Cut Waste, Improve Performance – Part 1: Identifying Waste

With the hectic workload many project management professionals juggle, it’s not often they have a chance to step back and take a good look around. But every now and then it’s a good idea to review the project management team’s activities and see where processes can be streamlined or where efforts can be applied more effectively. Cutting waste—in labor, in spending, in time—is just one piece of a wider approach toward achieving repeatable project success.

Before waste can be eliminated it must first be identified. The process takes work and dedication, and it’s an ongoing effort. Old habits may creep back in. Changes to organizational structures may cause occasional setbacks. Waste in other support groups have the potential to hamper progress even if your own internal team is deeply committed. These factors aren’t always controllable by those in the Project Team, making it important to develop a team culture that actively focuses on identifying and eradicating waste. Below are some tips for getting started finding waste within your project management team.

Look at how work is being handled inside the Project Team. Examine which team members are responsible for each area or activity in a typical project. Now look at where those spheres of influence meet and perhaps overlap. The connections between those different activities are one area that often gets bogged down. It’s also useful to conduct a similar evaluation of any tasks that may be transferred into or out of the Project Team (contract negotiations that are either started or finalized by the legal team, for example). Where efforts are duplicated or hindered by adjacent parties—and where potential bottlenecks exist—are the areas where opportunities for cutting waste typically lurk.

Examine how much time is being spent on specific tasks. Using historical data from previous projects, conduct a careful review of how long activities take to complete on average. This evaluation should look at the data not only from a calendar perspective (days or weeks from start to finish), but also the raw number of hours each team member devotes to a particular task. Include in this review where transitions or hand-offs occur for PMP®s who manage multiple projects simultaneously.

Get a handle on how much firefighting goes on within the Project Team. This is a perfect opportunity to eliminate large swaths of wasteful efforts but reactive activities may be the most difficult to remedy. Waste in this context refers not only to work but also to the expenditures associated with project management conducted in panic mode. Paying extra for rush fees may be deemed wasteful, as could the payment of premium prices necessary to secure expertise or materials that could have been less expensive if pricing had been negotiated earlier in the project process.

Engage all team members in the process of identifying waste. Project management doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and every member of a Project Team has the potential to both participate in wasteful activities as well as to eliminate waste going forward. It’s also often easier to see inefficiency in other areas than it is to spot it in your own, where objectivity is difficult. Simply asking the team to kick off the evaluation process by listing out activities they feel may have wasteful aspects will likely give your Project Team a big head start. Being involved in the process will also help give team members a wider perspective on how waste occurs, as well as how it affects the Project Team’s ongoing success. Each PMP® will be able to look at their own activities on a more granular level, giving them the opportunity to identify waste much faster when it occurs.

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