Practicing the Three Phases of Improvement! – Phase 3; Implementation
Continuous improvement is all about change. We have likely all heard Mark Twain’s saying, “The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper!” So, why Change at all? Because, change is going to happen with or without you! You either master change or you become irrelevant. Therefore to own our future, we must continuously strive to improve.
As explained in our first post “Practicing the Three Phases of Improvement!“, a Process Improvement Exercise has three important and necessary phases, 1) The Assessment Phase, 2) Problem Solving Phase, and 3) Implementation Phase. Later we explained the two steps required during the Assessment Phase (“The Assessment, Phase 1/Step 1: Collecting Data,” and “The Assessment, Phase 1/Step 2: Analyzing Data“). Next we explained the problem solving phase (“Practicing the Three Phases of Improvement! – The Problem Solving Phase 2”). All the phases are necessary but nothing matters unless you see results. Therefore, our next step to showing results is the Implementation Phase. We devote this article to implementing improvements. But before we get there, let’s review how we got here.
PI Phase 1 – Assessment Phase – Our Continuous Improvement efforts focus the assessment phase on discovery. During the Assessment Phase, we do not start off solving specific problems. We focus more on planting flags by uncovering problems (planting Red Flags), as well as by looking for examples of excellence (planting Green Flags). To better focus on discovery, we divided the assessment phase into two steps – collecting and analyzing information.
PI Phase 2 – Problem Solving – The purpose of the problem solving phase is to find a logical solution for an improvement to a current process or system. After our assessments, we will have a list of process improvement candidates (the Red Flags we planted) as well as some useful insights from (the Green Flags). Each of these Red Flags represents a possible problem looking for a solution. This list of Red and Green Flags are then prioritized into a portfolio of problems to solve. The completed list triggers the start of the problem solving efforts. Typically, problem-solving exercises have several logical chronological steps.
Now for The Implementation Phase:
PI Phase 3 – Implementation – The purpose of the Implementation phase is to make improvements happen. Remember, we are doing this so that we own our future (we do not become irrelevant). Therefore, once we decide on the final solutions, this phase relates to implementing the required changes. Implementing solutions have several logical chronological steps:
Implementation Step 1 – Project Selection – Project Portfolio Management: – The process begins with the selection and prioritization of solutions. As the Problem Solving Phase is triggered by a list of problems to solve, so to, the Implementation Phase is triggered by a list of solutions to implement.
Many times smaller solutions can be done quickly without much effort. However, the larger solutions will likely be implemented as a project. Because, we do not have the time or resources to implement every solution, we must first prioritize them into manageable lists of doable high impact projects. This prioritized list becomes a part of our ongoing Continuous Improvement efforts. Since our organization has many other potential strategic and tactical projects, as well as different goals and initiatives, it is wise to funnel these potential solutions into a boarder project portfolio management system.
Implementation Step 2 – Project Management’s Concept Phase: Once a project is selected, I like to break it down into four simple phases. Although there are many different types of project life cycles, we can think of each one of them fitting into just these four phases: 1) The Concept Phase, 2) The Planning Phase, 3) The Execution (or Project Implementation) Phase; and 4) The Transition (or Closure) Phase. The names are not important because many organizations call them different things. However the application is vital.
During the Concept Phase of a specific project we are striving to understand, “What does good look like?” What are our targets, requirements, and deliverables?
Often the concept phase may take the longest time to complete. As an example, you may have been thinking about your dream home for 10 years before you ever start to officially plan it. Likewise, during a continuous improvement project we have to understand “what good looks like” before we start planning how we are going to get there.
Implementation Step 3 – Project Management’s Planning Phase: Now that we have a target or clear vision of what we want to accomplish we are ready to start planning. During the planning phase we plan our path to our target (our solution). Without a plan we waste a lot of time and resources.
Implementation Step 4 – Project Management’s Execution Phase: Executing (implementing) our plan is where the actual work gets done. Here we do our plan and the work to make the changes happen.
Implementation Step 5 – Project Management’s Transitional Phase: Once we finished the work, made the change happen, we now transition our changes into operations. This may require training and involves our customers and other stakeholders.
Many times all three phases of the PI efforts overlap. Even during the implementation phase, we may find that additional assessment and/or additional problem solving is required. Likewise, often the four phases of a project may overlap. As an example, we should always think about transitioning our changes into operations during all the phases and include the end users (our customer) into each of the steps.
Implementation Step 6 – The Post Improvement Evaluation and Reviews: Normally performance measurements are again taken after the changes are made. Furthermore, in real life at times we might even use a trial and error approach to problem solving. Especially with small changes, this is very helpful when trying to understand the effect of a change on other interdependent systems. It is OK to fail small, fail forward, and fail often when making incremental improvements. Therefore, follow up with collecting new data – measure and observe, adjust, and continuously improve (Plan, do, check, act).
In other post will expand on the forgotten phases of process improvement and project management (like, what happens before the process improvement efforts or project management starts and what happens long after a continuous improvement effort is completed).
How can we practice improvement?
To improve, good usable data has to be collected and then analyzed. Once we find places to improve, effort is required to find the best solutions. How can you participate? Keep a look out for ways to improve and be open-minded. As you have ideas, do not jump to conclusions; instead, think in terms of information to collect that will help validate your concerns. Then analyze the information using logical analysis tools. Share your observations with those in your organization and those on the Process Improvement teams. Participate in data collection, the follow up analysis, and with good problem solving steps. Finally volunteer to help implement well-thought-out solutions and don’t be afraid to fail. Failing small and often brings wisdom and competitiveness. Help your organization practice improvement!
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