When it comes to tackling the Goliath of organizational change, the right projects must be selected, defined, invested in, developed and finally executed. In structuring positive change, David, with his small slingshot—that is, employees at all levels regardless of their position within the organization—plays a critical role in achieving and sustaining change.
The Six Sigma DMAIC cycle is a powerful approach to driving change with multiple, incremental improvements. The five basic steps: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control use different tools and techniques to focus change activity. In the Improve and Control stages, good project management is crucial for completing tasks. Yet the extra demands of improvement-projects and the small, incremental gains achieved can overwhelm and demotivate employees. To involve everyone and make continuous improvement something to embrace, not avoid, employees should be empowered with the skills and motivation needed to have a role in improving, controlling, and sustaining organizational change.
Figure 1 – The DMAIC Improvement Cycle where strong project management
is key in the Improve and Control Phases
Investing project resources on the projects with the biggest “bang for the buck,” usually brings expertise and investment to those projects that can be measured and easily presented to senior management. Yet often there are individuals with valid points about an improvement for their department that may be difficult to quantify. These small but meaningful projects have the support of individuals who are passionate about the need for change, yet they lack investment or support. Knocking off a few seconds in a process step can yield great results when that step is repeated at volume. Similarly it’s possible that small to medium, meaningful improvements across multiple teams can quickly build confidence and performance. By empowering team leads and individual contributors with the tools needed to improve and control changes, a company can make organizational change personal, practical and possible.
Case Study – Improving Access to Health Care
YouFirst Health is a fast-growing NYC health plan. With the opening of the healthcare exchange, it quickly became apparent that to compete at the next level and grow membership, YouFirst Health had some organizational challenges. In early 2015, Kepner-Tregoe was asked to analyze their current environment and suggest prioritized recommendations for achieving growth. The standard consulting approach to tackling organizational change would be to diagnose, recommend projects and then sell follow-on work that relies on experienced individuals managing the projects. Our approach, based on transferring critical thinking skills, is different. A diagnostic team initially studied, defined, and measured the environment to create a prioritized list of changes that would improve the environment significantly. Part of our recommendation was an extended version of our “learn and do” approach to project management. Essentially we took a group of non-project managers—nurses and call center employees who work directly with customers—and trained them in a simple, but robust project framework. As they were learning new skills, they applied them directly to the list of recommendations.
Multiple projects and tight objectives
On the first day of training, many of the nine class members thought that their background as nurses and call center employees was not suitable for project management roles and responsibilities—and giving up seemed like an easier approach. In response, we paused and broke down a short list of projects that could be more easily delivered. Since a shorter list had tighter objectives and easier measures, the worried participants began to understand how the part they played in the small projects would benefit them and their work environment; this wasn’t just a project where others would benefit from their hard efforts. To energize them, we set a tight, 12-week time limit for completing the projects and partnered up some of the team members. The team tackled six focused projects, three for the call center and three for the utilization department.
Small Steps – Getting the Building Blocks Right
We stressed the importance of understanding the true project value and then expanded out all the required tasks into a simple work breakdown structure that we used to identify initial resource requirements. This approach allowed the novice project managers to think creatively and openly about the needed tasks without the distraction of sequencing or debating why “this won’t work.” Soon we had Post-it Note wallpapered walls and a room full of participants excitedly discussing what would be accomplished in the next 12 weeks. After a short Microsoft Project training session, we transferred our thinking from Post-its to software. Participants were surprised how fast they were able to understand an otherwise mysterious and complicated software package, and how easily they had entered “the real world” of project management. To avoid everyone attempting to schedule the same resource, we even implemented a shared resource pool based on YouFirst Health’s employee list – protecting the energy of these new project managers from overloading the project participants implementing the tasks.
Figure 2 – From “Me, a project manager?” to “ME! A Project Manager!”
Building PM Confidence
To keep these “non-project managers” excited and empowered, we ensured that credit was given where credit was due. They attended weekly meetings with stakeholders, managers, team leads from each department, and a senior executive– a scary group for any PM’s first status report! To calm nerves during our first meetings, Kepner-Tregoe PM pros and the new project managers presented together using a simple template slide showing Achievements, Benefits, Concerns, and To Do’s—soon nicknamed the ABCD Report. This helped project managers to present without worrying about other slides, reading off the screen, or creating unnecessary slide content. A round of applause before each presentation offered encouragement, and afterwards gave well-earned recognition. Q&A encouraged discussion and made them forget they were “on stage.” Invariably confidence improved after presenting in front of a senior executive and a room full of people. Privately participants expressed an overwhelmingly positive sense of accomplishment.
Figure 3 – A simple “ABCD” report used for confident presentations
Tracking Changes and Building Involvement
Metrics that were agreed upon in advance were updated, verified and shared in the weekly presentations and displayed for the entire department on TV monitors and bulletin boards. A monthly newsletter to the department described the projects, the expected achievements, results-so-far and what was coming up. A thank-you section and a call-for-help section were added to involve others and build support. The new project managers became the topic of conversation in the break room, were congratulated and thanked in the hallways—and from what I could see as a consultant—treated better than full-time project managers who had worked with the company for years! The project managers helped win over the department and get more people involved in a culture of improvement for small and meaningful areas in their environment.
Results and Takeaways
In addition to building a creative and committed corps of employees dedicated to making improvements for customers and for their own work environment, the project surpassed expectations. The phenomenal coming together of call center employees and nurses as project managers drove six projects to success within the 12-week timeframe and saved their customers more than five years of wait time – annually!
Make improvement a core competency. This core competency should not be limited to leads and managers, but extend down to the engineers, associates, and employees that make an organization run smoothly. The small changes and large passion they bring to changes that are relevant and relatable can quickly and synergistically improve performance and the bottom line.
Make improvement a confidence- and skill-building exercise. The confidence gained through a “learn and do” approach, coupled with management buy-in, can transform an organization. At YouFirst Health, saving years of customer wait time has an impact beyond the call center for all customers trying to gain access to health and protection for their families.
Never underestimate the Davids in your organization when looking to tackle Goliath-sized problems. You may never know the ten, ten thousand, or ten million people helped by their unleashed efforts. And there’s the potential for more within your organization too—with each employee that now comes to work with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose.