Tag Archives: continuous improvement project management

Before Launching an Improvement Project…

preparation

As a final installment to this short series of posts about increasing the likelihood of an improvement project’s success, it’s important to recognize the importance of up-front work.

Effective planning, even before the launch, was emphasized as critical to success during a discussion with our Partners in Improvement. Some of the key components of this planning include defining the right problem statement, scope, timeframe, and team.

One of the Partners explained that, in his organization, all project charters are required to go through a rigorous review by corporate as well as visiting the location and team beforehand to get the specifics and facilitate good communication.

Another emphasized the importance of having a charter, no matter how simple the project, that sets out the timeline. The charter should clearly identify why we are here and what the target date for completion is. This is hard to predict at the outset when the team has much to investigate, but it is important to have a vision of an end point not too far in the future to keep the scope tight. Set near-term milestones.

Similarly, one organization has implemented the practice of having the team leaders circulate problem statements to other experienced leaders before they start and ask the others to take shots at it — identify where the gaps are, where it lacks specificity in a way that will make it more difficult to define a tight scope. Identifying these hazards up front is likely to make the project more expedient and successful.

Most importantly, and as all of our Partners agreed, managing scope is a must for speed and success.

Apply the Pareto mentality (backed up, of course, with Pareto data), to focus on the 20% of the problem that will provide the biggest bang for the buck. One of the most common causes of slow results is failure to decide on a tight scope that can be addressed within 8 to 12 weeks. Often one needs to gather and study some data in order to decide on a narrow scope, and this often should be done before launching an improvement project. Sometimes a small group may be convened to quickly gather and study the data so that an appropriate improvement team can be launched.

The Bottom Line Summary
To sum it up, in order to ensure on-going success an organization must make sure that its measurement systems, rewards, recognitions, and communications systems support CI.

But more than that, one must make sure that management behavior itself supports CI.

8 Ways to Increase the Success Rate of Improvement Projects

Continuous Improvement

Our previous post shared a number of reasons why so many improvement projects fail or fall short of expectations.

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions to prevent the
downward spiral that can so easily plague improvement efforts, which we discussed during a meeting with our improvement Partners. These principles include the following:

Success! The first principle for making a project successful is simple: nothing succeeds like success. So start out with carefully selected projects staffed with highly qualified people to ensure they are successful. Give the earlier projects careful guidance and support. One of our Partners described an initiation process which started with 10 carefully selected and well trained individuals. They put five on one project and five on the other. Once those projects were complete, they launched five more improvement projects with two of their 10 trained leaders per project. This plan was designed to ensure early successes.

Communication About Success. The second principle is “advertising.” If a team applies the CI methodology to great success but no one hears about it, the methodology as “the way we do things around here” will be slow to catch on. Newsletters, presentations, story boards and discussions at staff meeting and water coolers are all ways to communicate success and make sure that everyone learns from it and is ready to try for some more.

Speed to Results. But an organization will not have many successes to advertise, if it does not make speed to results a priority. Once you start an improvement project, make sure that the project manager and the team run like heck to finish it. The more demanding the environment and more rapidly new challenges arise, the more critical it is that every effort be on the fast track to completion — before something arises to change priorities.
To the extent possible, compress the cycle time to results. Use Kaizen events and focused teams to tackle manageable chunks in short time frames.

Data. Use data to really understand the current reality and to test theories about underlying causes. The data will help you minimize the red herrings and wrong turns. People will want to substitute opinions for data because that is the way they have always worked. But the facts and data will help the team zero in on the real cause and the best solution more quickly than trial and error based on opinion. One of our partners observed that people will often create a flow chart, but then fail to get the facts about the process. A flow chart is just one step and is not really complete until it has been validated and populated with real data.

Keep It Simple. Keep the data analysis as simple as possible. Complicated is not necessarily better and it is almost always slower! A great deal can be learned from Pareto charts looking at the data from different angles — to rule out or confirm theories about the underlying dynamics and relationships.

Management Support. Pay attention to the soft side, making sure that management meets with the teams and individuals regularly. One CEO meets one-on-one with his leaders once a month and the sole topic is how the improvement project is going and what can he do to speed progress. Lots of visibility and encouragement for people working on systematic improvement helps to maintain interest, enthusiasm, and momentum.

Team Enthusiasm. One CEO lets his team leaders pick the project — focusing on what really ‘frosts’ them. This gains the enthusiasm for the work and results in quick wins.

Team Training. Most Partners believe that nearly everyone in the company needs some basic training. But team leaders need to be very well trained, so that they can ensure that the team follows the methodology, asks the right questions, gathers the right data, stays on track, and keeps the interest and engagement of the rest of the team. Choose team leaders very carefully.

In addition to the above-listed solutions for running an effective improvement initiative, there are several things that an organization can do before launching a project that can increase the likelihood of success. These best practices will be the subject of our next post…