AVOIDING IMPROVEMENT BURNOUT

Successful project management teams are always looking for ways to streamline operations, reduce waste, increase cost savings, boost stakeholder satisfaction, and generally ensure more consistent results. Unfortunately, those Project Teams that focus heavily on process improvements run the very real risk of subjecting team members to a form of “improvement burnout.”

Just as project professionals involved in long projects may experience burnout from time to time, those who are constantly asked to focus on process improvement opportunities are also susceptible to the same sort of occasional weariness. There are ways Project Teams can avoid improvement-related fatigue and keep everyone engaged and excited about the team’s improvement efforts. A handful of suggestions can help your Project Team maintain its enthusiasm.

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Turn improvement efforts into projects. Just as time is allotted to planning and other project activities, tasks associated with improvement initiatives must also be given the necessary resources in both time and funding. Project Team members will quickly become overwhelmed if their workloads aren’t able to support their project responsibilities as well as any improvement action items that have been assigned to them. Performance in both areas is almost sure to suffer as a result, driving morale lower and triggering serious burnout. Set realistic expectations for any improvement initiatives the team agrees to undertake, and be mindful of other obligations each member has on their plate.

Focus on one improvement project at a time. Unless your Project Team is extremely large or the team is broken into distinct groups, it’s usually better to complete one improvement initiative before moving on to another. This allows the team sufficient time to execute each project while also giving them the much-needed opportunity to feel the rewards of their success. More importantly, staggering improvement initiatives ensures that any necessary benchmarking is able to be conducted—and the data captured and examined—before additional changes are made that could impact or inadvertently skew the results.

Partner with an improvement expert. Though Project Teams are often able to execute improvement initiatives on their own, it’s sometimes helpful to bring in a project management consultant with deep expertise in managing successful improvement efforts. The benefits are two-fold: it gives your team an opportunity to learn some new techniques and hone their methodologies, and it may also be useful if your Project Team seems to have one improvement project starting every time another is finishing. This type of never-ending cycle can contribute significantly to burnout issues, and an outside expert may be able to consolidate or prioritize various improvement initiatives for better results and less fatigue.

Know when improvement strategies aren’t worth the effort. Though most improvement opportunities are good in the long run, there are times when the benefits just aren’t compelling enough to make them worthwhile. Your team should be ready to identify any low-return opportunities and set them aside. Improvements to processes that are rarely utilized (because they only support a limited range of projects, for example) are one possible instance where the efforts likely outweigh the advantages.

Give everyone a break now and then. It’s crucial that every team member have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labors without having to focus on which improvements they need to tackle next. It also gives the Project Team a chance to step back and evaluate how the improvements are performing in the real world. In tandem with benchmarking data, team members can offer their perspectives on whether improvement efforts worked out as planned and where additional opportunities may exist to further streamline operations. This time away from actual improvement activities provides team members with the ability to more objectively see how previous practices have been improved.

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