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The Magical Trifecta: Process Improvement, Project Management and Change Management

Have you worked to deliver a business improvement project that failed or didn’t deliver the planned outcomes? Have you been impacted by a business improvement project that changed how you work and the new process was more complicated, took longer or simply didn’t make sense?

I am assuming most of you are nodding your head up and down. The research on project failure varies, but most experts agree that it’s between 50% to 70%. These failures don’t just cost money or frustrate stakeholders; they create a history of past failures. Making the next attempt at improvement (change) even more difficult. 

However, by strategically aligning process improvement, project management and change management, these failure rates can be improved. This combination of methodologies will result in happier project managers and project teams. It will also result in more engaged and cheerier people as they adjust to and adopt the changes that each project creates. Finally, our organizations will be better off as they realize the planned benefits of more successful projects.

First, Let’s Talk Projects

Before we dive into the magical trifecta this post is written about, I would like to differentiate between two types of projects. The biggest difference between them is that one impacts people and one does not. Projects that do not impact people usually create a product. Something like a refrigerator, tire or road. These types of projects follow a very strict process. Each time the product is made, the process is followed exactly. A few examples of these types of projects are manufacturing or construction projects. Again, the outcome of this type of project does not impact how people do their work. 

The projects that do impact people have many titles depending on the organization, but for the purposes of this post we will be calling them business improvement projects. These projects live in a world of grey. No two are ever the same. There are multiple variables that make the different. These projects usually create change internally to an organization. They impact how people do their work. Business improvement projects are created to improve the business that delivers the products. And for the purposes of this post, I am including software implementation or new technology projects within the business improvement project category. Why? Because they too usually impact how people work.

The Magical Trifecta

Process Improvement

For the past eight years, I have had the pleasure to learn about all things process improvement from Gary Vansuch, Director of Process Improvement at the Colorado Department of Transportation. In that time, I have become a Lean Leader, project managed a variety of process improvement efforts, and consulted on hundreds more. Lean process improvement appeals to me because it is based on two pillars: 

Continuous Improvement and Respect for People.

Stop and think about that for a moment. Lean is a methodology that is based on respect for people — all people. It could be inferred then that this methodology is more than streamlining, more than measuring, and more than meeting objectives. It truly creates a culture. Lean strives to engage people (the ones that do the work) in improving the work (the process) on a continuous basis.

Another amazing thing about Lean process improvement is that it has so many tools! These tools help to uncover the eight types of waste in process: defects, overproduction, waiting, underutilized talent, transportation, excess inventory, motion, and excess processing. Finding and eliminating waste is what makes our processes and our environments more efficient and effective. It is also how we provide the best value to our customers.

In the spirit of collaboration, you may enjoy perusing the Office of Process Improvement’s Tools Page on the Colorado Department of Transportation website. My thanks and admiration goes to the Office of Process Improvement Team for creating such valuable and shareable information on the Office of Process Improvement website.

Project Management

Raise your hand if you belong to an organization that doesn’t have a singular methodology for business improvement project management.

You are not alone. Many government organizations are considering how they could be more effective at managing the delivery of business improvement projects.

If an organization has the ability to manage business improvement projects at an organizational, portfolio, and unit level, they would not only be better stewards of their funding, they would also deliver more successful projects. Additional benefits would include:

  • Vetting projects to ensure desirability, priority, and alignment with strategic goals
  • Understanding the number of business improvement projects happening throughout the organization and within each division
  • Ensuring that there are no redundant projects (multiple projects trying to solve the same problem)
  • Projects adhering to a standard approach and following best practices
  • Creating an environment (community of practice) around the delivery of projects to support growth in knowledge and ability within the organization itself
  • Planning for necessary resources in alignment with organizational and divisional strategic goals
  • Having an environment where each project has ownership and sponsorship, which is vital for the success of the project
  • Being able to plan impacts of changes across the organization to ensure that groups of people do not reach change saturation levels, which would lead to a loss in productivity and impact employee retention

The list of benefits could easily add 2000+ words to this post, so I will stop there. Creating a standard or singular methodology to deliver business improvement projects is best practice. By employing this best practice, the number of failed or struggling projects will decrease and the organization will begin to realize more of the benefits that are desired.

Organizational Change Management

If your organization is already strong in process improvement and/or project management, you may feel like something is missing. Is the organization still struggling to implement lasting change? That is where organizational change management comes into play. Most project managers (this includes myself at times) are assigned a project and they become the master of checklists, work breakdown structures, and task assignments. Getting caught up on the technical side of the project makes it easy to forget that project success depends on people changing how they work.

Ensuring that our executives, managers, supervisors and employees have the capability and competency to respond to changes that impact them is the result of a solid organizational change management program. We integrate change management at a project level in order to consider the individuals that will need to change for the project to be successful. Change Management guides the tasks that should happen over the life of the project to help people change. Change management addresses the people side of change.

The Trifecta = Utopia

To reach utopia, all three methodologies must be deployed concurrently. Yes, spoken like a true nerd.

You will find that there is a high level of cross over between process improvement, project management and change management. Each supports the other and creates a foundation for the organization to be responsive to ever-changing environments. Business readiness is a sought after state in private industry and it should be as well in government.

Do you think your organization will have more, less or the same amount of change five years from now than it is currently experiencing today? I am confident that you just muttered the word ‘more’ to yourself. Every time I ask this question, I have gotten the response ‘more’ 100% of the time. In order for our organizations to be good at changing, to implement as many improvements as possible while mitigating negative impacts, and to realize the intended benefits of business improvement projects, we need to be thoughtful and strategic in laying the foundation that will support successful and long-lasting change.

You may also be interested in the post To Boost Project Success Rate, Start at the Beginning by Andrew Graf. This is a very insightful and valuable post. Thank you, Andrew, for taking the time to write it!

Michelle Malloy is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has been a devoted Colorado state employee for nearly 13 years. In that time, she had dedicated herself to being the best steward leader possible, ensuring that everyone and everything left in her care are nurtured and developed in order to provide the best value and service to the citizens of the state of Colorado today and into the future. Michelle’s expertise lies in strategy, program management, project management, change management, process improvement, facilitation and working with people. Michelle believes that people are the government’s #1 asset and the products and services we aim to provide and improve upon would not happen without them. You can read her posts here.

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