The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize. - Shigeo Shing
As part of my Lean Six Sigma training, I learned what it means to have waste in a process. I started seeing everything as a process, and it was easy to identify ways to improve what my team and I were doing to be more efficient and effective.
How many times have you asked yourself why you are doing what you are doing, thinking that there must be a better way? And how many times is the answer “because this is how we have always done it” or something to that effect?
As a project manager with time as one of your main concerns, you have none of it to waste. I have taken a more practical approach to process optimization and even taken the “waste” discussion to everyday tasks like meetings and project planning.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts – based on lean six sigma practices – that you can think about as a project manager, and then make the necessary changes to create a better work environment for all.
DO always focus on the customer – Your team should never produce something that your (internal or external) customer does not want or need. The project charter should outline the scope, which should be validated based on knowledge that the customer will actually pay for and/or use the end product.
Workplace example: You create a weekly report that no one reads. Ask yourself – did the recipients actually asked for the report? Do they understand the report and know how to use the information? Does it include data that is relevant to them? After answering these questions, determine whether you should adjust the report or stop creating it.
DON’T waste people’s time – This one is so important! When you are relying on your team to keep up with deadlines and submit deliverables as they manage their very busy schedules, you cannot also ask them to do unnecessary work or attend meetings that do not apply to them.
Workplace example: You have a recurring weekly meeting with a large number of attendees. Ask yourself – does everyone needs to be there each time? Does everyone have a purpose in the meeting based on the agenda? If not, either un-invite them – not because you want to exclude people, but because you are being respectful of their time.
DO involve the right people – This one may even be more important than not wasting people’s time because it is a pre-requisite to not wasting time. If you do not have the right people in the meeting to begin with, then you will need to meet all over again.
Workplace example: You have run into an issue and need to resolve it to move forward. Ask yourself – can the people discussing the issue actually incite change? Do they have the knowledge and/or authority to do something about the issue? If not, figure out who does and set up a follow-up meeting.
DO try to error-proof the workflow – In Lean Six Sigma language, this one is related to eliminating defects in the process. Lean is all about flow of information/goods in one direction. If there is a defect in the product, then time, money, and resources are wasted doing it over again to get it right – so you need to error-proof the work to make sure that does not happen.
Workplace example: You rely on each team member to complete their work accurately before handing it off to the next person. Ask yourself – are there controls in place for people to check their work? Is it possible for people to send incomplete work? Creating and communicating simple checklists to all team members will help clarify what is expected and hold people accountable to submit a work product that is up to standard.
I guarantee that if you look at what you are doing on a daily basis, you are bound to find waste. In addition to assessing your ways of working in the moment, conducting a lessons learned session after-the-fact is a good way to capture needed improvements for next time.
So I challenge you as a project manager to practice some of the tips found above to reduce that waste and make it easier for people to do their jobs.