Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Project Kaizen: Single Piece Flow in the Workgroup

Project Kaizen: Single Piece Flow in the Workgroup

A workgroup is just that; a group that does work. More importantly, though, a workgroup is usually a somewhat constant group. The individuals likely know each other, are often get paid by the same entity and have some generally shared objectives. It is one of the most obvious contexts for project kaizen. Examples are easy to see: A research group, a purchasing department, a construction crew, a software team, a maternity ward staff.

Projects happen in this context. Complete a research paper and submit. Find a new vendor for welding rods. Improve on-site safety performance. Add two new features to version 4.5. Find a way for siblings to visit Mom and new baby.

A project in this setting has the advantage that the people are already there and may have a shared interest. The problem is that these people also have regular work to do. They also have history, good or bad, with each other. Project success has to account for each of these things.

Kaizen here means;

Identify the project
Account for loading
Eliminate multi-tasking
Communicate simply.

I remain fascinated at how many projects workgroups take on without even knowing they have done it, almost as if they contract a virus, unawares. It is in stating, clearly, the name and objective of a project that success starts.

Which leads to loading. Just how many projects does a work group have? Does anyone know? All too often they don’t.

I mention “Lead” third, because it is only after identifying the projects and being aghast at the subsequent overloading that Leadership can really happen. Before that, most of us consider it only so much meddling. But who else can help a workgroup better than the leader? And who else can really say “we will do this” and “we won’t do that?” And then, by making that declaration stick, who else can truly communicate priorities?

The most crucial task for the Leader is to rid the group of the curse of multi-tasking. The Leader must replace it with single piece flow. I believe this is the most foundational priciple of workgroup improvement strategies.

And you laugh.

Most folks in workgroups simply do not believe they can ever get to single piece flow in the project setting, that sweet spot where they see a task through to completion, without interruption, without pause, without distraction. Kaizen begins when the workgroup leader declares “Yes, we can get to single piece flow. What is the first step?”

How do we get rid of multi-tasking?
First, decide to do it.
Second, break big tasks into smaller tasks.
Third, make each individual task for a person something that can be done in 90 minutes or less…preferably 45 minutes. This may make for a long list. Stay with it.

Describe each task in the form “Verb the Noun with Tool by Date/time.” For example: “Write the supplier specification in MS Word by Tuesday noon.” “ Mail the proposal to Marcie at Acme on Friday by 9am.” Don’t list the task as “Supplier Spec” or “Proposal finished.”

Discover when, each day, individual work group members can best concentrate and work. Some are morning people, some late night candle-burners. Accept this as part of the joy of a diverse workgroup and embrace it.

Let people work odd hours, when it is easier to be uninterrupted.

Turn off email for a period of time. Yes, you heard right, turn it off. There is life without email. My grandfather told me so. Turn it off while you are working on a project. It will all be there when you come back. If the task or sub task takes only 90 minutes, you won’t miss much.

In the workgroup that is physically located together, a great tool is the Project Poster. This is a visual tool at which the project team who are can interact.

Make it big. At least 3 x 4 feet. Yes feet
Make it change. Add something new, daily.
Meet, with your project team, standing, next to it. Frequently. Daily, if possible.
Put names on it.
Make project metrics clear. An easy one is “finished 90 minute tasks.” You can make this a Plan to Actual metric as well. Then look at the percent plan complete.
Don’t make it “nice”…do it in hand writing.
Encourage others to write comments on it.
State when the project is done. Then take it down, replace it.

By focusing on a single project, breaking down tasks and making it visible, you can see better how to get to single piece flow. And dramatically improve both the performance and the results of projects in the context of a workgroup.

Get in the habit:
List the projects in your workgroup.
Buy a “science project display”, the tri-fold sort of thing that kids use. Set it on a table near your work group. Populate it.
Measure how many times in a day you and your workgroup finds interruption to single piece flow. Reality hurts…and it is a beginning.

Check out what the rest of my co-bloggers have to say:
Bill Waddell
Chuck Frey
Hal Macomber
Jon Miller
Mark Graban
Norman Bodek

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