The alley behind my house was not the safest feeling place on the block. It was so dark that neighbors didn’t like it; some waited until morning to put the trash in the alley dumpsters. A chance meeting between two neighbors at the dumpster one morning uncovered that they both shared the same issue: concern for the lack of lighting. Discussion with others on the block revealed that all neighbors were dissatisfied with the situation. Led by one resident, but with equal contributions from all neighbors, a solution was put in place: lighting was installed and the costs for electricity continue to be divided today.
All too often, organizations reside in the dark alley even when they have leaders who know lights are needed and are willing to pay for them. Many times it is because it is not clear where to start, or the organization lacks adequate opportunity identification. Fortunately, there is one area that provides a gold mine of opportunity for any organization – your projects. The project environment is ripe for continuous improvement opportunity identification because projects often touch multiple areas and lessons learned are typically captured after project completion.
The following can help any organization start on the path towards continuous improvement.
1. Capture Lessons Learned throughout the project. This is in contrast to Lessons Learned at the end of the project when fatigue can be high, and the exercise can be viewed as merely a checkbox to close the project. When identified regularly throughout the project, team members become trained to identify dark alleys as a matter of course.
2. Implement a review process for Lessons Learned. Rather than let project Lessons Learned stay contained at the team level, implement a review stage at one or more management levels above the project team. Allow the project teams to select which lessons they’d like moved up the review hierarchy.
3. Identify common themes. Once there is a review process in place, common people, process, and technology themes across will emerge. Document the common challenge areas or bright spots that would be ideal for replication across the organization.
4. Select opportunities. Then, where possible, utilize existing company processes to institutionalize the lesson learned. An improvement, for instance, might be institutionalized through another project, a change management initiative, or through changes to performance plans.
5. Communicate metrics to the organization. Metrics show that feedback is actively being used to drive improvement in the organization. Employees become highly motivated when they see action taken on their feedback.
To institute a culture of continuous improvement, look at your organization’s projects. It is not enough to merely capture Lessons Learned at the end of a project and file them away. Organizations that are truly transformative and continuously improve, mine Lessons Learned for opportunities. They identify common themes and utilize existing processes to drive lasting improvements into the organization. They communicate back to the organization, which engages all team members to “light the alley”.
If you are interested in learning more about this, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on twitter at @3lsconsulting.