re doing well, but we know that we can do even better – and we’re going to put resources behind that goal.’

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