In a recent Lean Six Sigma Project kick-off meeting of one of my clients, after the teams presented their project charters, the business leader made an extempore announcement that the best and most successful Lean Six Sigma project will receive a special recognition and the team members will be lucratively rewarded.
Immediately few of them wanted to know what criteria will be used for selection. The business leader indicated that I will be one who will define the criteria for successful Lean Six Sigma Project.
Factors that I consider among the criteria for success of Lean Six Sigma Projects are arranged in the descending order of their importance in the below list:
Project Scope – Lean Six Sigma projects without well-defined scope are bound to fail, but they end up creating a lot of mess around. Scope usually refers to the boundaries of any project. A poorly defined project is one which hasn’t balanced the Project Goal, Scope and Timelines. Also, poorly communicated scope and not defining what is out of scope are equally important.
Retains interest and commitment of the resources – Improvement projects are successful when its team members contribute their best. Lean Six Sigma projects usually challenge the existing paradigm. Hence without the wholehearted and continued participation of the team members, no project will be successful. The sponsor/champion and the Green Belt/Black Belt are entrusted to retain the interest and commitment of the resources.
Attracts adequate buy-in from key stakeholders – Stakeholders of any project could either be the decision makers, important players who influence the decisions or even impacted parties. Successful Lean Six Sigma projects will have to manage the expectations of all the above stakeholders from time to time and create adequate buy-in. Rather than focusing too much on technical root cause analysis, the emphasis should be on how Lean Six Sigma project can bring about mid-to-large change in the organization.
Flawless execution– Immaterial of the breadth and depth of the analysis done in any Lean Six Sigma project, what sticks out is execution. Well led and implemented the project is bound to be successful, as even the quality of data collected and analysis is a function of the flawless execution. Adherence to weekly team meetings, project milestones, and tollgates reviews are some simple and easy signs to evaluate execution. Further unbiased data collection and analysis, open minded assessment of solutions, in-depth piloting and sustained monitoring are additional measures of flawless execution.
Identifiable impact on customers– As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so is the success of any Lean Six Sigma in positive impact it creates on customers. Usually, organizations evaluate the success of projects based on the performance of the CTQ (before-after studies). While this is definitely a good way to assess the impact, more often than not such movements in CTQs aren’t felt by customers. Considering several other business parameters to validate the impact of the CTQ, including post improvement Voice of Customer may be a very good method. For example, a reduction in defects certainly will reduce the rework effort, increase productivity, reduce complaints, apart from increasing customer satisfaction.
Making a discovery – Any successful Lean Six Sigma project should unearth something new, make a discovery about the problem. A project without a discovery could mean we are fixing obvious things. In order to ensure the project team makes a discovery, the quality of work done in the Measure and Analyze phase have to be evaluated. Have the teams identified all possible causes to the problem? Have they collected data of good quality and quantity? Have they holistically analyzed the data to make the discovery? And finally what is the discovery?
Based on my experience with Lean Six Sigma in the last 2 decades, I would consider these 6 factors as significant elements of the successful project.
In a Continuous improvement journey, improvement projects are nothing but the lifeline. In this series of articles, we covered on the Need for Project Selection and the Criteria for project. Now we’ll answer the big question – Where can I get my projects from? Essentially various sources of the project!
All the above can serve as a good source for Continuous Improvement or Lean Six Sigma projects.
We talked about the need for Lean Six Sigma project selection in detail in the earlier articles, in this one we’ll cover the criteria for selection and the in the following article, we’ll move on to talk about the tools used for selection and how to engage the stakeholders in the process.
I have found that while leaders agree on the need for project selection, their views on the criteria is quite divergent. Most of them see this as a process to sway the process in favor of their priorities and interests.
There is nothing wrong in doing so, as long as the process is not biased.
Through this article, we draw consensus on the criteria and its relevance to the whole process.
The real good news is that the criteria for getting the project selection right are not too complicated.
What does project selection countdown look it? We’re going to start with the least of the top 5 criteria and find our way to the top most criteria.
Here you go:
Not all the projects will be successful in any company. Hence, while selecting the project, most project leaders consider the contingencies which might come up and use that as a yardstick to select the project. Sponsors want their project leaders to be successful equally as projects leaders’ desire success. Well, sounds like a good approach. But doesn’t this approach make it very orthodox? Unlike other implementation projects in technology, improvement projects are bound to have ups and downs; and it is quite natural that not all projects achieve their goals. That is what continuous improvement is all about.
Thus choosing to play it safe isn’t the best criteria to select projects, though unfortunately, it is very popular criteria in use. That is why Probability of Success is the last in our countdown list! One of the organizations flips these criteria to select the project which has failed in the past or have a low probability of success as Black Belt project. That is certainly a best practice to emulate.
Is data readily available for the project? If not, can it be easily gathered? While most project leaders and sponsors know that rarely will all the data needed for a project is waiting around to be analyzed. But they use the availability of data criteria to select projects because the unreasonable expenditure of time, resources and effort can be avoided. Yes, data is needed for analysis. But making it a criterion reduces the scope Continuous Improvement deployment.
Improvement projects are expected to venture into unchartered territories of the process and present root cause and opportunities. Getting people to measure something that is not being reported till now, in it is a feat. Having vanilla project can hardly be a criterion for project selection. That is why the availability of data comes second last in our countdown!
Any project implemented, is implemented with an intention to gain any kind of tangible or say monetary benefits. But along with monetary benefits, there are other benefits like customer satisfaction, increased efficiency, total company involvement; increases workspace and much more. While it is absolutely apt to select projects which have savings to the organization, it is misleading to make saving potential a primal purpose of projects. I have seen many times, project leaders come up with simple ideas or improvements with a huge saving potential to the organization, but virtually no complexity involved. Such projects hardly qualify for Black Belt projects.
They best serve as Just Do It project. Giving undue importance to saving potential in project selection also sends the wrong message across the organization. That is why I not really excited about having this as a top item in the countdown. That’s why Saving Potential is only Number 5 in our countdown.
There is always a perfect timing to initiate a project. Relevance is contextual. By apt timing, I mean both the time to commence, and the closure as per plan. An important project has to close on time. It has to be first of all, planned to close on time. It has to be scoped to close on time. That is why Apt Time is No.4 in our countdown.
I don’t know if this has to do with the culture. Most organizations, if not all, end up with a laundry list of projects because everything seems to be Business or Customer priority. Even the biggest and richest of the organizations have limited resources. Either resource is depleted, busy elsewhere or simply not committed to deliver. The best person is often leading many projects, making everything he/she does venerable to failure. Project selection is about de-selection and not selected. Ruthlessly put ideas into a parking list for which right resources are not available; and if it is so important that it has to be executed now, then pull the right resource into this project rather than sharing.
While I have largely kept this point around manpower, it equally applies to money & time. I say with conviction that organizations that ensure that the leader of the Lean Six Sigma project is a dedicated resource, either full time or handling only one project even if it means he is part time on it are surely successful. This is why Availability of Resource is No.3 on our countdown!
Ask yourself “will the results of the project bring any difference in the life of the customer? Will it improve the perception of the customers about the quality of your product or services?” Quite often this answer to this question is yes. Unfortunately, it’s motherhood in apple pie question. So insist on quantifying the impact.
If you can pin a number to the impact, then go ahead. And if you’re not able to do so, then there’s no point in wasting your time on the project. Consider Voice of the Customer in your organization as a starting point. Why don’t you start with complaints and alleviate customer pain? Thus Customer Impact is Number 2 in the countdown.
Selection of projects is based on the need or priority of the business. Project leaders need to understand that the tail can’t wag the dog. Often, people package their ideas into a project and fuel it as an organizational priority. Scanning of the external and internal environment will give first-hand insight on what is the organizational priority, NOW? Go for it. Well, that may put you out of your comfort zone, competency or expertise, but remember that’s what the organization needs.
Without a real need, do you think any leader would offer sponsorship to your project or will it at all help anyone – NO.? That is why Business Priority is Number 1 in our countdown.
Project Selection and implementation of Lean Six Sigma is easy and at the same time should be handled delicately by keeping all the above aspects in mind otherwise it might turn into a big disaster. An effective diagnostic study is required before selecting projects and with the undivided involvement of the top management are pre-requisites for project selection.
While leaders strive to build a culture of continuous improvement (CI) in their organizations, it is equally important to understand that business-as-usual activities take precedence over improvement activities. CI programs commence with a big bang and a lot of enthusiasm, but time wears out even the strongest and what it leaves behind is mere CI hubbub. This is not a simple problem to solve. If you have been part of any enterprise-wide CI deployment, you will have no difficulty relating to this. This problem is complex and has several failure modes.
In this article, I’ll like to highlight a common but significant failure mode – Selection of projects. It’s needless to emphasize that projects play a big role in any CI journey, but to its disgrace, projects are also a significant contributor to the downfall of CI program.
Going overboard and having too many concurrent projects is one way to fail. Not selecting the right projects to pursue is another. Here are few compelling reasons to consider project selection as an important activity rather than opening the floodgates of projects:
Business Priority: Every business has its own priorities and so it’s important to select the right projects that are aligned with your priorities. Having many dispersed projects will blemish, if not nullify the impact of projects. Alignment between leader’s priority & CI program can be easily accomplished if you select projects right at the beginning.
Change due to competition: If your competition is disrupting the industry, well you better select where you need to improve. External environment often forces organizations ruthlessly reform their way of thinking and working. And today, we all live in a world that is fast changing. So unless your right projects are selected and pursued, your CI program will become redundant soon.
High Customer Expectations: Everyone I talk to says, customers are demanding more than ever before. Understanding the changing their needs and aligning the CI program to customers is vital to the success of any organization’s CI program. Organizations sometimes pursue trivial opportunities such as cost saves but miss on acting on big ticket customer facing projects or customer pain points. Of course, while dealing with customers, things are going to be volatile, but that’s not a reason to avoid them. The good project selection process should filter such project opportunities.
Limited Budgets: All organizations must work within the framework of budgets. Improvements need monetary resources to support the change. Sometimes they are direct and hence easily associated to direct cost centers. But projects with intangible benefits or the ones incurring indirect costs usually end up as scapegoats. If an organization commits to project selection, many such failures can be prevented.
Availability of Resources: Human capital is scarce. CI projects need quality time and mindshare from people of importance in the organization. Quite often resource requirements are never considered during the commencement of projects. Even if considered, it’s only the project leader’s time. As CI projects are a cross-functional effort, active participation of experts from all involved functions defines the success of the project. In order to ensure we get the best out of our teams, we need to time our success. Thus project selection is a time sensitive activity.
Optimizing Number of Projects: Not all the areas of your organization need improvement at the same time, And improvement culture building is a slow and steady process which can never be implemented overnight, nor will the results reap overnight. So getting to rush out the organizational adrenaline may not be a success recipe for good CI program. Selection of projects will ensure that you sustain optimum enthusiasm in the system for CI.
So it is very evident that selection of projects impacts the CI culture, employee satisfaction, alignment to customers and ROI to business for the investments it makes in CI in a positive way. In the future articles, we’ll take this one step further and talk about the criteria used for selecting projects.