Case Study: Re-invigorate a Key Business Initiative
The business improvement initiative of an aerospace company had been successful initially, but support was fading. They needed help with business process reengineering to re-invigorate the approach, called “Qual-Impro”, to return to delivering solid business improvements.
Qual-Impro was a 2-year-old initiative that took a classic six-sigma approach. Initially, feedback and results were positive but in the last six months the Qual-Impro leader had noticed a reduction in activity levels and a gradually increasing project duration. He was also hearing more apathy from fellow managers about projects under their sponsorship.
The starting point was to understand the history of the initiative and to understand its perception in the eyes of people around the business. A series of interviews with randomly selected people from across the business delivered some key insights:
While everyone in the business had heard of the initiative, most had only a limited understanding of its purpose and some held beliefs about it that were never intended.
- Initial excitement over learning new tools had given way to a realisation that it was plain hard work.
- There were complaints that the tools and methodology had not worked for some projects.
- There was little knowledge of the benefits realised by projects delivered.
- There was a perception that as business priorities changed, so did the preferred projects. The initiative was now generally considered as a cost-slashing exercise and had lost credibility.
A review of past projects revealed a number of issues:
- Projects were selected on a subjective basis – weak project definition documents didn’t demonstrate a real understanding of the purpose, scope or background to the issue.
- The methodology was a rigid interpretation of DMAIC and prescribed which tools were to be used in which phase, irrespective of the type of project.
- Project control was simplistic – project leaders informed the steering group when they completed each phase. No information was given or requested regarding problems, issues and successes.
- There was little communication of successes or failures after the very first round of projects completed.
Discussion and Planning
A two-day workshop was held to discuss and validate the findings. People from across the business functions and across managerial levels participated. The purpose of the session was to create a small number of streams of work to address each key validated issue.
Following the initial workshop, the group split into smaller groups consider each stream. They investigated further where appropriate and proposed a series of actions.
A consolidation session was held where each stream leader presented plans for the approval of the entire group.
Summary of agreed actions:
- Review and clarify the purpose of the initiative by assessing its fit with the company’s stated strategies, modifying as necessary and communicating the clarification around the organisation.
- Create project selection criteria to help to select reasonable and valid projects.
- Reduce the number of mandatory tools to be used for each project, based on historical evidence of the value each tool provided across all successful projects.
- Develop training sessions for other tools likely to be valuable for projects that met the selection criteria – this included a number of tools from the Lean domain.
- Define a more robust project management and control methodology which required more involvement from the sponsor at each phase gate.
- Improve the reporting of project successes and failures, including the creation of an area on the intranet to publish case studies and results.
- Publish the results of this re-think of Qual-Impro to help to clarify and re-invigorate the initiative in the minds of all staff.
- Create a summary report of progress and achievements to be submitted and reviewed at monthly board meetings.
One year on, activity levels are now higher than at the original launch of the initiative. Project completion rates are improving and project duration is reducing.
A re-survey of the original randomly selected participants showed an increased level of understanding and support for the initiative.
A turning point was cited as being when the CEO publicly thanked all project teams’ members during the annual company dinner and mentioned some of the benefits being seen in terms of improving customer satisfaction and reduction in costs of quality – two of the metrics submitted to the monthly board meetings.