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Kaizen projects: being honest about being off track

Projects, especially improvement projects, have a tendency to get off track. There is often a clear distinction between projects for customers and projects for ourselves. If our improvement projects fall behind then our customers won't be barking at us; it is no wonder that if something is going to slip it is our Kaizen endeavours.

For some people this can be a tough conversation to have. No one wants to be a 'failure' and pride often gets in the way. In my experience it seems that it is believed to be far more credible to ignore the requirement to improve than to admit that we aren't making progress.

So, if you find yourself (and your business) in this situation, what can you do about it?

Let me share with you two options to increase the visibility in your business around progress with projects and four options to help get your projects back on track.

Increasing visibility

Ok, no more hiding the status of Kaizen activities. This also means no more being precious about slipping behind. This stuff happens. It is normal, we just need to get better at dealing with it.

So, how do we do this and get this level of honesty to become normal?

  1. Add the status of your projects to a regular meeting so that you touch base with progress.
  2. Agree on a visual indicator that means that anyone, anytime, can determine the status of your projects. A simple RAG (red, amber, green) option can work brilliantly and they're quick to deploy. An example of this is as follows:
  • Red = completely off track and in need of resuscitation.
  • Amber = slipping, but can get on back track with a bit of focus and effort. 
  • Green = on track and on target.
This isn't a big shift for most businesses, but the results of becoming open, honest and accurate about the status of Kaizen can reap quick rewards.

Right, we're being visible and honest about our improvements. What next?

Getting projects back on track

Getting Kaizen projects back on track isn't rocket science. The points that I share below should seem obvious, but many businesses that struggle with achieving results don't seem to do them... Let me lay them out for you:

  1. Reschedule the improvement. Don't beat yourself up and come up with a new, more realistic, date. Throttle the number of your projects down, if you need to.
  2. Resource the change. Make sure that you have the right number of people and the right skills allocated to the task at hand. If you don't, change the team.
  3. Remove the obstacles. Find out what is, or will be, in the way and kick the obstacles out of the way.
  4. Re-plan the tasks. If the route isn't obvious to the team then they will get stuck. Make sure that each step is clear, achievable and understood.
Using the above, in isolation or combination, is the bulk of what it takes to get things back on track. Like most good management activities, it is not knowing what needs to be done that is the problem, it is doing it!

In summary

Start forming a habit of being open and honest about where you are on your projects. Ideally have all of them in one place and make it obvious how each one of them is doing.

Likewise, develop an approach (possibly based on the four points above) for how you get back on track with your projects if they slip. Take pride out of the equation and focus on results. It is better to have fewer projects delivered well than a big long list of stalled opportunities.

Have fun getting your improvement projects back on track and seeing your team thrive.

About the author:

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes and embracing Kaizen.

Giles is also the author of Effective Root Cause Analysis and 'What Does Good Look Like?'.

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