When I graduated college – armed with a bachelor’s degree in engineering – I was ready to put what I’d learned into application in the real world. The manufacturing environment I worked in performed repair and refurbishment activities on specialty parts used in a highly regulated industry. The company operated as a job shop / contract manufacturing environment with detailed component evaluations, re-engineering, parts procurement, and precision machining.
The first – and most important – lesson I learned was this: there’s a serious need for continuous improvement in industry, with a focus on process efficiencies, waste reduction and streamlined workflows.
Since I want to make a real impact wherever I work, that stark realization led me to grad school. I was motivated to learn and be armed with the skills needed to be a change agent and positively influence the operational performance of continuous improvement initiatives. After graduation, and commencing work on greater scoped continuous improvement initiatives, I quickly realized how impactful solid project management knowledge and skills are to accomplish said initiatives.
Project management is an important expertise for an organization. Solid project management practices ensure your business is completing work in a goal-oriented manner, thus reaching the end results of company initiatives in an efficient and effective process.
Project management expertise takes training and establishing practices for continuous improvement, as well as using your intuition. Projects are just as much about completing a deliverable as they are managing people. In addition to traditional project tools and techniques, some important project management skills include:
- Managing risks to prevent minor problems from escalating into big issues
- Communication, communication, communication
- Big picture scope with refined attention to detail
- Productive multitasking
What is a Project?
Projects are unique and specific with a defined start and end. A project is initiated to accomplish a defined goal within defined constraints like costs and time.
In my experience, projects are never perfect. The unavoidable unknown unknowns WILL happen. Changes WILL occur. The caliber of project management skills WILL define the impact of these unknowns and changes.
Embrace the Change
Avoiding and not properly managing the change needed during the project’s entire duration is a recipe for disaster. How we deal with the change needed for the continuous improvement of a business – and how we adapt our plans accordingly – is key to delivering projects successfully.
With strong project management skills, the change can be managed in a manner that is proactive and value-added to the goal of the project. The change should be managed and communicated in an organized, consistent, and transparent way.
There will ALWAYS be change – to personnel, to operations, to reports, to decision-making, etc. A project manager must build in project “bumper rails.”
For sustainability’s sake, take the time to:
- Scope the project and get input from all users
- Plan in advance and build in checkpoints during the project timeline for evaluate
- Review with the team and gather lessons learned
Interested in implementing strong project management environment at your shop? Consider the following, my top project management recommendations for successful continuous improvement.
10 Critical Project Management Factors for Continuous Improvement Success
- Forecast the Future: Estimate what the company will look like in 5, 10, 20 years – identify skill sets needed in terms of personnel (what’s the existing staff’s willingness and/or aptitude to learn?), as well as equipment and technology needs
- Match the Skills: Match staff’s skill sets with the right engineering or other departmental job need; professional workforce development is an improvement process of its own and should support the company’s strategic initiatives
- Apply the Tools: Find the right toolset or software program(s) to manage the project; pencil and paper or low-tech, archaic means no longer cut it
- Work the Data: Project managers, even highly experienced ones, can’t rely on tribal knowledge on how the shop floor operates; you can’t work strategically from anecdotes and beliefs
- Walk the Talk: Having processes and procedures in place can’t be limited to merely putting quality on paper; quality checks and balances must also be built into your deliverable – whatever the product
- Manage the Change: Understanding and developing a program to manage projects means including downstream suppliers, internal customers, end users, all stakeholders; most importantly, determine who’s responsible for the change management element of your project
- Develop the Persona: Customer personas are used internally to develop an ideal sales model; that same persona development activity is just as useful for your business team to better identify culture and communication styles, not everyone learns (or listens) in the same manner
- Map the Workflow: The entire process should be looked at from a 60,000-foot point of view with special attention to data needed by the CEO or the CFO; the key to diagram any system, whether we’re talking about implementing a new software, running a manufacturing operation, or developing a sales and marketing department, is to map out the business process workflow
- Lock-in Buy-in: Whether you need executive leadership buy-in and the owner is dragging their feet because they don’t want to spend the necessary money, or operational managers or back-office personnel are bucking change because they’re fearful of more work than they can (or want to) handle, critical buy-in is situational but all boils down to proper internal communication; the team must collectively determine the goal and why the project is being initiated – it can’t be one person’s goal
- Communicate: Developing – and maintaining – communication channels throughout projects is all about relationship-building to develop repeat (i.e., delighted!) customers and reliable vendors; remember, communication management is continual and iterative (one-off messages aren’t enough)
Teamwork and collaboration (especially among – and with – the company’s leadership) are critical for the beginning and duration of any project. Adequate pre-planning, a post-implementation plan, and on-going reinforcement is required for the sustainability of the project’s results. Every project is part of the larger continuous improvement plan.
If the executive knows why they want to change but doesn’t communicate that reason(s) to the team, then the exec is the point of failure. On the converse, if the exec isn’t supportive because the team hasn’t “sold” the project’s need, then the project is likewise doomed to fail.
Find out where your lack of buy-in lives.
What’s Next for Me?
My goal at xTuple is to build a portfolio of tools, resources and content to help our customers succeed when they undertake a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) project. I ALWAYS, conduct debriefs at the end of each project and apply “lessons learned” to the next project. I’m also studying for my Project Management Professional (PMP)® – the industry-recognized certification for project managers – to work on my own professional development and better help our customers achieve their business growth goals.
Some of the elements of effective project management that I want to share in the future (in no particular order of importance, some of these are huge topics all on their own) include:
- Executive leadership buy-in
- Change management
- Communication management
- Team development
- Project scoping
- Cost management
- Purchasing and procurement
- Time and resource constraints
- Time management
- Continuous improvement planning
- Workflow mapping
- Risk management
- Workforce development
- Project checklists
- Industry standard certifications
My customer success team at xTuple is leading the charge in helping manage change with new webinar events for growing manufacturers and inventory-centric companies. Our first topic in the project management series: 5 Pain Points of Choosing (and Implementing) ERP.