The stories by the Directors on the urgency for improving efficiency in project delivery and on the mechanism of the contract laid a good foundation for the second part of the team building sessions: An afternoon on continuous improvement.
We briefly told the story of Toyota, the Toyota Production System and on how continuous improvement has been at the heart of that firm’s long term and sustainable success over the last 50 years. Then we played the Point Ball Game, clarifying the step by step process of continuous improvement. In the Point Ball Game, groups of 9 participants are challenged:
- to process as high a number of tennis balls as they can
- to make reliable forecasts on their rate of success and
- to improve their performance after 5 Iterations.
This game proved to be the perfect exercise to elicitate how teams in organizations can improve their performance. Participants learned the value of making many small steps all the time, of occasionally engaging in some bigger steps, and of listening to each other, of looking at what other teams do, of setting targets as a motivation to improve… All this, while having a lot of fun. Most teams processed less than 10 tennis balls in the first round, reaching more than 100 in the fifth round.
Some teams were clearly better than others, which in turn led to a vivid discussion on why and allowed us to identify the conditions for continuous improvement and to jointly design a method for successfully improve team performance. Interestingly, participants agreed that the key is not in the many excellent ideas, but much more in the discipline of implementing these step by step.
So, during the team building sessions, the team members built a framework for continuous improvement which looks a lot like the Toyota Kata. Team members suggested a weekly 30 minutes review in all projects and the solution of just one smaller issue per project per week. We agreed to focus on asking the five questions of the Toyota Kata during these reviews:
- What did we intend to do?
- What did we actually achieve?
- What prevented us from doing what we wanted?
- What’s our first next step?
- When can we see results from that?
This is to lead to many smaller solutions, which are then to be integrated in the Project Management Manual, to be updated every month. This way, the Project Management Manual shall become a living document, rather than a dusty pile of paper hidden in someone’s drawer.
Apart from this, the various disciplines took the initiative to reinstall regular learning sessions per discipline, in order to ensure that people in one project learn from others in other projects.
This collaborative design of a method for continuous improvement may prove very valuable in the future. First of all, the urgency for continuous improvement has been clarified, as well as the managements’ commitment to it. But even better, it has become a product of the team members, much more than having been imposed on them by higher management. Which makes a lot of sense, because most people find it much more fun to work with peers who also want to solve day to day problems. The role of management should only be to facilitate this and to help making it a daily routine.
Besides, we know that working in a routine of continuous improvement, will almost automatically lead us to the introduction of Lean & Agile Project Management in the months to come. LAPM after all is nothing more than a common sense answer to common problems in nearly all project environments.
This blog is part of my Lean & Agile Implementation Journal