Lean Six Sigma is a managerial concept that focuses on the elimination of waste, reduction of defects, and the promotion of continuous improvement. This methodology is generally associated with manufacturing, but these concepts can be effectively applied to almost any industry. After all, isn’t there a need for industries across the board to become more cost efficient and increase quality? Technology companies and IT departments seem to be forgotten when adopting Lean and Six Sigma principles; even in companies that have successfully deployed the concepts in other areas of their organization, the application support and IT teams were left off the invitation. Why is it that IT is often overlooked when it comes to the deployment of highly effective project management practices?
Lean Six Sigma principles can be directly applied to any IT project, from a software deployment to an infrastructure build; the methodology forces project teams to consider all possible solutions before jumping into an implementation. Significant time is dedicated to defining objectives and measureable goals before a solution is selected in order to ensure that it is directly in line with the organization’s strategic plan, which is where most IT projects are highly lacking. Unfortunately, it is all too common for organizations to skip straight to the solution without spending the necessary time to ensure it is the most optimal solution for their business, either due to an over-promising salesman, familiarity with the product, or the general “it works for them” approach. Every business is unique, and defining requirements should be the foundation for any project implementation. Often, we see IT teams with significant bandwidth issues which only perpetuates this “quick fix” mindset rather than designating the time to find the right one. The more time that is spent defining business requirements ahead of time, the less time your organization’s IT team will need to spend on customizing and working out the kinks in the system later.
While Lean Six Sigma is generally a top-down managerial culture that takes years to deploy successfully within an organization, there are some basic concepts that can be applied effectively to any project. The standardized project phase approach itself is a significant step up on the project management maturity model. Using a phased approach such as the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve/Implement, and Control, also known as the DMAIC process, keeps a project focused on the best possible scenario for the business. As a result, this process also facilitates communication and creativity among team members and allows an invaluable knowledge share of information that must be considered throughout the project deployment.
The DMAIC process is as follows:
- Define | Define the overall project details such as the measurable objectives, scope, restraints, timeline, and budget. Make sure to involve all stakeholders in these discussions and create a formal document for all to approve.
- Measure | Identify data that will be used to measure the success of the project, and create baselines for your objectives. This may be the hardest phase of an IT project, and it is also most commonly overlooked. However, this phase defines what “done” looks like for a project, whether that is the reduction of lag time or full migration to a new platform. Thoroughly defining your final result will help keep the end in mind and minimize scope creep through the creation of measurable goals.
- Analyze | Root cause analysis is the primary purpose of this phase, to dig into the weeds of the problem and identify the source. Effective solutions are based on the issues, not the symptoms. Identify what the ideal future state would look like and what it would take to get there.
- Improve and/or Implement | Here, identified solutions are tested for feasibility, often through proof of concept (POC). Because the final solution is select and implemented during this phase, it is very common for this portion of the overall project to be turned into a project in and of itself.
- Control | Lastly, the implemented solution is monitored using the measurements defined in Phase II to verify and confirm the expected results. If the desired results are not being seen, adjustments are made. Ultimately, view this as the stability phase, making tiny adjustments until everything is in balance. Once the expected results have been shown and are stable, hand-off to the project and/or business owners is then conducted.
The DMAIC process requires considerable discipline to keep the project team from jumping straight to the end. Pressure from both upper management and stakeholders often make it difficult to resist implementing the first solution that arises. However, keeping on track with this methodical management style for an IT project will ensure that your solution will be the most ideal for your business and that it will be implemented correctly with verifiable results.
Sabrina Schindler is a consultant with Eide Bailly Technology
Consulting. She is a certified Project Management
Professional (PMP) and has more than 7 years of experience
managing software application implementation and
optimization projects covering scope, timelines, and