Traveling for Work

Updated: 3 days ago

The Oriental Pearl in Shanghai, China

...from a trip I took in 2019 to teach Design for Six Sigma (DFSS).


As an engineer and Six Sigma Master Black Belt, I've found many opportunities for my work to pay me to travel the world. I've traveled from my home, in the US, to places rather close in North America and much further away in Europe, Asia and the Orient.

I love the anticipation and planning before the trip; knowing that I will have to negotiate through new airports, get rides from questionable taxis, make new friends and eat or drink things I never would have otherwise.

How do you get your work to pay for your trips? Your boss and your target host both have to agree there is a need to send you.

Sometimes, your boss already has a need and is seeking someone to fill it.

Two weeks after starting as an Operational Excellence (OpEx) Master at a large, multi-national company, I got a text, at home, on a Saturday afternoon...

"Do you have a valid passport? " from my boss

"Yes" I thought - 'Oh, this might be good!'

"Would you be willing to go to Germany on Monday?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?"

"Great! Set up your travel profile to let the admin get you tickets."

"What will I do?"

I was going to start-up the OpEx program for Europe and would be based out of Germany.

Monday came and this began one of the greatest adventures of my professional life.

This topic and many pictures will be its own post...

Altstadt (Old Town) in Mainz, Germany

April 2017

Other times, you see the need and have to get others to see it. Now, be careful here. If you push a trip that isn't necessary, your boss won't appreciate this. There has to be a genuine need that will benefit the customer, the host and/or the business.

Your approach will change based on the circumstances of who is supporting your travel.

When the host already expresses interest.

"Hey, Michael, I liked the Design for Six Sigma program I saw while in the US and want to bring it to my team here in Italy." A V.P. we had worked with liked the DFSS program we were running in the US and wanted us to bring it to his team in Italy.

"Okay! Would you like me to give a presentation to your executive staff on Six Sigma?"

"Yes and I want you to work on a few projects while you are here to demonstrate the benefit."

"Got it - let's talk to my boss. We will need his approval for the travel."

This is easy if the host is an executive and has some pull!

On this trip I got to see the church of the Shroud of Turin and eat some of the best pasta of my life!

I also learned that you do NOT have Cappuccino after breakfast unless you are an uncultured American. Go for the Espresso or an Americano if you must.

What if the host is not an executive?

Help them to create a presentation that will win over their executive leadership. Support the discussion and make it clear what the benefit will be to their team. What can you bring that they don't already have? Remember, a lot can be done online through Teams / Zoom / etc... but you cannot build effective relationships online. This is best done in person. You will be able to adapt whatever you are doing to their needs and give them focused support for the whole time you are there. If this is online, it will be a meeting with a limited agenda. This will be especially limited if you and your host country are in time zones 6 or 12 hours different!

What if the host sees the need, but your boss doesn't?

Usually the problem here is the cost of the trip. To overcome this, I ask the host to pay for my entire trip. Plane tickets, hotel, food - everything. The only compromise would be to okay my being out of the country for two weeks. If you can justify this trip based on the benefits it will bring your hosts and set up cover for yourself while you are out, then you may be able to persuade your boss.

Baisha bridge in Liuzhou, China

December 2018

I had a chance to travel to Liuzhou, a Tier 3 city in China, to teach DFSS and help the local team start up the program.. The team was keen to improve their engineering and quality. So, they saw a real need for me being there. They were very generous in supporting my trip costs.

This was an absolutely incredible trip! I've been to Tier 1 cities, like Shanghai, that feel like big cities anywhere in the world, but here I got to experience the "real" China. The people were absolutely welcoming and wonderful! The team I visited invited me out for a dinner and boat tour at night. The boat tour included a choregraphed light display on the tall buildings along the water and a show on the river with water shooting high into the sky and dancing to music and lights. It was like Disney World had come to this city.

Light show from the boat tour in Liuzhou, China

December 2018

Bringing this home, travel for work is about seeing a need and getting your leadership and the host to agree on your personal support for the trip.

How do you start?

For yourself, what is your current role and what special skills do you have?

Do you have customers, suppliers, other divisions in other countries?

What problems do they have or what growth opportunities could you explore if you went to them?

For my reasons on travel, I have a recognized special skill and certification in Six Sigma. I have trained thousands of people in this and coached and mentored many hundreds through projects over the 10+ years that I've been a Master Black Belt. I have a bulleted list of the savings these projects have realized, the mission critical projects that I personally led for senior leadership and have a global network of influencers that I've built. This network can pull on me for upcoming projects or important needs of their business.

I have traveled with teams that needed a Problem Solver or a third party when solving an engineering or quality problem at a supplier or manufacturing site in another country. I speak German (not fluently, but good enough) and my mother's family is German. Whenever teams have an opportunity to work with Germany companies, I volunteer. Sometimes just having someone who can understand the cultural or the swear words is enough to make things start working when they get stuck.

Make yourself known as the traveler, as someone who likes to help and is willing to do the hard things when no one else is. Bring your special skills and cultural understandings.

While the world has been shut down since 2020 due to COVID 19, I see a lot of built up demand for support that will open up opportunities in 2022. Be ready, start building your network now.

Feel free to comment!

I would love to hear about your adventures in travel for work.

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