Keys to a Successful LSS Project: Part 2 of 3: Project Management
Author: Russ Aikman
Posted: May 2016
Many LSS practitioners are familiar with project management practices from working on non-LSS project teams. Regardless of your past experience, here are five areas of focus for effective project management compiled by TMAC staff from coaching many Black Belts and Green Belts.
- Define Phase Deliverables: Charter, Team Launch, Stakeholder Analysis
- Meeting Facilitation
- Between Meeting Activities
- Change Management Activities
- Gate Reviews
1. Define Phase Deliverables: Charter, Team Launch, Stakeholder Analysis
A good charter is critical to good project management. It provides a clear understanding of goals (focuses team efforts) and scope (reduces risk of scope creep). Also important for project management is a timeline (establishes deadlines). A well-written charter provides a ‘True North’ for the team. The second important deliverable is the Team Launch. From a project management standpoint it establishes team roles and responsibilities and defines how the team will function (e.g., how decisions are made). This minimizes project rework in the future. The third key deliverable is Stakeholder Analysis. This is important because it forces the belt to think more deeply about who will be impacted by the planned improvements, and therefore where to focus efforts in gaining buy-in.
2. Meeting Facilitation
Facilitation of effective team meetings requires planning. Before each meeting the Belt should prepare an agenda and send it to all participants. Make it clear which team members have action items and should prepare to provide an update at the meeting. During the meeting the Belt should go through the agenda item by item. Assign a scribe the job of documenting all decisions and action items. It is important to be very specific on each action item: Who will do What by When. If a discussion takes longer than planned or is off-topic put it on the ‘Parking Lot’ (items to be addressed after the meeting). At the end summarize decisions and action items. Meeting minutes – including action items – should be sent out immediately after the meeting.
One other point: There is a difference between a Meeting and a Working Session. Meetings are used to share information, make decisions and assign action items. Most team meetings should take no more than one hour. Working Sessions often take longer than meetings, perhaps up to a full day. An LSS team should schedule a Working Session for activities such as creating a detailed process map, brainstorming root causes, performing a gemba walk, or running a pilot.
3. Between Meeting Activities
Here is where most projects become delayed. The role of the Belt is to ensure the action items from the meeting are completed in a timely manner. This is done by checking with team members to make sure action items are being completed. This can be done through email, phone calls, texts, face-to-face meetings, etc. If less direct methods aren’t effective the Belt should try a more direct approach (e.g., face-to-face instead of email). If those methods still don’t work the Belt can ask for help by sharing concerns about the lack of progress with the Sponsor and/or supervisor of the person who has not completed the assigned task. A best practice is to explain how the uncompleted action item will negatively impact the project.
4. Change Management Activities
On most successful DMAIC projects more time is spent on Change Management than on development of the solution. Gaining buy-in for change can include education (books/articles/websites), demonstration (pilots/benchmarking trips), and even outside recommendations (testimonials from other firms). More formal tools include Stakeholder Analysis, Behavioral FMEA, Force Field Analysis, and the Making Change Last Checklist. Regardless of the tool used, it is important to set aside time for change management.
5. Gate Reviews
The DMAIC process provides a structured approach to project management through Gate Reviews. The same ideas outlined above for Team Meetings (e.g., prepare and send out an agenda) hold true for Gate Reviews. Similarly, each Gate Review provides an opportunity to use Change Management techniques. Finally, some firms are having success by combining Gate Reviews in order to complete projects faster. For example, the Define and Measure Gate Reviews may be combined into one session.
A final thought on project management: Some LSS practitioners use classic PM tools such as Gant charts or PERT charts. These tools combine action items, timelines, dependencies, responsibilities, decisions, and a visual format. While both of these tools can be useful I feel they are ‘overkill’ for most LSS projects. A lot of time can be spent in maintaining such charts. That said, they may be appropriate for bigger, more complex projects.