Building a Lean Six Sigma programme as the driving force of process improvement requires a strong organisational framework to ensure focussed effort that delivers results. This article covers a programme management office (PMO) framework KStar Associates' uses with clients when ramping up a lean six sigma programme to minimise risk and manage change within the organisation.
Developing a Programme Management Office (PMO)
Process consultants' work can sometimes bring with it a degree of fear, resistance to change and uncertainty, yet there is still a need to ensure business continuity and minimal disruption to operations. Where process improvement programmes affect more than 20 employees or there are a number of initiatives that need to be managed across the organisation, it makes sense to mobilise a Programme Management Office (PMO).
All improvement initiatives require management sponsorship and effective communications to ensure impacted stakeholders within the organisation understand the reason for process improvement and benefits to be gained while also opening a channel for bottom-up feedback to management. This creates an upward / downward dynamic to drive engagement and carefully manage stakeholder needs as the programme ramps up & process improvement work begins. At the same time, it is important that each lean six sigma process improvement project is given a clear mandate and objectives to achieve that they can be measured against. The role of the PMO is to then track risks, issues, actions as well as report into Management on business case and progress tracking. Where there are a number of potential areas to improve, the PMO business case function can also prioritise initiatives based on return on investment / importance / impact etc. In parallel to the delivery and reporting aspects of the programme, what is essential is having a training plan and mechanisms in place to provide support and coaching to staff. This structured approach enables clear governance and protects business continuity.
The most important part: people
While a large effort is usually devoted to resourcing a lean six sigma project, it's important to get the right skilled people. At the same time, it's important not to treat training and coaching as a tick-box exercise but ensure people feel the benefit of new processes and adopt them. This doesn't have to be costly and when planned efficiently can usually be tied into a normal working day whether it be through informal 'brown bag learning lunches' to encourage employees to train each other, or open forums to provide questions and answers. Setting up quick reference guides and training manuals will also enable new staff to be trained up after joining the company. The time spent investing in people will deliver long-term rewards and provide a more engaged workforce.
Scaling to business needs
Regardless of the size of the company, it may be that the objective of management is to achieve results without necessarily ramping multiple projects. This is completely understandable. Lean Six Sigma projects can range from focussed localised problem solving to large scale improvement initiatives. The characteristics of the two are summarised below:
> Rapid, "results now" improvements
> A 'Just get it done' approach
> Smaller teams, local scope
> Lower project savings, locally led deployment
> Practical, quick-win solutions
> Fewer, but more substantial improvements / efficiency gains
> In-depth analysis, requiring longer time frames but solid results
> Senior management sponsorship
> Higher project savings, strategically critical
> Company wide initiative
> Mixture of practical and sophisticated solutions
Localised lean six sigma projects are not necessarily smaller in size or scope but do tend to be less strategically focussed which in turn limit the true value of taking a holistic approach. Depending on the nature of the problem being solved and a company's long term strategy, it can sometimes make sense with starting off with localised, targeted initiatives before considering longer-term strategic solutions. Our process consultants adjust the tools and methodologies being used to fit with the client need while being flexible enough to adapt as the programme matures. It is ultimately management and employees, who working together can drive the pace of improvement with the guidance of process consultants.
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