What are We Learning from Our Projects?

Recently, I had the chance to speak in person with Dr. Willis Thomas, author of a new book published in November 2011 titled The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned. His book provides the framework to conduct lessons learned using the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) as a standard.

When I asked Willis why he chose the PMBOK approach for lessons learned he replied:

Project managers trust and are comfortable with the PMBOK for five Process Groups (Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring/Controlling and Closing) and nine Knowledge Areas (Communications, Cost, Human Resources, Integration, Procurement, Quality, Risk, Scope and Time). Many project managers run projects using these categories.

The approach I take is very simple; to overlay what has been done right, done wrong and could have been done differently using these 14 process group and knowledge area categories. This matrix, creates a 5x9 table of 45 categories, with three variables per category (right, wrong, differently), which results in potentially 135 elements for review.

This compartmentalizes the collection process for lessons learned so that it is situation-specific. The project team can then determine what lessons to review -- that is, what went right during project initiation regarding communications. Of course, each factor should allow for comments to detail characteristics of the lesson.

A primary goal for lessons learned should not only be to avoid making the same mistakes in projects (summative reflection), but to strategize for improvement (formative thinking). This approach can help project managers to be consistent in their approach to evaluating projects.

What do you think of Willis' advice? Have any of you used this process?


To Be, or Not to Be... A Project Manager

At the recent Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) conference in Dallas, I had the chance to talk with Adil Dalal, author of a new book called The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence: A Lean Approach to Improving Project Results. An important part of his book essentially provides the "5 Powers" needed to transform from a project manager to an advanced project leader. In addition, it provides groundbreaking techniques to achieve excellence in project leadership that can result in six sigma type results or failure-free projects.

I basically asked Adil what it means to be a project leader instead of a manager, and here is his response:

A project, by definition, is a "temporary" endeavor undertaken to create a "unique" product, service, or result. Thus, every project is like an expedition through the unknown terrain to reach the summit of success. When something "unique" is being created – how can we expect to manage it? Are we not required to lead the "unique" transformation effort? Today, most project managers fail because there is too much "management" and too little "leadership" during the journey. Only project managers who undergo a paradigm shift and transform themselves into project leaders by providing guidance and direction to their team can be truly successful in their expeditions every time. Attempting to manage a project is like trying to hang on to the tail of a wild tiger. The focus is always on countering the tiger’s every move to avoid the fatal jaws. Thus, a project manager is constantly in a reactive mode and there is no time for creativity. On the other hand, leading a project is like riding a tame tiger. Although there is a healthy level of anxiety and adventure, the focus is on guiding it in the right direction. Thus, a project leader is always proactive.

What do you think of Adil's ideas? What characteristics do you see lacking in most project managers? Does your organization have more project managers or project leaders?


Not Only Achieving the Excellence, But Sustaining It...

Some surveys conducted during the past 30 years continue to find that upwards of 80% of the companies that start down the road to manufacturing excellence, using techniques such as TQM, Agile Manufacturing, Theory of Constraints, Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and others, end up stalled within two to five years. All these journeys probably began very seriously with high hopes for continuous improvement (CI), but early results eroded and hopes of sustaining long-term results faded. Based on the short-term results, every company that has used the various tools has found that they work. The point most often missed, however, is that continuous improvement is not, nor will it ever be, solely about the tools.

I recently asked Larry Fast (author of a new book titled The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence: A Leader's Guide to Achieving and Sustaining Excellence): What does it take for companies to learn how to sustain their CI journey? Here is his response:

My book devotes almost no time on the use of tools but rather to those critical “infrastructure” items that must be in place for an enterprise to sustain the improvements for the long term. For example, the principles of safety and good housekeeping (#1 & 2) focus on the trust and discipline necessary to change culture while helping the hourly associates develop both competence and confidence in their ability to work a new way.

The principles (# 3 &5) of using only authorized formal systems/standard work further develops the discipline necessary for culture change while each important work process is being re-engineered for standardization and capability. A strong preventive/predictive maintenance system (# 4) demonstrates leadership’s commitment to making sure the machine operators always have equipment that is in proper working condition so they can control their process and deliver great products. Principles #10 and 11 provide the standard work necessary to perpetuate the replenishment of the trained people necessary to effectively fulfill their roles every day. Absent the sustaining of comprehensive training and communications, skills disappear, performance deteriorates and the dream of CI dies.

The final point is that the culture changes very gradually – that is, not because of some feel-good initiatives, but rather because the leadership has sustained their commitment on the pathways to excellence. When management reestablishes its credibility, it is because they have collectively provided the focus and organizational alignment consistently, day after day, month after month, year after year such that the workforce develops trust in their leadership. Further, when management provides the context for their work, provides the proper tools, training, maintenance, systems, processes, communications, follows up with attention to detail on commitments that have been made, then the associates experience the change. In fact, they live the new way of working and thinking, and begin to willingly take ownership/accountability for their work without feeling "put upon."

The culture of Operator-Led Process Control is not the starting point. It is the vision of the culture that we seek. And it will evolve as the outcome from meticulous execution of the first eleven principles to a level of Stage 4 excellence. But make no mistake: The first day any member of leadership decides to stop doing the training, the preventative maintenance, or the communications, that’s the first day that the business starts going backwards from whence it came.

What do you think of Larry's points? Do you agree with his comments about management credibility?