Transcript: Publishing Innovation The Lean Six Sigma Way

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Interview with Dan Filby, CEO, HighWire Press

For podcast release Monday, December 7, 2015

KENNEALLY: Measurement and analysis – these are fundamental activities in the laboratory. Together they help to guide researchers toward discoveries and innovation. As elements in the Lean Six Sigma management doctrine, measurement and analysis help identify deficiencies in a given organization and to address business problems.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book. Lean Six Sigma and its doctrinal parent, Six Sigma, have seen successful adoption at numerous manufacturers and technology firms, including Honeywell, General Electric, Verizon and IBM. At HighWire Press, a leading e-publishing platform, Lean Six Sigma is the CEO’s chosen method for making over scholarly publishing and re-invigorating the scientific media ecosystem. That CEO, Dan Filby, joins me now from his Redwood City, California office. Welcome to Beyond the Book, Dan.

FILBY: Thank you, Chris. Happy to be here.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’re looking forward to chatting with you – an interesting approach and a very important part of the publishing ecosystem at HighWire Press.

We’ll tell people about your background briefly. Dan Filby is Chief Executive Officer at HighWire. He has more than 20 years of experience leading global organizations, from Fortune 500 brands to startups. Prior to HighWire, Dan was president of First Advantage’s Corporate Tax, Transportation Management, and Employee Verification businesses. He’s held key management positions at Oracle, Workshare and GE Capital. And important to the discussion on Lean Six Sigma, he is a Lean Six Sigma black belt, and he earned a master certification in Lean Six Sigma from Villanova University.

And Dan, there’s a lot to get to in the discussion right now. But I want to start at kind of a high level, which you really have a great advantage at HighWire Press – the HighWire Press works with more than 3,000 journals, book publishers and reference publishers, and you also offer Bench>Press, which is this manuscript submission service and tracking. So you see things at the 30,000-foot level. Tell us about the ongoing transformation of scholarly publishing. To you – I mean obviously this is driven by digital, but it’s really so much more about that. It’s about innovation.

FILBY: It really is. We’re seeing some trends that I think are creating pressure points but also opportunities in the industry for people. And in some respects, I think the categories of these trends may have remained consistent for some time but the way that they’re taking shape going forward perhaps is changing a little bit.

We clearly see a lot of focus on improving productivity, thinking about the reader as an example and making sure that they have the ability to see things quickly, skim articles quickly, get through things much faster. We live in a world where bits of information in digestible chunks have become much more important while we still focus on the ability to provide the long form of content.

We see measurement as something that a lot of people are spending more time thinking about in ways that may be different in the past – understanding that citations and so on and the metrics around citations have been critical. But what other types of data can be garnered from information that indicates success or high acceptance rates of content?

You mentioned a couple of solutions that we offer. An additional one that we released in August is called Impact Vizor, which is an analytics related technology. And that’s one of the areas that it takes great advantage of is to really focus on what other things can we tell from the data and the acceptance levels of that data and ultimately get some type of predictive measurements around success? And that focus is something, I think, that’s a relatively newer focus for the industry and something that people are probably putting a lot more emphasis on as well.

So those are just, at a high level, some of the ways that we see some transformation happening in the industry – again, probably some traditional topics but perhaps with a flavor that’s a little bit more unique.

KENNEALLY: Well, certainly this year, 2015, really seems to be the year of data – big data particularly. But pulling all that data together really doesn’t add value unless the user experience – and I think you alluded to this – unless the user experience is one where it’s a satisfying one, an enriching one – an experience of value.

FILBY: I couldn’t agree more. We actually internally, at HighWire, are really laser-focused on making sure that, if we’re providing data for our customers, it better be something that allows them to make a better decision and something that they can act upon. Otherwise it’s really just kind of interesting data. And there’s lots of studies out there historically that show that too much data can actually reduce clarity, not surprisingly. So it’s really important to stay focused on providing good data that allows people to make better decisions about important things and then be actionable. So I completely agree with your comment.

KENNEALLY: Right. And important to scholarly publishing, of course – its supply chain starts with the researchers, with the authors and some of the brightest minds working anywhere around the world. But their experience is shaped by what they do when they leave the laboratory or leave the research institution. They’re on Amazon just like the rest of us. And so they develop a kind of expectation around that user experience that I’m sure they look to see in HighWire Press as well.

FILBY: I think that’s correct. And it’s an important issue that you bring up – and I suspect one that, as we think about our innovation strategy and the industry thinks about innovating going forward, it’s one that we need to continue to pay very close attention to, making sure that we understand that a lot of the people who are contributing the content are people who aren’t typically viewing themselves as authors, so we need to make sure that we provide an experience for them that works well for the way that they want to interact with content, whether submitting or whether reviewing or just digesting the content for their own purposes.

KENNEALLY: Right. And Bench>Press, I mentioned, is this workflow submission service that takes a manuscript from submission all the way through peer review and then into publishing and beyond. And that must be a real challenge, because at each step of the process there that author – that researcher – is expecting things to go as smoothly as they would expect it to go again when they’re ordering the holiday presents from Amazon.

FILBY: That’s correct. And that maintaining that positive user experience throughout that entire workflow is really critical. And it’s an area that again we, as a business, believe going forward is going to be – it is now and will be even more important in the future to continue to think continuously about how to improve and enhance that experience. That’s a journey that I don’t think has a finish line and one that requires a consistent, strong focus from our side – and from other technology vendors in the marketplace. So I can tell you that, from our perspective, that is one of our top key priorities in the way that we view our technology.

KENNEALLY: Right. And the lens, at least, that you’re using there in the corner office at HighWire Press is this Lean Six Sigma, which I’m going to leave to you, because you’re the one on this call with the master certification in Lean Six Sigma – and with the Lean Six Sigma black belt. Briefly, tell our audience just what Lean Six Sigma is about.

FILBY: Yeah. At a very high level, Lean Six Sigma is a process or a doctrine that is focused on improving effectiveness and improving efficiency. The numbers that people may have heard in the past in reference to Six Sigma is that, from a quality focus, it’s designed to ensure that, within 34 million events, that there is no more than one poor outcome. So the standard for quality within Six Sigma is incredibly high.

And it also, I think, has been misunderstood in the past to be something that really only applies to companies that particularly are in the manufacturing area, which is, I think, where it originally found its birthplace. But it has widely spread into a variety of industries. And I think the opportunity for our industry to embrace Six Sigma across the board is something that will create a lot of up side for our customers.

A couple of thoughts around it – because again I think it’s helpful – I would say the first thing is ensuring that everyone within the organization understands, first of all, that they all have a role to play and that it is all about a continuous journey. There is no ultimate finish line. There’s a series of goal lines that you, as an organization, are going to cross. And at the heart of it has to be a strong philosophical belief that providing an outstanding customer experience is the most important thing, because that is the ultimate objective – then taking a look at, well, what are the things that dictate success?

So if the customer’s experience is at the center of that focus, then is it system performance, customer experience, customer support, processing speed? What are the things that dictate success – and then really determine how to measure those – get down to some very specific metrics that you can measure in an accurate an ongoing way. So those may be things like up time, turnaround times, acquiring customer experience data from your customers at various stages of interactions, system response times, etc.

It’s important not to try to boil the ocean but, as we were kind of talking about on the analytic side of the conversation, really stay very focused on the most important things – also understanding, you know, what does good look like, so making sure that, where possible, you’re pulling in some benchmarks and internally setting some really clear, coherent performance expectations, so that everyone’s clear on what great looks like.

The next piece is where it gets really very much into kind of the world of Six Sigma in general, and that is breaking everything down that you do – all the things that you’ve said are really important to focus on and measure – figure out how to break those things down into processes. Most of the time, you will find that you can do that – you can break everything down into a process. It may not be intuitive at first. But once you do that, what you typically will find is that there’s a variety of things that Six Sigma refers to as wastes.

There’s kind of seven classic wastes. Kind of at a very high level, those are some of the key elements and something that we very much embrace in the organization. And by putting a number of these things into action, which we have over the last eight to nine months, we have seen some pretty meaningful improvements and remain laser focused on driving even more improvements for the objective of continuous improvement going forward.

KENNEALLY: Right. And as a publishing platform, all those things you mentioned – you know, everything from up time to delivery of analytics – that’s what the customer is coming to you for. And it really is that probably that up time first and foremost because, when someone comes online to get that research information that they need to complete an experiment or to make the discovery they’re after that’s going to cure the disease, it’s all got to be there.

FILBY: Exactly right – it has to be there, it has to be available to them and in a responsive way, which means that, when they are interacting with the information, they’re getting responses back from the technology quickly. And that’s where we talked around breaking up the steps that occur into a process and understanding what are all the things that support that positive experience and making sure that they’re all working very well together.

KENNEALLY: And when it comes to Lean Six Sigma, it’s not just about these processes, though. I imagine really, coming into an organization, you’ve got to show some leadership qualities. Does Lean Six Sigma help you with that? I mean how do you sort of get the team to buy into this process?

FILBY: You know, that’s a great question. I do think it really helps from a leadership perspective, because one of the things that you can confidently rely on is that you’re dealing with some principles that are proven – proven in multiple industries. But you’re also relying on data. And when you’re relying on data, it removes a lot of debate around anecdotal things that may or may not have an impact. But when you start to rally people around things that are easily definable and can be demonstrated with data, I think it’s a lot easier for people to understand and buy into those things quickly.

The other thing I’ve seen too, which is I think just a function of human nature, is, when you start to define and measure things really clearly, it is immensely motivational. I know that, as we went through the process here at HighWire, you really started to see teams rally around improving specific measurements within their part of the organization and taking a lot of pride in the improvements that they’d been able to create. So I think there’s also a very strong motivational aspect, which for any person in a leadership position in the organization is really very helpful.

KENNEALLY: And because of that reliance on measurement, they can actually see the improvement – and maybe they feel it, but they can see it too.

FILBY: They can see it. And you know when it’s really starting to catch fire when you walk around your office and you start seeing people on their own posting up things on whiteboards or monitors and things, which are showing how the measurements are tracking over time, because they’re uniquely proud of it themselves.

And I would argue that it actually empowers people to take a leadership position themselves within the organization. It in a way deputizes everyone to make a difference. And that can be a very powerful thing within an organization and certainly something that we’re experiencing here.

KENNEALLY: Well, Dan Filby, Chief Executive Officer with HighWire Press, thanks so much for joining us today on Beyond the Book.

FILBY: My pleasure, Chris. Thank you.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs as well as images, movies and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our Website, beyondthebook.com.

Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.

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