• Global savings and investment provider serving over 30 million customers in over 20 countries.
  • Founded in 1831 as Scottish Equitable and became part of Aegon in 1998.
  • Manages over EUR 825 billion in assets* on behalf of savers and investors worldwide.
  • In the UK, Aegon offers retirement, workplace savings and protection solutions to around two million customers, and employs more than 3,000 staff.

A Personal Perspective from the View of the Leader

This Study takes the form of an interview…

Wayne Fisher talks to Martin Brenig-Jones about his time at Aegon and getting Lean Six Sigma started – Walking us through the process and requirements of the programme with the objective of reducing the cost of hiring external project resources to complete problem solving projects.

Wayne Fisher

Former Head of Process Excellence, Aegon

Lean Six Sigma, why did you start it?


Wayne – I started our LSS Programme due to a business need. There was a requirement to help the Operation to become more self-sufficient when it came to conducting their own incremental change and continuous improvement. Change resource was being fully utilised on the larger Transformational Change at time and the organisation was spending over £20M in Change, contracting consultants and other resources to assist in projects.

Before you started what did you think / what previous experience had you had?


Wayne – at the start of our journey we had some strong sponsorship in place both from the CEO and Change Director, so I had confidence that I had good backing for the programme. At this stage, I had experience within the process improvement arena, but had never performed the role of a Deployment Champion and set up a company-wide programme of this size.


I was also aware that the skills and knowledge that I had in my process excellence team was mixed and many were not necessarily experienced change professionals or indeed the right people to perform the role. I had inherited the team shortly before the decision to start up the Lean Six Sigma Deployment programme. This made me nervous because my team would be deemed the experts when many were quite new to this themselves.


Expectations were also very high to ensure that we delivered benefits from the programme very early on. The organisation was going through a massive transformational change on the back of the financial crisis and employees were nervous about the reason that our team was in place.

How did you get started?


Wayne – the first area for me was to ensure that I had the right sponsorship in place to support the programme. Luckily I had the support of the CEO and Change Director and my advice would be to establish a senior executive to endorse the programme for you.

I realised that I needed some support to help set up a deployment programme of this size and magnitude and sought consultancy support. I assessed the current capability of the Process Improvement Team, we had currently only aligned the Customer Services division and were then due to face off to the entire Organisation. Key activities at this stage was to understand our key stakeholders across the organisation and understand their level of engagement.


I also had to review the current capability of the process improvement team that I had inherited. Many of my team had not been trained in Lean Six Sigma and were going to be viewed as the experts when in fact they were just learning too. For me, we had to make some difficult decisions and move some people who did not necessarily possess the softer skills such as good communication, relationship building and effective stakeholder management. The team went on the Green Belt training first and each were given a project to help them achieve their own accreditation. A coaching framework was put in place and regular surgeries with our consultants were put in place to provide additional support to the team.


We also built in a solid communication plan and framework to help us promote the programme and the team. Regular updates were cascaded via the CEO, we took a thermometer / pulse check at the start of the programme to assess the organisation’s awareness and if they had heard of Lean Six Sigma. Figures were initially low, but 6 months later awareness had moved up to over 80%.


I also linked in with HR to look at ways in which we could incorporate the Lean Six Sigma principles into the behavioural framework of the organisation and started to add Lean Six Sigma experience to all jobs advertised moving forward within the company.

What were you trying to achieve? (I realise there is a bit of overlap)


Wayne – Our main aim was to cut out the annual £20M cost of hiring external project resource to complete problem solving projects. It was also key to equip people across the business with the skills and knowledge to manage their own small change agenda and make process improvement a way of working.

What were the biggest barriers?


Wayne – we faced a number of barriers which included:-


  • The organisation was going through a massive transformation and many saw our programme as a means to make people redundant
  • The organisation had used LSS before and the approach did not land well. People had been sheep dipped and the training was not used to deliver change. This was seen before, but not driven from the top with no real sponsorship. We therefore had an uphill battle to change perception
  • The Process Improvement team had been forced to downsize just before the programme started and some key experience had left leaving a largely inexperienced team in its place. The team were deemed the experts when they were still only learning
  • Aegon operated in silos and departments up and down stream did not work well together, this did not help when trying to improve end to end processes that stretched across a number of departments
  • There was a real lack of a provision of good data across the company, that made data collection more challenging and often more time consuming and manual

What were the greatest successes?


Wayne – the successes included:-


  • We accredited over fifty green belts within an 18 month timeframe. Projects landed were across HR, Customer Services, Finance, Marketing, Sales, Risk and Compliance and IT
  • Accredited 3 Black Belts and 2 LSS Champions Belts
  • Set up our own in house Yellow Belt training programme, becoming self-sufficient in our own training delivery at this level and trained 200 individuals across the business
  • Stopped the annual cost of £20M on external contract resource
  • Paid back the cost in training investment on the Process Improvement team within the first six months

With hindsight, what would you do differently?


Wayne – I believe that the deployment model used in Aegon was an ideal approach that I would replicate elsewhere again. The early stages of the deployment were key and that included individual face to face meet and greets with the Executive team to help gauge their level of support. Having the CEO as the programme sponsor gave us the best platform of support and helped to overcome barriers. Allowing the Executive team to volunteer their areas to go through the training and start working on areas of improvement worked well. We used the pull effect.


Two key areas that we engaged with early on were both HR and Finance. These areas were key in the development of our deployment. Finance from a benefits perspective who helped to put a structure in place for the confirmation and sign off of benefits and HR from a People perspective. HR helped by helping to feed some of the key LSS principles into the DNA and behavioural framework of the organisation.


One area that I would consider doing differently is to ensure that anyone attending the Green Belt training had a project identified with a supportive sponsor in place and commitment that the individual would get time to work on delivering their initiative. Often the projects where a sponsor wasn’t engaged or in place were the ones that fell by the wayside.

What advice would you give to other leaders?


Wayne – Some advice I would give includes:-

  • Have patience, embedding a culture such as this does not happen overnight. Identify your supporters early on to help you on the journey, don’t do this alone. Not everyone will see things the way you do, use those that get you to bring others along
  • Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Identify a strong area and supporter and use them as partner to prove the concept works. Once you have a success story to share it makes the journey so much easier
  • Join Process Improvement networks. This is a great way to share best practice and speak to others who have been on a similar journey. I have picked up so many good hints and tips along the way from this kind of channel
  • Get yourself a mentor or coach qualified in this arena that can help guide you and give advice to build your own expertise
  • Set up a robust governance structure that includes a programme board which is attended by senior champions and meets regularly to discuss progress in terms of project delivery, benefits, training plans and sharing best practice. Your governance structure should include a clear plan of initiatives in progress, a mechanism for tracking benefits and an active communication plan
  • Work with the business in partnership using a pull effect, do not impose yourself on an area. Identify the areas of pain and offer support to help alleviate these. Ask what is keeping the director awake at night
  • Recruit the right people, you need a team who are good communicators, have a positive mind set and have strong stakeholder management skills who work well with others. The technical skills can be taught, the softer skills are more innate.

Anything else you’d like to say that might be helpful?


Wayne – To recognise the pressure that my team were under to pass their Green Belt exam and gain full accreditation status rapidly, I also opted to complete my own training and accreditation at LSS Champions level. This sent out a supportive message to the team and also demonstrated the intent of the programme.

This interview case study is an excerpt from our book Lean Six Sigma for Leaders

You can find the book and learn more about Lean Six Sigma on Amazon.

“Over the past 18 months we have developed a strong, positive working relationship with Catalyst with a huge emphasis on transferring Lean Six Sigma skills and knowledge into the business. Catalyst’s friendly and flexible approach makes them easy to work with.”

Wayne Fischer, Former Head of Process Excellence, Aegon

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