Definition of the Process Improvement Life Cycle

While the above improvement practices have been in use for a number of years, the results have not met expectations. There are several reasons for this:

• No interproject sharing of ideas and suggestions.

• Each project is unique.

• Experiences do not travel well from project to project.

• The process is too informal to work.

Senior level managers expect that project managers will share their experiences so that others might learn and thereby improve their project management practices. This does not happen to any measurable extent, and the reason most often given is that "my project is so different from yours that your idea simply doesn't apply." Project managers are often hesitant to take ideas and suggestions from other project managers because it may be a sign of weakness or incompetence. The problem with these reasons is that they are all the result of the informality involved. Depending on an informal spreading of ideas and suggestions simply will not work. Having a formal process in place to receive ideas and suggestions and filter them for general use might solve the problem somewhat. If the organization expects improvement in its project management practices and processes, it will require a formal and planned approach. That approach is the process improvement life cycle, which consists of four major steps as shown in Figure 1.2.

1.3.1 Where Are You?

The first step is to determine where you are. I am not talking about a physical location but rather about a state of being. The question is really asking for some statement about process maturity. To answer that question we must have some basis for measurement of process maturity. Chapter 2 develops a survey to measure that. Chapter 3 develops a metric from the resulting survey data. The answer to the question "Where are you?" is given by the value of the process metric. We will call this the baseline. Over time, and as the process and its practices improve, comparisons against that baseline will generate a trend line showing changes

Figure 1.2 The process improvement life cycle.

with respect to the baseline. In other words, the answer to the where are you question changes. If the organization has a quality improvement program underway, the trend line will be a tool for measuring progress as the baseline converges on the target maturity level.

1.3.2 Where Do You Want To Be?

Once you have determined where you are, the next step is to decide where you would like to be. What goal will you set for your process improvement efforts? The goal should be expressed against that same baseline and in terms of the metric used to establish your current state. That goal can be very short term and associated with a specific improvement opportunity or a long-term programmatic goal associated with a final end state.

1.3.3 How Will You Get There?

At this stage you know where you are and you know where you want to be and both are expressed in terms of the same metric. The difference between the two is called your process maturity gap. To answer this question we have to define the pathway that connects the two end points that define the gap. That pathway is a plan to move the people, project management process, and technology that define the current state to another combination of people, project management process, and technology that define the end state. There will be cases where that pathway is clearly defined and others where that pathway is only vaguely defined. It all depends on the complexity of the relationship between people, project management process, and technology along that path. Each situation will require a different project approach. These will be discussed in Chapter 6.

An improvement program has been put in place to narrow the gap. That improvement program may consist of a single project or several projects. The projects could be totally independent of one another or related in some manner. In most cases the projects are sequential. The results of the first project are assessed with respect to the defined goal. If the goal was reached, other improvement programs may be initiated for other processes. If the goal has not been reached, a root cause analysis may be conducted and additional projects commissioned as a result. In any case, there is a final assessment of the new baseline. The life cycle then repeats itself continuously.

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