In the first part of this series, we introduced Dr. Alan Barnard’s Four Concepts of Flow and laid out the initial steps to take on the path towards improving the Flow. It is now time to take this further!
Improving processes by eliminating mistakesEveryone who has worked in a project environment will be familiar with the typical problems in the field: long lead times, backlogs, delays and unreliable delivery promises; alternatively (or additionally), quality will suffer when corners are cut to meet the deadline at the end of the project. Costs and risks are high, and stress is a given for everyone involved. Projects are too complex, suffer from high levels of uncertainty and are plagued by a host of problems that often seem outside of anyone’s control.
However, these problems are frequently caused, or at least aggravated, by the same, avoidable mistakes: priorities are not respected (or not even set to begin with), projects start with insufficient preparation (“full kit”), individual tasks are interrupted before completion, or there is frequent multitasking, with resources switching back and forth between various tasks.
In addition to that, important problems are often not reported and resolved in time (an “important problem” is one that is holding up progress on the highest priority task) and project status is not reported accurately and regularly (i.e. daily!). The actual level of productivity improvement that can be achieved – both on a personal and a management level – depends on how prevalent these issues are in the business.
Simple mechanisms for improved Flow
In order to achieve these improvements, a few simple, practical mechanisms are introduced, which will determine how projects are managed:
1. Always ask for and then follow agreed task priorities
2. Ensure full kit BEFORE you start any task
3. Finish what you started… don’t multitask
4. Update PROGRESS daily as accurately as possible
5. Raise and solve ISSUES without delay
It is every employee’s responsibility to be aware of, and respect, these mechanisms at all times. This has the effect of very quickly and sustainably improving Flow. Projects become more predictable, lead times shrink and delivery quality improves, while costs, risks and stress are reduced. We are now much closer to our goal!
Successful portfolio management and pipeliningThe next step consists of looking at portfolio management as a whole. Here, too, there is likely to be considerable improvement potential, most often due to either missing or overly complex process management. Some of the known challenges arising from this are: demand being too high for current capacity, WIP too great, local efficiencies, project launch without full kit or uncontrolled project launch. Results tend to include: unrealistic delivery promises, lack of focus in management, fast increasing costs, projects being chronically delayed or even in danger.
Here, too, a few steps can lead to massive improvement. What is needed is a simple portfolio management process, with the goal of prioritizing and managing WIP:
- All WIP & future work is identified and visible.
- Establish a WIP limit through identifying the organization’s capacity and then manage WIP according to this.
- Prioritize projects and then stagger them by priority & WIP limit and eliminate or postpone work accordingly.
- Ensure Full Kit before release and implement the formal Full Kit process with a Full Kit manager and sign-off process in place for visibility and control.
- Control Release by formalizing the release, starting according to pipeline.
If all employees agree to follow these rules, the WIP can be maintained at an appropriate level: demand and capacity are balanced, priorities are transparent and can be consulted at any time, Full Kit and controlled project launch reduce multitasking and lead to shorter task durations. Flow will be further improved and speed in operations increased.
Our final instalment of this series will help you identify and avoid typical mistakes during implementation.
Good portfolio management
- Current and future work is visible
- There is enough but not too much WIP
- Projects are released when planned & with Full Kit
- People know their priorities
- Project priority is not required to focus execution priority
- Long-term planning is structured, prioritised and set to the organisation’s constraints
- Periods of high demand do not disrupt execution
- Policies do not disrupt execution
- Workforce requirements are known and planned for
Poor portfolio management
- Release of projects is un-controlled, especially in periods of high demand
- Projects are released without full kit
- Organisation frequently has periods of high peaks and deep valleys
- Policies (year-end pressures) disrupt Flow
- Planning the workforce is difficult
- Projects compete for priority
- Local priorities are applied
- Long-term planning is unreliable
Dr Alan Barnard: Sharing new Insights in CCPM Pipelining, Planning and Execution…a TOC analysis, 30. Mai 2014