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Topics: New Practitioners, Organizational Project Management
process improvement advice?
Hi everyone. I'm managing a process improvement project. The team (and the organization overall) does not have a process expert on it. We have identified pain points in our current process. I believe we have a mix of people, systems and data issues based on what I've heard. I could use next step advice to move this team forward towards recommending process changes...what is logical next step?

I am not certified. :(
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Normally I would gather the team and triage the identified issues. We would rate them on a simple scale of 1 to 3 or 5 (depending on the level of detail you want) of the difficulty to address the issue, and the perceived benefit. We usually show those in graphical form because it's easy to read.

Issues that have a high impact but low cost would be obvious focus items. You then need to determine your limits, such as do you stop at medium benefit/medium cost, do you bother with low benefit but low cost, etc. You can spend a lot of money chasing negligible benefit otherwise.
It's also a good idea to map your current process - value stream mapping is a simple but powerful technique to both visualize your current process but also to understands where the greatest sources of delay are within it.

Kiron
I worked on a project to develop and deploy a value-engineering methodology (using Lean Six Sigma tools & techniques) across a brewing company.
Purpose: end-to-end cost optimization and process standardization.
Focal points (three pillars): manufacturing, incl. plant maintenance, sourcing, logistics

In general, to seize the opportunities for improvement, data played a critical role. The process went through several steps
a) remote diagnostic - data collection via templates, questionnaires, etc.
b) data validation, preliminary consolidation
c) onsite diagnostic - to clarify the points of differences (with stakeholders)
d) producing a diagnostic report
e) define & quantify the opportunities for improvement (workshops, focus groups, and techniques such as Mind Maps, Affinity Diagrams, Context Diagram, etc.
f) compiling a list of initiatives (aimed at process improvement)

To map the processes, address the root causes of problems, and identify rooms for improvement, the company used a wide range of Lean Six Sigma tools & techniques; to name a few:
Value Stream Mapping (VSM), SIPOCS (Supplier - Input - Process - Output - Customers), Dilo (Day in the Life of) & Meeting and Review Observation, Shadowing, Time & Motion Study, Spaghetti Diagram, Cause and Effect Diagram, Flowchart, Check Sheet, Pareto Diagram; other tools such as Porter’s 5 Forces, Pestle, SWOT.
TL;DR: Map your process & value stream AND get some foundation Lean Six Sigma training for those involvded.

One thing I would recommend is to see if you can encourage your teams to watch some free Lean Six Sigma training, perhaps a white belt course could help in your future meetings. If you have access, you can even find some on LinkedIn Learning that is decent. Training for those involved will be helpful moving forward. Green belt training will also be helpful however a good coach or guru to help with team facilitation could also be useful.

In regards to your pain points. I think it is worthwhile to write them out and try to understand what the impact of each may be. A PICK chart would be useful to use when comparing those pain points and where to put your effort.

Perhaps some of the tools use for a typical project selection, could also be useful here. The importance is to make sure whatever projects or pain points you attack, are aligned to the overall mission and strategic vision, otherwise you'll lose support.

Additionally, I would recommend keeping in mind the entire value stream. Something that is "fixed" or modified downstream will impact processes and efforts upstream. This is why it is important to monitor not just the process that has been fixed, but how the entire value stream was affected.

Another thought process; what does your current process improvement project entail? Are the issues you are finding directly related to your project or could they be placed in a "parking lot" for a future project.

Lastly, don't beat yourself up about not being certified. The hands-on, practical experience is what is truly going to help you. Go out and study free resources on project selection tools, meeting facilitation skills, and leading brainstorming & root cause analysis sessions.

Sometimes being a project manager for lean type events requires you to be more of a coach and facilitator then the person with all the answers. Use the team to find a solution and to help with the data. Focus on making data-driven decisions. For example, we selected Pain Point A as our first project because it highest the highest impact on overall productivity and is the easiet/cheapest to implement. Short payback period and decent return on investment could justify the labor hours used against the idea.

Good Luck with your project!
My first comment is: take into account comments above, indeed. All they stated are part of my personal experience working in this type of things including it my last years when organizations started initiatives to transform itself to be more agile. In the beginning I worked with that in reengineering projects after being trained for people like Champy or Hammer. Trying to help you and trying to be as synthetic as possible here I go. 1-define your client. In my current work place where I was in charge of it we define client as "the next in the process change" taking a well known definition in the quality domain. 2-define value asking to your clients about "what is valuable for you?". Our first definition without asking them (sometimes there is not time for that at the beginning) was "value is something that will not mean a cost for out clients" where cost is not monetary only. Again, nothing new, is a definition taken from Lean. 3-with that on hand then "eliminate wasted" following what approaches like Toyota TPS or Lean stated. And my last piece of advice is listen to customers and don't try to be rigid and inflexible.
A project improvement methodology will help you to your goal. There are various methods: Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, Re-engineering, TQM, JIT, etc. Analyze the conditions and determine the best that fits to your organization in particular.
Keith and Kiron made good points.
Understanding the impact of the potential solutions is just as important as understanding the impact of the pain points. Do you have the right people on the team to help identify solutions for the pain points? Don't be fooled by low hanging fruit; as someone above mentioned, any change you make could have negative downstream impact. Understand the impact of the change before it is made, even if it seems simple.

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