August 1, 2014

Chart(er)ing the plan for improvement

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Something I have to wonder about the high rate of failure of most process improvement projects – is how many of them are executed according to solid project management principles?  All too often, there are tales of failure describing a lack of senior management buy-in, however, that begs the question – if you didn’t have buy-in, how is it that you were able to get started?  Most likely, it was an effort to build up some momentum and then try and find greater support once things started rolling down hill (or to reduce resistance since no one wants to stand in front of something that is rolling down hill, especially if it rolls fast enough.)

I think there’s something both the process improvement and project management worlds could learn from these scenarios.  For one – you give your projects much better chances of success if you have signed-off stakeholder agreements on the scope of your project and and how much, of what, will be delivered, by whom, and when.  Those sort of agreements are second nature to project & program managers.  On the other hand, projects tend to get bogged down in far too many reports, do-loops, double checks, re-starts and do-overs executed by many more people than are necessary for too long a periood of time.  The PM’s in the world could learn a thing or two about waste & value before they get started, too.

A useful tool for getting things aligned at the outset of a project is to establish your project’s Charter (Here’s a useful template, courtesy of Gina Abudi).  Determine the scope of activities to be addressed, bound them with milestone dates, and identify the resources required for success.  Then, get formal agreement from your sponsor on just what those things will be.  Develop a project plan based on this charter, and you’ll be a long ways towards completing the “P” in your PDCA cycle.  The process of developing the charter alone will help to elimiate or reduce the “swallow the whale” syndrome that tends to creep into so many improvement projects.  Plus, if you define a project’s costs and benefits at the outset, you might have some ammunition when the dreaded, “So what’s my ROI on this?” question comes up at the end of your improvement project because the benefits and costs were already agreed upon at the outset.

We all know that vague, general problems can’t be solved.  Developing a charter in conjunction with sponsors and stakeholders helps to focus the effort, identify the targets for improvment, and determines the limits of authority, funding and time with which to make things happen.  Without that understanding, it’s nearly guaranteed that scope will creep, costs will increaes, schedules will extend, and whatever is delivered will be far less than expected or promised.

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  • Christian Paulsen


    You make a good case for taking the time to write a team charter.  Sometimes it’s easy to skip in the heat of the battle but it’s worth the effort in the long run.  It’s critical to the PDCA ( ).  The work up front will net better results.  Projects that are not well defined can go all over the map trying to solve everything (swallowing the whale) and fail to deliver on anything.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, Chris!

      It’s unfortunate to see both over-promising and under-delivering, it’s also sad to see people charging forward, assuming they knew what the customer wanted based on their INTERPRETATION of what they THOUGHT the customer expected, and the customer ASSUMING the vendor understood what was wanted. Rather than, “Just get started” take a minute to work together and determine just what’s expected.

  • Gina Abudi

    Thank you David for the link to my template.  And…great post! 

    • David M. Kasprzak