5 Takeaways from Rolls-Royce's Master Black Belt interview on data-driven Process Excellence

Agnes Ogee and Mark Ellis | 5/29/2019

Topics: Lean Six Sigma, Manufacturing, Project Tools, Six Sigma, Continuous Improvement, DMAIC, Data Analysis, Statistics, Quality Improvement

Colin Noone reveals that improvement activities have delivered over £2.6bn validated savings over 15 years at Rolls-Royce plc. With over 40 years experience at the power generation engineering company he is enthusiastic to share his takeaways with the Minitab community.

Colin is the company's Global Master Black Belt for Methods & Capability. Next month he is speaking at the Minitab Insights event in the UK, part of our worldwide conference series for business improvement professionals.

In this video and interview, we asked Colin to share his views on the roles of data-driven excellence and Minitab at Rolls-Royce - and why he's hoping to meet 'like-minded people' at the Insights event... 


Find the next Minitab Insights events in Europe & worldwide - discover where you can join world-leading organizations and professionals to share best practices for data-driven decision making.


1. Lead from the top but win the hearts and minds of everyone 

Today Rolls-Royce plc are the world's second biggest supplier of large civil turbofans. Besides aircraft engines, Rolls-Royce plc manufactures train, civil nuclear, naval marine and submarine engines - some as small as a personal computer, others with a diameter of 116”.

(And luxury cars? No, that's a different Rolls-Royce; the brand name for cars separated from the engineering company decades ago.)

Henry Royce was co-founder of the company and famously said:

"Perfection lies in small things, but perfection is no small thing"

This demand for quality from the top made the company's products so well regarded that its name became a term for 'highest quality' in the British language.

This drives us nicely to Colin's first advice on the best approach to take:

'Really make sure that you start with Leadership and drive from the top. There has to be a clear vision.'

BUT - this should not come at the expense of engaging with the people that operate the processes:

'If you don't engage with the people, it doesn't matter what the Leadership say, it will not make a difference. So winning the hearts and minds, the power of the people, if you like, is something that is really crucial to any organization that wants to improve'. 

Trent 900 Aircraft Turbofan Rolls-Royce


2. Lead by example in "making a difference"

As Rolls-Royce's Master Black Belt Methods and Capabilities, Colin has responsibility for the training and accreditation program of Lean Six Sigma Belts - yellow belts, green belts, black belts, master black belts - all around the world.

The names of process excellence, operational excellence, business improvement, continuous improvement... to Colin, they're all one and the same thing.

'It's about making a difference in the organization. What you call it really doesn't matter. It's what you actually do that matters.'

Colin suggests that you lead by example, 'portraying the message that change is good, change is a positive thing and working together we absolutely can improve how the organization operates'.

'Anyone who's a professional improvement person in an organization should be leading by example. Showing people the way, using a coaching style to help raise the bar in terms of people's understanding of how to apply process improvement tools and techniques.'

'I think with that sort of passion and drive to want to make a difference, you can bring the whole organization along and never lose that passion, if you lose that passion, things will just stagnate.'


3. Focus on what really happens and what your data tells you

Colin advises that 'although processes are written down and this is how they should operate, the real world is typically different, and understanding what processes are actually doing is key.'

After the low hanging fruit, seek 'the real opportunities to fundamentally change some of the big problematic processes that can make a fundamental difference to how an organization operates'.

'Any organization should be asking itself the question, are we doing things as well as we could do? Are we operating as well as we could do? Are we fundamentally giving the customer what they want in a timely manner?

If not, we need to do something about that. And that's where data I think can really help you to understand what's going on in an organization.'

That may seem easier said than done. 'For any improvement activity, certainly the larger organizations, one thing they are not short of is data,' says Colin.

'The real problem is understanding what that data is telling you. Collecting data for data's sake, I do not think adds value to an organization.

It's about collecting the right data, understanding what it's telling you, and using that data to make informed decisions to drive problem solving and improvement within an organization'. 


4. Analyzing your data is a strategic investment

The savings delivered by improvement activity at Rolls-Royce have been validated at over £2.6bn over 15 years. Rolls-Royce has been a Minitab customer throughout that time:

'We've been with Minitab now for 16 years, I see Minitab being a real strategic partner for many years to come.'

'The ability of Minitab to help us analyze data is really crucial to Rolls Royce as we move forward into a world where data is becoming more and more readily available, a lake of data is a challenge I think in terms of how to analyze it and understand it and Minitab I think is key to that.'

Every department in Rolls-Royce has access to Lean Six Sigma training and Minitab. 'It's not just about manufacturing improvements' says Colin.


5. Meet your peers and share your Insights

Although Colin will share a new presentation at the Minitab Insights event next month in the UK, and spoke last year at our event in Ireland, he does not attend simply to be on stage.

'The reason I wanted to come to the Insights events, it's not just to be a speaker. It is to meet like minded individuals who are also trying to make a difference in their own business, to share experiences of what works, what's good practice, and to share experiences of the challenges that we've faced. We should then be able to take that shared learning and apply it to good effect back in our own organizations.'

Colin Noone Rolls-Royce data-driven process optimization and excellence 900 px large

Colin recommends the Insights events as 'a good benchmarking opportunity... We're fairly mature at what we do, we could obviously do better, but I'm going to be looking and talking to other delegates to understand what they've been doing and if there's anything that I can take from them that we can then apply back within Rolls Royce to good effect to make a difference in the future.'