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  • Darren Long

3 Disciplines for Project Success


airline worker moving luggage from tractor to conveyor to load on a plane

Preface

This white paper is one of many case studies on projects that had yet to go as planned. Under a sub-category, Must-Have Strategies Revealed for Lean Six Sigma, this paper intends to raise awareness of the importance of the three disciplines required for project success. Little of this information is new. It’s not cosmic or procedurally Earth-shattering. However, I intend to walk through some project details, including what a project means, who does what, defining a successful project, the reality that projects fail, the importance of all three disciplines, and how you can apply this to your next or current project.


Understanding Projects

Let's begin by defining a project. Projects are temporary endeavors with a specific start and end rather than ongoing or spanning multiple generations. While initiating a project is often straightforward, bringing it to a successful close can be more challenging. Each project has a clear objective that needs to be achieved.

 

Regardless of the project type, whether it's LSS, DMAIC, CPI, BPI, PI, CI, BPR, OCR, CMIP, PPM, Kaizen, PMLC, 5S/6S, 10-Step, 8-Step, or 6-Step PPSM, the principles we discuss in this paper are universally applicable. This inclusivity ensures that the information presented is relevant to your project, fostering a sense of connection and relevance.


 

Denver International Airport

In 1992, the Automated Baggage Handling System (ABHS), originally costing $238M, was installed at the new Denver International Airport (DIA). With 17 miles of track and viewed as the cutting-edge airport baggage system, this project was intended to raise the bar in modernization and efficiency.

 

Within 16 months, another $560M was spent due to problems with its performance, which caused misdirected, delayed, and damaged baggage. By 2005, the system was scrapped due to rising costs and maintenance issues. In November 2022, 30 years later, and with a proposed price of $500M, the Denver City Council wants to bring it back to life.

 

Process Improvement and Change Management are not just buzzwords, but powerful tools that can empower you to achieve your project's desired outcome. Understanding and implementing these disciplines can make a significant difference in your project's success, instilling a sense of capability and empowerment.

 

1.. Project Management

This discipline is responsible for strategizing, organizing, and executing the project. It ensures that the project progresses efficiently and effectively from start to finish.

  • Planning, procurement, execution, and project completion

  • Follows PMBOK® Guide and policy

  • Variety of certification types, experience levels, and industry specifics

  • Requires organization, teamwork, and attentiveness

  • Focuses on scope, budget, and deadlines, ensuring and keeping track of all things milestone-related

 

2.. Process Improvement

This area examines and enhances existing processes to align with the project's objectives. By streamlining operations, the project can achieve its goals more efficiently.

  • Leads, analyzes, structures, and coaches business improvements

  • Applies CPI/LSS tools/ techniques via IASSC, ASQ, etc.

  • Increasing levels of certification leads to advanced project types

  • Wears multiple hats throughout

  • Insists on gaining efficiencies and improving the way business is done

 

3.. Change Management

This discipline concentrates on facilitating the smooth implementation of the project, particularly concerning the human aspect. It guarantees that the organization embraces the necessary changes without any significant disruptions.

  • Leads, analyzes, structures, and coaches business improvements

  • Applies CPI/LSS tools/ techniques via IASSC, ASQ, etc.

  • Increasing levels of certification leads to advanced project types

  • Wears multiple hats throughout

  • Insists on gaining efficiencies and improving the way business is done

 

These three disciplines must collaborate cohesively and harmoniously for a project to succeed.


Defining Project Success

A successful project meets its objectives within the defined timeframe and budget while improving the organization's performance. It should also positively impact stakeholders, such as customers, employees, and shareholders. It is important to note that success is not just measured by meeting project goals but also by how well the project is received and adopted by the organization.

 

Whether it's an ROI or KPI deviation, or 101 if not 1,001 other measuring sticks, as is said, it 'must be measured.' This is discussed in the Measure Phase of DMAIC, the PDCA Plan phase, and Step 2 in the PPSM or 8-Step A3 style problem-solving approach. We can turn to our metrics, dashboards, and stats. Yet ultimately… who gets to say, "That's a successful project?" Is it the customer? The stakeholder? What about the project lead or LSS/CI' belt'? Everyone? What could go wrong, right? Finally, do you believe your gut or intuition is a viable measuring tool?


Reality: Projects Fail

The Automated Baggage Handling System at DIA shows that projects can and do fail. However, failure is not necessarily a bad thing. Failure can lead to valuable lessons learned that can be applied to future projects. It is critical to identify the root causes of failure and take corrective action to prevent similar issues from happening in the future.

 

What is a ‘failed project’? Now, when we say failure… We’re talking about a project that has Stopped, Is on hold, is Slow, or maybe the worst, is Disengaged. Not all, yet many do. They say that you can’t talk about “failure.” No one sets out to fail.

 

Sometimes, as my friends over at the “Chopped” Food Network series stated, you need to make do with ‘what’s in the basket.’

 

We typically hear that projects fail for these reasons:  

  • No kaizen spirit

  • No particular focus on quality  

  • No continuous flow cells

  • No visualization of lead times

  • Process inputs not well-understood

  • Sampling mixed-up variability sources  

  • No thought to a reaction plan

  • Lack of clear purpose and goals

  • Inability…

  • Ineffective…  

  • Lack of…

 

To name a few.


Now, to take it up a level, a few years ago, The International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management released the study Critical Failure Factors of Lean Six  Sigma: A Systematic Literature Review. They reviewed 56 published papers to find the common failures with LSS design and approaches. Over 20 years, 34 factors were identified. These are the top 15:

 

  1. Lack of top management attitude, commitment, and involvement

  2. Lack of training and education

  3. Poor project selection and prioritization

  4. Lack of resources (financial, technical, human, etc.)

  5. Weak link between CI projects and strategic objectives of the Org.

  6. Resistance to cultural change

  7. Poor communication

  8. Lack of leadership skills and visionary and supportive leadership

  9. Lack of consideration of the human factors

  10. Lack of awareness of the benefits of Lean/Six Sigma

  11. Wrong selection of Lean/Six Sigma tools

  12. Narrow view of LSS as a set of tools, techniques, and practices

  13. Lack of understanding of the different types of customers/VOC

  14. Lack of employee engagement, participation, or team autonomy

  15. Lack of process thinking and process ownership

 

The Importance of All 3 Project Disciplines

This leads us to some questions, starting with “So what?” Or maybe a better one could be, “Where do we go next?”

 

I want to propose the power of three! I’m talking about those three disciplines we spoke of earlier. I want to propose that those three disciplines are like a tripod! A tripod is supported at the top by three legs; all three are needed, they serve a balanced purpose, and typically, each leg is adjustable. They are balanced and disciplined.

 

As always, projects come in all sizes and, in many cases, have increasing complexity. An example would be when more team members are added, or timelines are changed during or just before a project’s start.

 

As we look at the elements, we find that our projects sit atop those three legs or, as we said before, disciplines. The PM, OCM, and PI are at the foundation. Yet you quickly notice that our project leader is in the middle, acting as the gimble, constantly pivoting to ensure the project is on track.

 

However, when one of those disciplines is weak or coming up short, the project leader tends to be left to do their very best to keep the project level.

 

This is where you begin to recognize the need for some critical questions. What are the risks? How long can that project leader maintain such balance? What is the effect on quality?

 

As mentioned, this is not a new methodology nor a simple checklist. However, I intend to impress upon you that as you prepare for, drive through, or find yourself in the middle of that struggling project, remember the following…A tripod needs those three legs to maintain balance, just as your project needs three specific disciplines: Organizational Change Management, Project Management, and Business Process Improvement.

 

Let’s apply this to the list of the top 15 common failures mentioned earlier. Using some color coding, we begin to see clarity. Poor selection, prioritization, and resources get the PM tag, while culture change, communication, and engagement get the OCM tag.


1. Lack of top management attitude, commitment, and involvement

Infographic showing the three equal disciplines in project success

2. Lack of training and education

3. Poor project selection and prioritization

4. Lack of resources (financial, technical, human, etc.)

5. Weak link between CI projects and strategic objectives of the Org.

6. Resistance to cultural change

7. Poor communication

8. Lack of leadership skills and visionary and supportive leadership

9. Lack of consideration of the human factors

10. Lack of awareness of the benefits of Lean/Six Sigma

11. Wrong selection of Lean/Six Sigma tools

12. Narrow view of LSS as a set of tools, techniques, and practices

13. Lack of understanding of the different types of customers/VOC

14. Lack of employee engagement, participation, or team autonomy

15. Lack of process thinking and process ownership


To take it one step further, we see a weighted scale of the top 15 and how the responsibilities could be assigned.

  • Poor project selection and prioritization

Infographic showing three weighted disciplines of project
  • Lack of resources (financial, technical, human, etc.)

  • Lack of process thinking and process ownership

  • Lack of top management attitude, commitment, and involvement

  • Resistance to cultural change

  • Poor communication

  • Lack of employee engagement, participation, or team autonomy

  • Weak link between CI projects and strategic objectives of the Org.

  • Lack of consideration of the human factors

  • Lack of awareness of the benefits of Lean/Six Sigma

  • Wrong selection of Lean/Six Sigma tools

  • Narrow view of LSS as a set of tools, techniques, and practices

  • Lack of training and education

  • Lack of leadership skills and visionary and supportive leadership

  • Lack of understanding of the different types of customers/VOC


To take it one step further, we see a weighted scale of the top 15 and how the responsibilities could be assigned.

  • Poor project selection and prioritization

  • Lack of resources (financial, technical, human, etc.)

  • Lack of process thinking and process ownership

  • Lack of top management attitude, commitment, and involvement

  • Resistance to cultural change

  • Poor communication

  • Lack of employee engagement, participation, or team autonomy

  • Weak link between CI projects and strategic objectives of the Org.

  • Lack of consideration of the human factors

  • Lack of awareness of the benefits of Lean/Six Sigma

  • Wrong selection of Lean/Six Sigma tools

  • Narrow view of LSS as a set of tools, techniques, and practices

  • Lack of training and education

  • Lack of leadership skills and visionary and supportive leadership

  • Lack of understanding of the different types of customers/VOC


BPI

  • Leads, analyzes, structures, and coaches

  • Applies CPI/LSS tools/techniques via IASSC, ASQ, etc.

  • Increasing levels of certification leads to advanced project types

  • Wears multiple hats throughout


Key Takeaways

  1. Not every project requires an overly skilled title to be successful; however, ensuring the right disciplines are there is.

  2. Close the ‘knowing-doing’ gap by recognizing the need early and applying these disciplines throughout your project.

  3. Project teams are powerful. They unleash their creativity and increase the probability of success by effectively utilizing all three project disciplines.

 

Conclusion

Project success requires the involvement of project management, process improvement, and change management. Defining clear objectives, identifying potential risks, and working together seamlessly to ensure project success is essential. Failure is not necessarily bad, but it is necessary to determine the root causes and take corrective action to prevent similar issues from happening by recognizing them early. Applying these principles to your next or current project can improve your chances of success.

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