Feb 4, 2006

False pretenses

Now I’m in real trouble. Someone has taken my talk about lean seriously and asked me to be a “lean consultant” on a highly visible task force. It includes some influential members of our professional society who probably know lots more about lean than I do.

We’re not looking at physical flow in a manufacturing system, but at knowledge work performed by a project team. Most of what is written about lean is based on fixing up physical flow processes, not projects. I’m going back and reading the writings from the “Gang of Seven’s” co-blogging on project kaizen as a start. (“Gang of Seven” websites are in my links list to the right.) I’m not sure we are kaizen-ing a project, however, since it hasn’t even begun.
Some lean practices applicable to the project seem like common-sense stuff: firmly scope the project, have an agenda and stick to it, keep good notes, and clearly identify action items. Our chair – an engineer – has already called for that.

I do know we need to “start with the customer,” so I can keep that point in the forefront of discussion. Focusing on market segments and thinking about their needs is not always easy for engineers. They like to start with the process and fix things immediately. That’s why they became engineers. So I’m recommending that our staff team provide market data to give the analytical thinkers something to ponder.

I recognize I’m going to have a hard time keeping out of the discussion. The subject is journals. I happen to have a lot of experience with the library market and the periodicals publishing industry. Manufacturing engineers make assumptions about publishing and marketing. If I butt in with a lot of reasons why their ideas are not going to work, I’ll be stepping out of my role as a consultant plus preventing them from learning by discovery.

Relationships can mean a lot in getting a project done. Fortunately – or not, they may feel – I know some of the people well. The two staff people, I’ve known for many years. One of the engineers is a metalworking expert I’ve known for more years than I’d want to say. I signed him to his first book-author contract. We wrangled with a few issues during the editing process and emerged as friends, as far as I know. One other is a retired IBM executive I’ve only gotten to know in the last few months, but we have co-developed a blog and learned a lot from each other. He has some experience in the printing/publishing field. Sorry, Bob, we’re likely to exclude that part of the process from the scope of this particular project.

So here’s my request for help. Can you experienced lean project managers advise me on how to this project team support, and help us all learn more about lean as we work? What else do you need to know? How sound is my reasoning?

1 comment:

Joe said...

Karen, there is a lot here. A few thoughts for you:

1. Isolate the key deliverable, in terms of what the customer wants (

2. name the customer, "Jane Doe" not "Marketing Department". It makes is personal.

3. Work out, and review regularly, just what the Ms Doe wants. Make it "conditions of satisfaction", meaning, "If I get this, I know I'll be pleased." Customers change...don't get out of synch.

4. You can help the group by asking questions regularly. Not naggingly, but regularly.

5. Keep a record of the promises the group makes. (Hal has some great stuff on "Making and Keeping Reliable Promises"...check with him on that) This is quite radical and effective in helping projects move along.

6. Do a Plus/Delta at the conclusion of each meeting. Review it at the start of the next meeting. Make the group a learning community.

A few thoughts, Karen. Again, waste is activity that the customer does not value. Know what the customer wants and eliminate the rest. Easier said than done, but the sooner you start, the farther you get.

Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm