Reviewing process improvement projects

I'll be the first to admit that some of my best ideas don't originally come from that dark gray matter between my ears. Most of the time I've kick started my ideas from something I've heard or read elsewhere. So every now and then I'll see something that really jumps out at me. This is part of a paragraph in a recent article I read that really caught my eye.

I’m reminded of a statement that a Plant Manager in a large food and beverage manufacturer once told me. He said, “Jeff, We measure what we treasure!” If so, what is it in the Maintenance organization that we treasure?

The reason why this stood out for me is that I've recently had to sit back and re-evaluate the progress on one of my process improvement projects. One of the things that happens in a lot process improvement projects, including mine, is you get an initial rush of progress and then you plateau.

My recent progress was stuck right in the middle of that chart. So after reading that line it struck me that maybe I wasn't really measuring what the plants treasured. I took a step back and looked at what I needed to change. After some contemplation on my project I realized the following:

  • If the metrics being used for the process improvements aren't aligned to what the senior leadership is looking, nothing I wanted to get done was really on the radar of senior leadership. I knew I had great information on change opportunities that wasn't grabbing the attention of senior management.
  • Understanding the performance goals for a department was another avenue to keep the project moving along. Like the previous nugget, if metrics being used to guide process improvement aren't inline with the department goals, then there was very little reason for departments to try to improve.
  • Once the metrics were aligned to senior leadership and department level management, I tried to keep the metric reports simple and direct. I'm now making sure the metric can be attributed to a bottom line facet of the business. Giving a measurement report on inventory turn ratios is a great insight to the business. But giving a dollar value on how inventory turns is affecting the bottom line is what speaks to senior leadership.
  • Process improvement metrics need to waterfall from the top down. Getting senior leadership's attention will get plant management's attention. Getting plant management's attention will get department management's attentions. And so on and so on.

Looking back I forgot a key rule in project management:

Communication is what the listener does.

I had great information on how and what we should be doing next, but it didn't matter to those who had to make the change or to the management overseeing the departments. Everyone understood there was an opportunity for improvement, I just hadn't focused on how the changes would benefit the company or those affected by the change. Since I've re-evaluated the metrics in my project I've had a lot more engagement from managers on getting our goals completed.

If you're having problems with a process improvement project, take some time and look at where things stand:

  • Are the metrics aligned to what's important to those affected by the process change?
  • Are the expected results of the process improvement in a unit of measure that senior management can easily relate to?
  • Can you shift/add to your metric reports an aspect of the change process that's more likely to get senior leadership's attention?

Get the people affected by the change to do the heavy lifting for you by letting them understand the impact of the way things are done today and the benefit of how you want to do them tomorrow in terms that matter to them.