When you hear about projects that save Fortune 500 companies millions, you might think operational excellence and continuous improvement programs guarantee success. Experienced practitioners tell a different story. We surveyed nearly 200 of them at all skill levels from major companies across the United States. What was the one factor they believed tied most directly to success?
Choosing the Right Lean Six Sigma Project
Companies invest a great deal of time, effort and money in Lean Six Sigma programs. So if you're doing a project, the expectations are probably high: companies that have made this investment expect good projects to challenge expectations, make processes better and improve profitability.
But what makes a potential project the right project? We asked the professionals to tell us what makes a good project, and charted their responses in the bar chart below using Minitab Statistical Software:
1. Linking the project to finances
As you can see, they ranked a project's connection to the organization's bottom line as the most important factor in project selection. Analyzing financial information is an important step to take, as being able to communicate the potential impact on profits will reinforce your project's benefits.
2. Manageable scope — don't set out to 'boil the ocean'
Our respondents ranked a manageable scope as the second most important characteristic of a good project. A desire to achieve the kind of incredible gains that have garnered a lot publicity in the past can result in projects that are simply too large in scope to be manageable.
Many of those surveyed warned about projects with a scope equivalent to “boiling the ocean,” sharing that a good project needs to be large enough to make a significant impact, but still small enough to be manageable.
3. Lean Six Sigma projects are built for DMAIC
The third most important component in good project selection is choosing a project most likely to benefit from the DMAIC approach (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control). A good project involves a measurable defect, or a process for which changes can be measured accurately.
Tools for Project Selection
A project may be important and beneficial, but may not meet the criteria to be a good Lean Six Sigma project. And you may have dozens — even hundreds — of potential projects to choose from. Like process maps and many other project planning tools, the best and most collaborative way to start is often good old-fashioned post-its and whiteboards. When you are ready start scoring the viability of projects, Companion by Minitab process improvement software has a few great tools to help you narrow your options and select the best projects to move forward.
A Project Risk Assessment will help you determine whether a potential project can be brought to successful completion on time. Once you’ve established the level of risk, a Project Prioritization Matrix helps prioritize a project pipeline according to the criteria that are important to your organization.
However you go about it, the quality practitioners we surveyed suggest that to succeed, you want to choose a manageable and measurable project which will return the greatest value to the company.
Got more questions on how to sustain Continuous Improvement?
Editor's note: An earlier version of this post originally
appeared on The Minitab Blog in September 2011.