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Do you really have a problem?

Benefits of Lean Six Sigma DMAIC methodology to question projects at Initiation Phase

PMBOK® Methodology facilitates management of projects but as Program Manager I am often facing situations where we need to recommend which project(s) to execute or which project(s) to prioritize among a list of demanded projects. Lean Six Sigma DMAIC methodology helps with this problem.

As trained PMPs, I am lucky to know a great method to initiate, plan, execute, monitor/control and close projects but, following this path, sometimes I have difficulties to manage my time. Managing a project, even only during the initiation phase requires time and there is a cost of opportunity. Building the Project Charter helps to synthesize the project basics but frequently it is weak in facts and data to question the projects and relies on discussions with the sponsor for approval to the next stages or cancelling.

Lean Six Sigma DMAIC methodology helps with that. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control and it is a technique to conduct typically continuous improvement projects. It does not substitute PMBOK procedures but both complement very well and DMAIC helps tremendously at initiation face.

When I encounter a situation as described above with a high demand of projects or problems to fix as soon as possible from different solicitors, the first question should be:

Do we really have a problem?

It sounds strong and even disrespectful to the person asking you for executing a project but many times people have perceptions due to their roles, responsibilities or feelings and ask for fixing a problem by a project that simply facts a data do not support.

Above paragraph does not call to be rude and disrespectful, pushing back every time you have a request (specially to your boss for obvious reasons), but it focuses on the need for a critical thinking and ask for going to a quick data analysis to support next stage. Define and Measure phases of DMAIC are perfect tools for Data analysis to work on robust data. Using those tools you would be surprise how many times perception is in conflict with data and sometimes the best action is to move on to the next project because we simply do not have a problem or problem is not as important compare to other issues.

List of examples could be infinite but look at next cases to illustrate my point. This example is from a colleague of mine: Operation Manager of a known US airline called to the manager of the food distribution company. He had a problem, during summer the amount of ice which arrives to the aircrafts was insufficient in many flights for the demand. They were supposed to have a problem in some of the systems which prevent the ice to melt. Analyzing data (amount of melted ice, period of time when this issue was happening) and performing some basic measurements allowed them to determine than only 0.001% of the ice was melting and that was only happening in specific bases and at a specific period of time, as Miami during summer months. They did not have a problem. It was a matter of ordering more ice to deal with this geographical/seasonal situation. Business Case would not support any other investment to increase this ratio and they had other issues bigger than this 0.001% ice shortage.

Another example. Operation Manager calls desperately for a project to fix a problem with all electrical rotors of several assembly lines. He wanted to hold the entire plant production until we clarify the quality of the all rotors. Analyzing data, it looks like the quality team was checking a quarantine area and multiple rejections show up at the same time. Checking data, we saw that the problem was spread out among many kind of rotors (multiple Part Numbers) and checking the dates where they were built in a period of time of several years range. Comparing the number of rejection versus the demand during this period of time narrowed the problem to only one specific rotor line. In other cases, the rejection level was insignificant (similar to the previous 0.001%). We moved forward to fix this problem of this particular subcomponent and Operation managers continue working on the rest of the lines, except one. In this case we had a smaller problem than initially.

I am not pointing a misjudgment of the managers, I probably would do the same based on their pressure, but Define and Measure phase of DMAIC helped me to determine if we have a problem or not based on facts and data and support any further decision. Once presented to the managers, their perception changes.

Remember you time is value and there is a cost of opportunity for every task you carry out. Perform critical think, support your activities on facts and data and avoid spending the time on little add value projects. Lean Six Sigma Methodology helped me with that. I encourage you to discover it!

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