by Lauren Hisey
Ten years ago, I was into my third year as Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (LSSBB). I started a new group within the Quality Management Group. I was excited because my first two years LSSBB had gone very well. I become a Value Stream Co-Owner with another LSSBB of a high-profile International Product. The product was massive and in 32 different countries. Our goal for the product was to cut the overall median cycle time in half. When we first start digging into the development and working on the Value Stream Map, we soon realized that the process was different in all 32 countries because of the various telephone providers. We saw that there were unique cycle time and defects for each country.
Within the first two weeks of the program, we realized not everyone was on board with any changes. Regardless if Executive Leadership wanted it or if our customers were complaining. We were being pushed to implement new technology into the Value Stream. Instead of stopping to ensure that everyone from leaders to the line workers was onboard, we decided to move ahead because we thought we would tell them they had to accept the changes. That one mistake costs us dearly in time and money. We should have done the due diligence of Stakeholder analysis and Change Management. We would have a better path forward to allow for acceptance and a faster approach to improving things.
After the initial setback, we completed the appropriate Stakeholder analysis and implemented Change Management plans. While we didn't have to start from square one, we did have to backtrack a bit. But after the investigation and setting up of Change Management, we were able to move faster because everyone was on board. While this was a long journey of 2.5 years, we successfully reduced the cycle time by 60% and increased revenue by 35%. But the main lesson I learned during this whole process was to ensure that everyone needs to be engaged and onboard. For any type of Continuous Improvement (CI) or Artificial Intelligence (AI) project to be successful, the correct analysis should be completed to ensure everyone is ready and accepts the changes.
Often, I hear from my clients that they have faced engagement issues in the past. Their people were not on board with any changes unless they forced it or used some authority to ensure everyone was using the new process or alterations. But this type of practice is not sustainable and provides stress to the leaders and front-line workers. These types of work environments or cultures do not work for any organization.
From my experience, regardless of the business's size, you face similar experiences when everyone is not involved with any change. It does not matter the type of project, who is the Project Lead or Project Sponsor, or the company's size. Suppose everyone is not engaged from the start. In that case, you are only setting yourself up for failure if you do not take the appropriate steps at the beginning of the project. The typical setbacks you will see are:
• Unhappy and frustrated leadership
• Unhappy and disengage employees
• The new process is not being used
• People are not forthcoming; there is a lack of trust
• Delay in ROI on the project
• Dissatisfied customers
• Spiraling fire drills that cost the company money
• Projects or transformations that lose steam
With these setbacks that we learn, we need to start slow before we can move fast. For example, when you create a running or workout program, you do not just jump right in. You must start slowly to avoid failure and understand where you are. You need to assess and plan out your steps to ensure that you are successful and reach your goal. By taking the time to plan, you are more likely to succeed and meet your fitness goals instead of failing.
"The ability to plan from the start will increase your chances of succeeding instead of just jumping right in. "
What can be done to ensure that these setbacks do not happen?
How do you know that if you do analysis and create an analysis plan, everyone will stay engaged?
While there is no foolproof plan to ensure 100% engagement, you can do a few basic things with a project or program to provide better engagement. Through my CI career, I used these steps to improve the engagement rate of all the projects I've led with my clients and within the corporate structure.
1. Meet with the Project Sponsorship and Leadership
Understand the problem that is being solved and define what success will look like once the problem is solved. Determine the tangible and intangible achievements. Solving a problem isn't just about economic achievements; it also involves intangible things like happy employees, satisfied customers, or enthusiastic leadership.
2. Determine the Stakeholders and then meet with them
It is essential to determine who the right Stakeholders and to meet with. Remember that Stakeholders do not have immediate benefits from the project or program. You want the Stakeholders to have a positive impact because they can usually help you navigate troubled waters.
3. Determine the right active and Adhoc Team Members and meet with them right away
For the project to be successful, the right Team Members need to be a part of the Team. These are employees who the changes will directly impact, and you want to ensure they are 100% onboard with the changes. Suppose there are issues and concerns with any of the Team Members. In that case, this is the time to understand the problems and understand where the employees are coming from. Taking the time to learn and have empathy allows you to gain trust and positively impact the behavior.
4. Meet with Project Sponsor and critical stakeholders either weekly or bi-weekly
Meet with the Project Sponsor and key stakeholders to provide an update on the project status. This time is an excellent time to address issues that come up and address if the engagement level from anyone within the project has changed. By keeping everyone apprised of the projects allows for tremendous success.
5. Meet with Team members on a regular schedule
The Candance that you set with your Team will be dependent on where you are in the project. At least once a week, you want to meet with the entire Team to ensure everyone is still on the same page. At the start of the project, you are maybe meeting 2-3 times a week, but as you start to enter the projects' last phases, you may only meet 1-2 times a week. You can hold additional meetings depending on what is needed for the project. Using your instincts and empathy will guide you along to make sure you know what is going on.
6. Through the project, take to analyze the engagement level at all levels
Keeping an open mind and taking the time to understand the engagement and mood levels will allow you to address issues right when they start instead of putting out fires. Things can go from positive to negative fast if you do not always assess the team's environment.
7. Celebrate! Celebrate!
As you move along with the project or program, it is essential to remember that you need to celebrate each success (regardless of how big or small) and milestone is achieved. During my initial training for Lean Six Sigma, I directed to celebrate at the project's end. But as I moved further into my Continuous Improvement Career, I realized that we should not wait till the end to celebrate. Too often, we wait till the end to celebrate anything. But I learned, it is more important to celebrate all of the wins throughout a project because it gets people excited. The people doing the work see their hard work celebrating and recognize. The Leaders start to see the fantastic job and know who to thank for the work.
It is the celebrations that get people excited and want to continue down the Continuous Improvement journey. No matter how big or small, these celebrations turn into pride and joy.
The setbacks can be avoided with the proper planning and analysis from the start of any project. While it may seem cumbersome to start this way with each project, it is better to be prepared from the beginning to ensure smooth sailing during and after the project. Just because a project closes does not mean that the improvement work stops. Control or Continuous Improvement Plans need to be in place to ensure that everyone stays engaged and does not revert to the old ways.
One of the biggest learnings I have from the past thirteen years is learning to keep an open mind and having empathy. Whether things are positive or negative, if you have compassion, this allows you to be open and understand everyone's viewpoints. The main goal of engagement is to ensure that you will have a positive impact on everyone involved.
Lauren Hisey is not your typical consultant or coach. She uses a calming influence, Continuous Improvement, Lean Six Sigma, AI knowledge through regular conversations to help create effective change within any business. Lauren helps businesses to improve profitability and culture to drive sustainable growth. She has spent 13 years living and breathing Continuous Improvement as a coach, consultant, trainer, and speaker with different sizes businesses, universities, podcasts, and various networking associations. She has a passion for Continuous Improvement and loves to show others how to use it effectively in their businesses and personal life.