Eric J. Feldman
Many organizations invest in continuous improvement programs to increase efficiency or reduce costs. Continuous improvement (or CI) as practiced today has its roots in management techniques developed by W. Edwards Deming, best known for his work in Japan after WWII, particularly his work with the leaders of Japanese industry.
A good definition of continuous improvement is constant and never-ending change, or to paraphrase The Beatles, “getting better all the time.”
There are a variety of methods and systems that enterprises use to align to continuous improvement initiatives including Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen, Kanban, and others. To be effective, however, they need processes and tools that help identify, and track their efforts to reduce waste, cut expenses, and streamline business operations.
Regardless of the size of the organization, when a continuous improvement program reaches a certain maturity, it runs the risk of losing momentum. Often, companies begin their CI initiatives with the most obvious high-reward projects. Those that follow, however, run the risk of having less financial benefit. Compound this with an increase in administrative overhead as the number of project managers and projects grow, as the use of CI expands throughout the organization and what do you think happens? The “law of diminishing returns” sets in. Sooner or later, there could be decreased program ROI and as a result, a possible reduction in management support for CI.
One way to break free of this is through Deployment Management, the discipline of applying the rigorous approaches of continuous improvement to the operations of a continuous improvement program itself. The concept is simple: a continuous improvement program itself is made up of processes that can be analyzed, refined and optimized. The challenge is that many practitioners get so caught up in the execution of individual projects that they forget to “eat their own cooking.” In other words, they do not create a plan for optimizing their continuous improvement program.
Every phase of the project pipeline process has the potential for optimization. Here are a few phases that offer the greatest potential for results:
- Project Selection – it is important to undertake the right mix of projects that balances the risk and return with the resources, strategic alignment, and required executive support
- Project Manager Mentoring – can have a substantial impact on program results, especially in the areas of productivity, project success rates and cycle time
- Leveraging Knowledge and Replicating Solutions – use knowledge gained in the course of one project to benefit another, or better yet, several other projects
- Financial Reporting – Improving the processes of data gathering, validation, and reporting can directly reduce program overhead while improving project success
Besides the obvious increase in project efficiency and cost savings, we can summarize the benefits of Deployment Management in three areas:
- Executive visibility
- Strategic alignment
- Team productivity
An effective CI program requires the use of supporting systems such as a central repository for data and documents, real-time access to information, and a system to automate routine tasks, among other things. Many companies begin their CI journey using spreadsheets for program monitoring. This makes sense as they are easy to configure for basic tracking, can be shared via email or cloud storage, and everyone knows how to use them.
Keep in mind, however that spreadsheet limitations will become noticeable once a CI program scales and project manager involvement spans across departments and locations. One of the primary reasons for this is that a spreadsheet is essentially designed to be a single user tool, and not an enterprise solution. Once project managers have the need to aggregate data across multiple sources or across an extended time horizon, issues can quickly arise.
If you are managing a large continuous improvement program and still rely on spreadsheets, don’t be surprised if on day you are asked a key Deployment Management question such as “Where is the latest data?” that you have to respond with “I don’t know.”
For a more in-dept look at Deployment Management, along with how you can quantify the ROI of a CI program using a powerful enterprise project portfolio management solution, be sure to read the White Paper “Accelerate Return on Investment: Accelerate Lean Six Sigma ROI with Deployment Management” from Upland Software.