Understand Process Improvement And Make Life Easier On Projects
In a previous blog, Make Life Easier By Managing Both The Project And The Process, we discussed the benefits of managing both the project, and the processes within the project. This leads to less fire-fighting, better project performance and deeper relationships with teammates and customers.
Here’s a good definition of process improvement: it’s the systematic approach to closing system performance gaps through streamlining and cycle time reduction, and identification and elimination of the causes of quality issues, process variation, and non-value-adding activities.
In the above definition, you can find mention of the main drivers that determine project performance:
- Productivity is mentioned in “streamlining and cycle time reduction”; and,
- Quality is mentioned in “identification and elimination of the causes of quality issues, process variation, and non-value-adding activities”.
As a refresher, productivity is how fast we can complete the work, and quality is how many errors we make.
As for using a “systematic approach to closing performance gaps”, there are process improvement models that can help guide the effort.
The most basic is the Plan-Do-Study-Act model.
The “Plan” phase is where the current state, or how we work today, is measured and evaluated. Then the future state, or how we want to work tomorrow, can be planned. Next, the “Do” phase is where the planned improvement is implemented. Then in the “Study” phase the implemented improvement is measured and analyzed to see if it meets its improvement goals/targets, and to see if further improvement can be achieved. Lastly, the “Act” phase is where adjustments and lessons-learned, if needed, are determined before starting the cycle over again with planning your next process improvement.
All process improvement models are cycles to emphasize not only designing and establishing processes once, but also to continually manage and maintain/improve them over time. And all process improvement efforts target improvements in the areas of productivity and/or quality, which both have profound impacts on project performance.
Some simple process improvements to help with quality problems include:
- Listing process inputs (spec, tools, upstream deliverables, etc.) which are needed to be able to start a process, or process steps.
- Making sure process steps are clear, documented and easy to follow.
- Listing process outputs, being sure to define 100% quality from the customer’s perspective.
Once the outputs are known, and 100% quality is properly defined, then you can look back at the process steps and inputs to determine how you can achieve 100% on the outputs with the least number of inputs and process steps possible.
Some Simple process improvements to help with productivity problems include:
- Establishing a rhythm to process steps so steps, or groups of steps, take roughly the same amount of time. This way you can minimize backlogs or gaps between steps.
- Reducing hand-offs so you don’t have to transfer work to other teams/departments. Hand-offs may be unavoidable, but minimizing them will reduce the chances of having downtime between work, reduce opportunities for miscommunication and reduce the potential to introduce mistakes.
- Building communication into the process is very important. There can be several groups that need some level of information about the process or are providing info and/or inputs needed to complete the work; e.g.: the project manager, other teams/departments, upper management, the customer, suppliers/vendors, etc. Making communication part of the process means it’s built into the steps, rather than a separate activity that needs to be remembered. In some cases, this communication can be automated.
Process improvement is a powerful tool and when applied to process on projects can have big impacts on project performance.