Selecting a Lean Project

The Lean East team has had several meetings in the past month with organizations new to Lean thinking. The leaders of these organizations want to improve processes and have learned that Lean principles work. But with all the problems and improvement needs in a typical organization, where do you begin?

Selecting a Lean Project

When leaders ask us for input and support for selecting a Lean project, we share our simple project selection matrix. Here are the eight items we review and rate – each either passes or fails. We recommend prioritizing the projects that pass all, or nearly all, of the following criteria:

  1. Important to the team and organization: Ensure the project you are considering is related to a critical organizational need. A successful project result needs to matter to the executive team or it isn’t worth pursuing. Selecting a lean project that your customers care about is even better!
  1. Dissatisfaction exists (from customers or staff): The hardest situation for a Lean project coach and facilitator is when a new project starts and the project team says, “this process works pretty well – we don’t need to change.” Organizations have plenty of problems. Make sure you select a problem to address that the staff wants to fix without lots of urging from leadership.
  1. Targets end-to-end process: Lean projects seek to examine processes and separate the process steps that create customer value from the steps that do not. This is the waste. The project team will find it easier to study processes with an understandable beginning and end.
  1. Complex processes without an obvious solution already decided upon: If organizations are hiring a Lean facilitator we recommend they prioritize projects that study complicated processes. Complicated is defined as more than at least ten steps with multiple decisions required. If a leader or team believes they already know the solution to the problem and what to implement, then “just do it” and measure the results. Only hire Lean East for important problems without clear solutions.
  1. Stability in the team and area: Lean projects require taking action that addresses root cause issues and improves processes. Project team members benefit from learning the upstream and downstream work of others on the team and growing trust levels. Organizations should prioritize projects where this new knowledge and enhanced teamwork is expected to last. For example, a project that focuses on processes the team will use in a new office building is much better than improvements to the area before a major change.
  1. Team and leader willing to learn and develop new skills: Lean projects focus on achieving measurable enhancements to customer value. An important “side benefit” is growth in each member of the project team. This includes improved relationships, knowledge, and experience with powerful Lean principles and tools. It also includes a better understanding of customer values. We find this “side benefit” is usually more important to the members of the team and to the organization in the long run.
  1. Project success will likely develop new Lean “Champions” in the organization: The individual learning and growth that occurs in a successful Lean project should lead to team members and leaders wanting to begin additional projects that improve other processes. Organizations should ensure that a few high-potential leaders are members of the project team.
  1. For early projects, a “quick win” with measurable results is likely: If an organization is new to Lean thinking we recommend selecting early projects that are clearer and simpler rather than extremely complex and considered unlikely to succeed. Let the team and organization gain experience and achieve some early success before tackling the riskier, more complex problems.

Project Selection Matrix - Selecting a Lean Project

We have used the criteria above to help many organizations select good Lean projects. Please join the mailing list for our monthly improvement tip and then connect with us if you would like to receive a copy of the selection matrix we use.

We would love to see your comments about additional factors that should be on this list. Please leave a reply in the comment section below. Thanks!

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