Will My Project Succeed?

crystal ball

Every organization has more processes with opportunity to improve than they have organizational capacity and management attention units to execute. That’s why it is so important to identify the best opportunities and to work on the right things.

Over the years we’ve compiled a list of eleven factors that can predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, if a project will be successful. A successful project certainly does not need to score 10’s in all of these, and some of these eleven are more important than others and carry more weight in the prediction:

  1. The potential benefit of the project to the organization is clear, substantial and quantifiable. (10 = very clear, quantifiable, substantial)
  2. The problem to be solved is clearly defined and quantifiable, and the project scope is focused and well-defined. (10 = very clear, focused, and well-defined)
  3. The project has top management’s commitment and support (resources, sponsorship and follow-up); no influential person is actively opposed to the project. (10 = very strong support)
  4. The sponsor and team leader are clear about each one’s role and partner effectively to ensure the success of the project. (10 = very clear)
  5. The team leader and key resources are devoting enough of their time to the project to complete it very quickly. (10= full time)
  6. The team is staffed and led by the right people for the job, and they are determined and capable to quickly achieve results. (10 = very determined and capable)
  7. Meaningful and accurate facts and data about the process are available. (10 = very available)
  8. H. The process to be improved is repeated frequently enough to efficiently study variation in the current process and to and test and measure improvements. Hourly? Monthly? Annually? (10 = very frequently).
  9. The processes to be improved are within the team’s span of control. (10 = under control).
  10. J. The expected time frame for completion of the project or for achieving concrete and measurable milestones. (10 = 4-8 weeks to completion or measurable milestone)
  11. The processes are stable, that is not undergoing very recent or imminent major change (10 = very stable).

Careful consideration of each of these eleven factors will help you focus your capacity on those improvements with the best chance of long term success, moving your organization further faster down that never-ending road of Continuous Improvement.

Four Effective Methods of Identifying Waste

identifying waste

Our previous post shared the perils of taking an “idea-driven” approach to identifying waste or opportunities for improvement. While this method often feels right, it seldom addresses the biggest problems within an organization.

Instead, one of the following four approaches can help project teams to identify the best opportunities for improvement – the ones that can yield the biggest gains:

The Goal-driven Search:
Start with the most pressing organizational goal and drill down to find the waste that affects that goal. Do you want to save time, money, improve quality, conserve capacity – what? The goal driven search for waste takes that goal and looks for any problem that affects it.

If your goal is to free up people’s time, you would then study the time to identify and prioritize every aspect that waste’s time. A work sampling study would provide you with a great deal of information about this.

If you want to free up production capacity, you would study and prioritize all the factors that waste your capacity – bottlenecks, set up times, producing the wrong thing (product that sits in inventory), yields – all the capacity spent producing product that cannot be sold, production capacity devoted to rework.

If you want to increase revenue, you would focus on identifying and quantifying the waste in all the factors that get in the way of sales, such as the use of sales reps time, selling methodology, lead generation, causes of lost sales, delays in installations or shipments, and so on.

The distinctive feature of the goal driven approach is that not all waste is treated equally. Instead of looking for waste in all its forms, this approach zeros in to identify and prioritize for removal of all the waste associated with a particular important goal.

The Brainstorming Approach:
The brainstorming approach is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to identify an extensive list of the waste in an organization. The first step is to collect a group of people knowledgeable about the work and solicit all the ideas about waste (i.e., identify waste, specify where it is, etc.)

Because the people who know most about the work identify the waste, these people are often very committed to working on improvement projects to get rid of it. This is one of the primary reasons why brainstorming is an excellent way to start an organization on a path of systematic continuous improvement.

The Work Walk-through Approach:
This method involves getting a group of people together to directly observe the work as it is done, searching for and capturing every bit of waste you can spot. It is a good idea to make sure your organization has a clear idea about “amnesty” and so that the people hard at work do not feel you are
watching for any mistakes they make. As you may know, almost all the waste in an organization is due to flaws in the system of work; management has the job of making sure the system is working well so as to minimize wasted time, materials, capital, etc.

Check-out the Process Approach:
This method of identifying waste involves creating a value map to identify inventory pileups, bottlenecks, and delays. You can then use a process evaluation tool to analyze the process and identify and quantify the waste.

You might also use a SIPOC tool to evaluate process flow. As you may know, a SIPOC diagram is a very high level process flow, identifying each key input and output of each process. The acronym SIPOC stands for suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers which form the columns of the table. It was in use at least as early as the total quality management programs of the late 1980s and continues to be used today in Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and business process management.

Identifying Waste v. Solutions

get further faster

Surviving and coming out ahead in these turbulent times demands that we all think carefully and choose well what to study and improve.

As Bill Conway frequently said, “At least 50% of improvement is working on the right things.”

Organizations that are able to engage people in making good, fact-based decisions about what to work on and then execute with laser focus reap huge gains.

An opportunity search is key. That means that we must identify and act upon the opportunities for improvement that will potentially yield the greatest results.

In many cases, organizations do not focus on identifying waste, but instead come up with lists of idea driven improvements. That is, someone comes up with an idea for an improvement, puts together a proposal, and then tries to implement it.

The problem with the idea-driven approach is that there is very little correlation between the list of ideas for improvement and the biggest problems or opportunities for improvement within the organization. The idea-driven approach to improvement depends on someone identifying a solution at the outset. But the biggest opportunities are usually buried in the tough long-term problems for which solutions are not immediately obvious to anyone! If a solution doesn’t occur to someone, the problem doesn’t make the list. If it doesn’t make the list, it is never studied sufficiently to come up with a solution.

Organizations get further faster by identifying the waste first and choosing the best opportunities from all of the areas of waste you have identified. A portion of the waste is easily spotted and addressed if you take the time to collect the information. But much of the waste is hidden — built into budgets, accepted practices, current operating procedures, and shared assumptions. It is built into processes that are compensating for problems that have not yet been solved. This waste is difficult to see without expanding the vision of what is possible.

Our next post will focus on best practices for seeing “what is possible” and for identifying the best opportunities for improvement.

Watching v. Visualizing

visual management

A concept that might be a distant relative to watching our work is visual management.

When one recognizes the power of Visual Management, words seem superfluous. It is a powerful communication tool that lets people know quickly and effectively exactly the right thing to do in each situation by way of an agreed upon use of signals.

Because Visual Management highlights the critical information in ways that can’t be ignored, it enables a person to assess the status of the situation at a glance. Consequently, people can get far more done, more quickly, with fewer errors and without the need of additional instruction.

The benefits are significant! Faster response time, fewer mistakes, increased safety, higher productivity!

Visual Management has been effective in improving results in almost every organization. Among the benefits with specific examples are:

  • Speed of execution in a time-sensitive process
  • Reduced number of OSHA-reportable accidents
  • Fewer errors in production, materials management, maintenance, and office operations
  • Faster process analysis and improvements
  • Reduced inventory and fewer stock-outs
  • Higher productivity and throughput
  • Better team-work and more engaged employees

There are two types of Visual Management tools:

  1. Tools that indicate quickly and reliably what actions to take and not to take in order to maintain process control.
  2. Teamwork tools that communicate how a process is performing compared to an agreed upon standard or goal, so the people doing the work easily spot and implement the needed adjustments or improvements.

Our next post will take a closer look at each type of visual management, and share specific examples as well as best practices.

Watching Our Work: The Ohno Circle

ohno circle

A related concept to waste walks, the subject of our previous few posts, is the “Ohno Circle.”

Taiichi Ohno is credited for much of the thinking behind the Toyota
Production System, and he invented a novel method of making improvements. He would go to draw a chalk circle on the floor, and stand in it. He would stand for hours, watching and thinking about what he was seeing. He would look for what was getting in the way of people creating value and he would study the situation to determine what was causing it. This gave him the insight he needed to make lasting improvements.

Ohno’s approach is different from simply visiting “gemba” or touring the line, as it goes beyond “looking” to “watching.” Taking the time to actually watch work being done can pay big dividends, and often helps well-intentioned people avoid “learning too little and assuming too much.”

In fact, many CI leaders have confessed, after-the-fact, that, if they had simply stood in one place long enough to watch carefully, they would have quickly seen the true root causes of many problems that took weeks to solve.

Don’t Just Do Something: Waste Walk Best Practices

waste walk

Continuing the theme of “waste walks,” there are several fundamental guidelines that should be followed in order to optimize the value and outcomes.

Here are some best practices for implementing Waste Walks (or “going to gemba“) that have proved successful in organizations and that have brought-about break-through results:

  • Communicate before starting. Begin by breaking the ice with the people in the work area so they know what is happening and why; make it clear that this is not a fault-finding mission, that there is amnesty, and that the Waste Walk is an effort to “help, not to shoot the wounded.”
  • Communicate with the gemba team. Establish ground rules, making sure to describe the theme or the forms of waste the team will be targeting, along with any other expectations relative to objectives people issues, desired outcomes, and so on.
  • Describe the start and end points of what you want to observe and study.
  • Conduct the Waste Walk and maintain communication protocols throughout; remind the team that as they interact with and pose questions to those doing the work, they must listen carefully to the answers.
  • Reconvene in a meeting room afterward to record ideas, consider what the team has learned, set priorities, and move into action! Sometimes it gets harder as the team disperses, so be sure to maintain communication and measure progress after-the-fact.
  • Be inquisitive…curious…
  • Make Waste Walks a regular part of people’s work; they should not happen once in a blue moon

Finally, if there is an over-arching theme or mantra associated with an effective waste walk, it is NOT “Don’t just stand there; do something!”

Conversely, the best over-arching mantra is, “Don’t just do something; stand there and learn!”

Learn From the Work

Deming Cycle
The Deming Cycle

In an earlier post we pointed-out that the most important knowledge of all is knowledge of our own work and value stream — we must know it in detail.

Bill Conway often said, “All of the waste comes from the work…what we work on and how we do that work. To improve it, we need to get closer to the work.”

This means we must know how long it takes, where it piles up, and how well it is synchronized with the needs of the customers.

A simple but proven way to learn more about the work is a Waste Walk or by “going to gemba.”

As you may know, “Genba,” which has been popularized as “Gemba,” is a Japanese word meaning “the real place.” The word is widely used in Japan, where detectives frequently refer to a crime scene as genba, and Japanese TV reporters often refer to themselves as reporting from genba/gemba. In the business realm, gemba refers to the place where work is done and value created; in manufacturing the gemba is typically the factory floor, but looking further afield it can be any location — a construction site, administrative office, or sales bullpen — where the actual work is being done.

When it comes to Continuous Improvement (CI), problems are most visible in these areas, and the best improvement ideas will come from going to gemba. There is no substitute for ‘going to the work’ and there are things that can only be learned by going there and watching the work with a purpose. Thus a gemba walk, or Waste Walk, is an activity that takes management and other stakeholders to the front lines to look for waste and opportunities for improvement; to observe the work where the work is being done, and to identify what goes wrong or could go wrong, how often it does or could go wrong, and the associated consequences. It fits nicely into the “Deming Cycle” shown above, as it is a method of “checking” our work.

The Waste Walk is designed to help everyone understand the value stream and its problems; it is not to review results and make superficial comments. Gathering input from the people closest to the work is an important element of making improvements as well. After all, they are the ones that know the most about the work!

Unfortunately, and as noted in the above-referenced past post, in most organizations there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. Including their input in a waste walk can help remedy this problem.

Our next post will focus on best practices for executing an effective waste walk.

Driving “Agility” with Quick Wins a Must in the “New Normal”

Recent posts have focused on the pace of change and the critically-important role of organizational agility.

One way to both reinforce and drive agility is to achieve “quick wins.”

According to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and The Heart of Change, creating “quick wins” builds momentum, defuses cynics, enlightens pessimists, and energizes people.

The key elements of a “quick win” are right there in those two words: it’s got to be quick and it’s got to be successful.

A “quick win” must be completed in 4 to 6 weeks at most, but many are implemented much faster such as in a kaizen blitz where a small group focuses full time on an improvement for a day or two, or half-time for a week.

For a solution to become a “quick win” it is almost always an improvement that can be completed with the people closest to the work and with the resources close at hand. Sometimes a “quick win” is a high value improvement executed with speed. But even an improvement with small dollar impact can have a great ROI — because the time and expense invested is so low and the organization begins reaping the benefits so quickly.

Because of the speed imperative, if a solution requires a significant capital investment, it is not going to be a “quick win.” If it requires a large team or cross-functional buy-in, chances are it will be a slow win if it succeeds at all. Many “quick wins” do not require a formal team; often a natural work team can identify the problem and implement a quick solution.

Given shifting marketplace expectations and the rapid pace of change with which we have all become accustomed, finding new and better ways of eliminating waste and satisfying customers, and doing so quickly, is likely to be a “must” in the new normal.

Leverage Learning for Change

learning for change

The importance identifying threats and opportunities and then quickly making necessary changes / improvements was discussed in our previous post, which defined this competency as organization agility.

An equally important component of sustaining a culture of improvement and change is the pursuit of knowledge. To develop new insights, new solutions, new opportunities for competitive advantage, we must actively mine for knowledge that can trigger solutions. In other words, learning can become a catalyst for change.

Here are five key areas in which this knowledge can be accessed:

  1. Learn from the work. The most important knowledge of all is knowledge of your own value stream — he set of activities that move the value from your suppliers through your operations to your customers. Know it in detail — how long it takes, where it piles up, how well it is synchronized with the needs of the customers. In most organizations, there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. And those with the broader perspective and the influence do not really understand how the work as it is done today well enough to arrive at the ‘Eureka!’ moment. One of the fundamentals of the Lean approach is that you must “go to the work.” Don’t just talk about the results or listen to people talk about the work — go to the work. Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved.
  2. Learn from the marketplace. A prime example of learning from the market took place in the early 1980’s when Toyota believed that, to grow their sales in the United States, they would need to have manufacturing facilities here. But they concluded they did not have enough knowledge to do so successfully. So, they entered into a joint venture with General Motors opening the NUMMI plant in California to produce both the Chevy Nova and the Toyota Corolla in the United States. Having achieved their learning goals, Toyota went on to open plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and more. General Motors had the opportunity to learn the production systems that enabled Toyota to produce very high-quality product with low cost. Indeed, many individuals at GM learned a great deal through this venture. But in keeping with the practice of gathering knowledge by chance and then leaving it where it lies, GM gained little more from the venture than the cars that came off the assembly line.
  3. Learn from customers. Customers may tell you what they want, but not necessarily why. What do they really value? How do they use or struggle to use what you give them? What are the things that you could do differently that the customers would not know to ask? They don’t ask because they know enough about your process to suggest it and you don’t know enough about their process to offer it. Contextual inquiry is a method of learning more about the customer needs than the customer could tell you by watching the customer use the product in context. It has been used by some software developers and systems designers for a number of years. But it can be used in many other circumstances. The staff of an assisted living facility was able to eliminate almost half the forms in the move-in process by spending time with the departments requesting the forms to really understand how and why they were used. With the new understanding, they were able to design a much simpler and less error-prone move-in process that also perfectly met the needs of the accounting, facilities, and medical departments as well.
  4. Learn from the competition. In his book, “Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices,” Robert Camp described a methodology to learn and apply better ways of doing things by identifying and studying the best. His is a rigorous and time-consuming methodology, and companies must choose the most important aspects of their work to compare and try to improve. In addition to benchmarking, there are a number of quick and inexpensive ways to mine competitive information. Visiting competitors’ websites can increase knowledge and generate ideas about how you might leapfrog them by combining the best of the competitors with your own best capabilities and offerings. Visiting the competitor as a customer can also tell you a great deal about their customer service and how you can improve your own. The manager of a loan processing and underwriting group went to a competitor to apply for an auto loan — and was astonished at their speed and quality. This learning experience changed his mindset: “We were processing loans as fast as we can. Now I know we have to process them as fast as they can!”
  5. Learn from the world at large. What is going on in technology? What methods are others trying out? How is it working for them? How could it work for you? In the mid-20th century, Toyota noticed that Ford auto workers were nine times as efficient as those at the Toyota plants. So, they sent Taiichi Ohno to study the Ford processes. Ohno concluded, however, that the capital-intensive Ford production model could not be applied to the Japanese automobile company. Nonetheless, Ohno continued to search for ideas for improvements. On one study mission, Ohno watched the bread replenishment system in a Midwestern grocery store and saw how he could adapt this method to make cars with low capital requirements. The Toyota Production System was conceived — a breakthrough achieved!

Five Steps for Driving Agility & Change

organizational agility

The speed of change noted in our previous post has had and will continue to have a profound impact on the business world. We have clearly moved into an era where the extraordinary becomes the expected and subsequently obsolete at an unprecedented rate, thus increasing the demand for much greater organizational agility.

Organizational agility is the ability to identify the developing threats and opportunities to our mission and to quickly align or realign resources to thrive in the new environment. In other words, to make necessary changes / improvements and do so quickly!

Agility requires two components:

  1. The ability to see and understand the external developments and what they will mean for us
  2. The ability to quickly adapt our resources to leverage the emerging opportunities and to avoid the looming threats

Here are 5 specific steps leaders can take to develop and sustain a creative culture of change and organizational agility, based on findings published by New Horizons Learning Centers:

  1. Encourage new ideas. Management must make it clear that they will embrace new ways of doing things. Managers whose default is to turn against new ideas will quickly stop creative thinking and negatively impact the pace of change. This simple habit alone is a critical first step toward developing a culture of creativity and change.
  2. Allow more interaction. An innovative climate thrives when team members are allowed to interact with their own team mates as well as team members from other departments. Better questions are asked, useful information is exchanged, new ideas flow both ways and new views on old challenges are heard for the first time.
  3. Tolerate failure. We have often noted that a culture of CI is one in which people must be given amnesty… a culture in which people are not afraid to fail. This holds true in an agile culture of creativity as well. While new ideas can sometimes prove too costly or might simply turn out to not be feasible, management needs to accept that time and resources will be provided knowing that the idea(s) might or might not come to fruition.
  4. Provide clear objectives and freedom to achieve them. People or teams who are provided with clear goals will be motivated to meet them. The goals provide a purpose for their creativity. Set guidelines with minimal constraints gives managers a degree of control with regards to the cost and time to completion.
  5. Offer recognition. Management must offer tangible rewards that send a clear message that creative behavior is encouraged, supported and recognized in their organization, and that the demands of the marketplace favor an organization that is, in fact, open to ongoing change (CI) and agile enough to make it happen quickly.

Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement