I rarely take off my rose-colored glasses! Being a process improvement guru, I like to conceptualize that an effective Continuous Improvement team “should be” built on some utopias nirvana-like ideal that only the highly mature and cash-positive organizations can exhibit. Heck, part of the improvement process is evaluating where you are today (current state) and determine where you want/need to go (future state), right?! So, what about smaller, less mature, or struggling organizations that are not capable of this utopias state, yet still want the value that comes from investing in Continuous Improvement? One solution is uniting the Project Management Office (PMO) and Improvement Teams under one roof.

(Please Note: Though I mention Continuous Improvement, this may represent other functions called by different names including Lean, Six Sigma, Operational Excellence, Process Improvement, and so on. Continuous Improvement incorporates more than improving processes, it means leveraging the general methodology, tools, people/team, and organizational culture)

The PMO can help save Continuous Improvement

Conceptually, uniting the PMO and Continuous Improvement (CI) team makes a lot of sense, but there are some items that you must consider before making that call. I’ve seen struggling organizations dismantle their improvement efforts and therefore the CI team for various reasons including;

  • Lack-of capability for a long-term investment accompanied with dedicated CI efforts/teams.
  • Lack-of desire (or perhaps out of necessity) for short-term, bottom-line budgetary improvements.
  • Loss of vision or value-add that the CI team should be providing (sometimes this is the improvement team’s fault).

In other cases, the organization may want to start continuous improvement efforts but may not know how to start, does not have a dedicated CI team to unite, or does not have the right skillsets to run these efforts.

Two Different Project Methodologies and Skillsets

PMI and Lean Six Sigma (a.k.a Continuous Improvement) suggests different methodologies to manage projects. The key is to use methodology that suits your project needs (check out our post on PDLC Contextualization). Here’s how I see it:

  • PMI, or “traditional” project management, focuses on principles to improve the success rate of projects, typically with a known future state or outcome.
  • Lean Six Sigma focuses on statistics and eliminating process waste to improve the quality and speed of processes, typically with an unknown future state, meaning that a lot of time is spent identifying what needs improved.

In my opinion, managing traditional “waterfall” projects requires a different skillset than managing improvement projects. This is important because it denotes that your PMO may need new capabilities to manage, unite, or start Continuous Improvement efforts. Project managers may need proper training, hiring of new skillsets, or experience.

How the PMO can save or start Continuous Improvement

The maturity and skillset of your PMO will influence your approach and success to save or start continuous improvement in your organization. The long-term objective should be much more than wanting to manage improvement projects, but rather it should be about providing value that enables the culture to ‘think lean’ and that has a desire to improve the way that they do work for the customers.

There are two examples of how the PMO can unite Continuous Improvement within its influence. In either example, the PMO and CI’s value comes from their ability to engage the business, quantify success stories, and communicate this value throughout the organization.

  1. The PMO unites (or absorbs) an existing and dedicated CI team.
  2. The PMO expands current skillsets to include CI project efforts.

There are numerous benefits to the two approaches listed above. Here are just a few:

  • Continuous improvement efforts are visible by upper management.
  • Continuous improvement stays aligned with the organizational strategy (instead of becoming buried in the day-to-day trenches).
  • Support from a Center of Excellence-like PMO organization.
  • Creates an environment for innovation.
  • Cross training opportunities for the two different project methodologies.

It’s a Wrap!

I hope that this article has provided some insight for how you can save or start Continuous Improvement. I’ve often said that “there are no right ways, but many wrong ways to implement continuous improvement”, and this holds true here as well. Uniting the PMO and Improvement teams under one roof might just be the way to go for your organization!

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Chad Higgins

Chad Higgins

Contributing Author

With 12 years of diverse project management experience, Chad brings a unique perspective to PMforToday.com. Whether it was at the start of his career as an ice cream store manager or more recently as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and ITIL leader in the telecommunications arena, Chad has always zeroed in on the kinds of changes that make a business function more effectively. Chad's formal background in process improvement complements his seasoned project repertoire. He's never found a team or process that couldn't improve in some area, and Chad is a firm believer that a healthy company culture is fundamental to any process improvement initiative.

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