The Importance of Selecting the Right Improvement Project

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We all want our projects to be a big success. Bottom line benefit to the business and big rewards for the team. But if you’ve picked the wrong project at the outset you’ll likely never get the benefits your hard work deserves.

We all know how important it is to have a process for identifying Lean Six Sigma projects, but it’s still too easy to be diverted by outside influences. A spate of customer complaints, a bias toward a particular KPI, a pet project, a reaction to a limited set of data. All these and more can lead you to put aside your rigorous adherence to objectivity and risk the returns.

Of course, you’re not going to fall into any of these traps, but we mention them just the same.

Identifying potential project candidates

Selection implies you have more than one possible project, but how did you draw up the list to select from in the first place?

As students of Juran will know, the basic universal rule is the Pareto principle—start by prioritizing the projects with the greatest potential benefit.

Be ruthless as well as objective. The value of the project is in what it saves, set against the cost of disruption while it’s happening as well as the resources needed to run it.

Sometimes the project assigned to the improvement team should never have made the cut. Perhaps the selection was a hasty reaction to a recent customer complaint, high-dollar quality failure or process disruption. If the problem is not a chronic issue, it might not have the improvement value that was expected.

A data step in the chartering process is essential to make sure the projects with the most value are given priority position.

Fix something you can actually fix

Not every improvement project is suited to Six Sigma methods. As a starting point, Six Sigma projects are always ones where there is no obvious solution to the problem—it will emerge through the DMAIC process.

Think also about how Six Sigma’s focus on improving the average result of a process relates to your candidate project. The process you’re going to work on needs to be sufficiently stable—established and not subject to other changes which might affect reasonable measurement of impact.

Everything can be measured

Since we’re on the subject, it’s equally vital that the project’s projected gains are measurable. There may be more measures than cost-benefit.

Every project needs a strong champion

A champion that is not engaged with the project or lacks the authority to clear away obstacles is of little help to the team. Without proper support, the team can flounder if the most significant root causes are beyond the team’s ability to influence.

Improvement in the right direction

Support often comes from selecting projects that are closely aligned to management goals or business strategy. Care should be taken to make sure there is a strong link to business aims or current strategy. Too many projects are exposed to risk because the zeal for improvement may be out of tune with business objectives.

Big on benefits

Are we clear on what the potential value of the project might be? Are the benefits consistent with business aims and with improving outcomes for customers.

Clearly defined scope

A realistic scope is essential to an effective project. Scope it too broadly or allow the scope to creep and the team may never find the finish line. Scope too narrowly and the team may be boxed out of the fertile area of improvement.

Have you got the resources available?

A success will only come to a project where the team is big enough, has the experience and has sufficient authority to accomplish the improvements it finds are necessary.

Insufficient or the wrong kind of data

It should go without saying, but the fact remains people do select projects on the basis of data that is either incomplete or misleading. If the data used for analysis is biased or otherwise compromised, you may completely hide the true root cause. The unpredictability of the measurements themselves can rob the project of the precision necessary to diagnose the root causes.

At Juran, we’ve seen a lot of great projects and several not so great ones. We’ve even seen ones that should have delivered, but were found lacking in one area— enough to fail. That’s why we can’t overstate the importance of good selection before you assemble the team and put yourselves in the spotlight.

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