Archive for August, 2011

Project Definition is Critical for Success – 5 Key Elements You Ignore at Your Own Peril

August 12th, 2011 Comments off

Project Charter | Project DefinitionWe have many discussions with organizations where Lean, Six Sigma, and other performance improvement efforts have outright failed, or maybe have just started to lose their impact.  In an earlier article, we talked about the importance of alignment and how important it is to have clear line of sight to the performance gaps that matter the most.  But, in some cases, scorecards and dashboards are there, with well-defined KPIs pointing to high-value targets, yet improvement efforts still yield less than desired results. Why?

Of course there can be many reasons, but lack of discipline around project definition, or project charters, is something we see consistently in these problem situations.  Poorly defined projects are without a doubt a recipe for disaster.  You may be focusing on exactly the right problem, but, if the project’s problem statement and objectives are not well-defined, your chances of success in making an impact fall dramatically. So what are the key elements of a good project definition and charter?  Here are 5 big things I think should be present in all improvement project charters / project definitions:

    1. A clear Problem Statement that defines the business problemin specific and quantifiable terms.  Done well, it will answer the following questions clearly and concisely:
      • What is the primary metric, or needle, that I’m trying to move?
      • What is the primary metrics current, or baseline, value?
      • How did I measure the primary metric’s baseline value, and over what period?
      • From the business’ perspective, what is the target value for the primary metric?
      • What is the gap between current performance and needed performance levels for the primary metric?
      • What is the value (in $’s if at all possible) of closing that gap?
      • What areas of risk do I need to pay attention to as I try to move the primary metric? These will become your secondary metrics. For example, if you’re trying to reduce costs in some customer facing area of the business, you need to pay attention to such things as attrition rates, customer satisfaction scores, etc.


    1. A clear Objective Statement for the project.  It is unlikely that a single project can close the entire gap for the business problem defined in #1.  It is more likely (and usually preferable) that a project focuses on a sub-process, or segment of the overall value stream, and it targeting only a portion of the overall gap.


    1. A clear understanding of the Start and Stop points for the project.  Related to #2, be very clear on exactly which segment of the value stream (subprocess) the project will be restricted to.  This is about scope, and avoiding the ever-present scope creep.  It may need to be adjusted as the project progresses (and/or evolves), but make an effort to define start and stop points up front.


    1. A clear definition of the Team that needs to be involved in the project.  Team members may be actively working on the project analysis, or they may just be subject matter experts that are called upon to gather information and feedback.  They may work in the process/sub-process being analyzed, or they may be customers of or suppliers to that process.  Take time to think through who really needs to be involved, and engage them early.


  1. Explanations of how things like are computed and derived.  For the gap values in problem and objective statements, how were those values derived?  There will always be questions of value, and it’s better to have explanations right in the project definition. The same goes for primary metric baseline values?  How were derived?  Show the data that was used, identify any assumptions that were made, identify any anomalies in the data, etc.

Project definition (project chartering), done well, takes time and effort, but I can assure you that your project outcomes will suffer if shortcuts are taken here.  I do realize that there is a lot of ground covered with these 5 elements, and that there is a lot of detail and nuance in each.  In an upcoming post, I plan to present an example and walk through each of the elements in some detail.

Download our Project Selection executive brief

a short presentation on project identification and definition ….

Feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss project chartering and project definition for your organization and its improvement efforts.

Voice of the Customer (VOC) – Can You Hear Me Now?

August 5th, 2011 Comments off

Voice of the Customer (VOC)Verizon Wireless “Can you hear me now?” commercials hit home because in our increasingly mobile connected lives we live that moment so many times. Verizon’s implicit message is that not only will you be heard on their network but that they hear you. We all want to be heard and we are frustrated when ignored.

We live that moment when we question whether we are being heard in many other ways including as consumers and business customers. How often do we feel as if we are asking the people from whom we buy goods and services both personally and professionally “Can you hear me now?” How often do we feel as if we are ignored, misunderstood or altogether treated like a dropped call! What do we do when we feel that way? I know what I do. I move to another network. I move to one that will listen to me.

Let’s now reverse the question. As a product or service provider, ow well do we listen? Are we so busy with what we wish to accomplish that we are forget our goal in business, which is to meet client or customer requirements. I recently heard an individual involved in a performance improvement program discussing the need for Voice of the Customer, VOC, as he explained his management scorecard and projects. When asked if he’d reviewed either with a major customer, he replied that they’d given him a scorecard but he’d neither used it or presented his because his system was still immature. I took a double-take. He’d been handed the VOC he sought but failed to realize it as such as he was focused on his ability to execute. Tell me

– would a hunter increase the amount of venison he had for the winter if he could shoot straight but couldn’t find his quarry? I think he’d have a cold, hungry winter. Good VOC helps your business see the target.

Download a short training module that discusses Critical to Customer Requirements a short training module that discusses Critical to Customer Requirements

If you want to judge the ability to execute, we have lots of qualitative observations and quantitative measures with which to make an assessment. Do you have the same so as to assess your ability to listen? Do you know whether or not you are really listening to the voice of the customer? We feel that just as there is a maturity model for the ability to execute improvement, there is a maturity model for the ability to listen. If you’d like to hear more and discuss how you listen to your customer, please contact me. We always like to listen to you.


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