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“Stacking The Deck” – Embarking on a Major Process Improvement Initiative

Continuous Improvement

Mark Woeppel - July 15, 2013

Operations Management PhotoWe’ve all seen promising initiatives get started with hearty organizational enthusiasm only to gradually die out, not meet full expectations, or get displaced in favor of ‘new thinking’.

Having been the individual responsible for many such initiatives, I’ve learned (often the hard way) that it pays to “stack the deck” at the beginning of the project while enthusiasm still runs high.  While most of the suggestions in this article are in no way revolutionary or ground-breaking, thinking about how each of these complimentary tasks contributes to “stacking the deck” is most certainly a worthwhile exercise in building a good foundation for a successful initiative.

Commit to the Effort in a Project Charter.  A Project Charter is a document typically signed by at least the Initiative’s Sponsor (person allocating budget) and the Project Manager (person responsible for planning and executing).  The Charter identifies things like project scope, project objectives, major stakeholders, and team member authority levels.  Additionally, I strongly recommend that your charter articulate the vision of the end-state as well as the metrics upon which the effort’s success will ultimately be judged. Risk areas that could impact your success should also be highlighted.

Having a signed project charter has saved my ‘back side’ on a couple different occasions.  Especially on longer projects, a Charter can be used to remind those with short memories what they signed up for at the project start and help motivate them to play their part.  It is also a useful document to align players that may change after the project gets kicked off.  Identifying risk areas such as this up front prepares you to negotiate contingencies for when Murphy strikes.

Conduct a Stakeholder Analysis.  Going through a written exercise of identifying the stakeholders and understanding how the project will affect each person and their role in the organization is time well-spent.  A major part of a Project Manager’s job is to convince others to accomplish project-related tasks.  In today’s matrix organizations, the Project Manager often does not have direct authority over many of the resources assigned to the team and must negotiate conflicting priorities and/or objectives.  A Stakeholder Analysis helps one articulate what these priorities and competing objectives might be.

As a practical matter, I typically put together a matrix for my personal use (or the use of a select few trusted team members) that lists what is important to each impacted stakeholder and what my engagement plan with them will be.  This is especially important for those who may perceive the initiative as threatening (or maybe just cumbersome), but you should also do this for those who will be positively impacted.

Develop a Formalized Project Plan.  In a major initiative, a formalized project plan can be your best friend.  A good project plan will break down the project into bite-sized tasks for your team members and establish the linkages that tie the work together.  It will also guide progress with estimated task durations and strategically placed buffers to account for the uncertainties that are inherent to project work.

There are undoubtedly some guys who ‘have done this a 1000 times’ and can successfully pull off a successful major initiative with an ad-hoc management style.  For those of us who are less risk averse and want to ‘stack the deck’ in our favor, a good project plan will serve as an effective communication vehicle both early in the project and later….after things haven’t gone according to plan.

Read some of our case studies here to see how these implementation realities helped achieve great results for our clients.

Cory TerEick is Pinnacle Strategies’ Engagement Manager specializing in the Oil & Gas and Aerospace industries. In this role, he is responsible for delivering results and sales while leading an international team of expert consultants working at various client sites around the world.  Mr. TerEick is a results-oriented problem solver with a track record of helping clients overcome significant challenges and driving high impact, transformational change. He is a recognized expert in advanced project management methodologies as well as mega-project design, execution, and turn-around. Mr. TerEick is especially skilled in operations diagnostics, process re-engineering, and portfolio-level strategic planning.

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