Effective cultural change is not simply the result of a large group of people accepting the arguments of other influential people – it is the sum of the change of that population’s values, operational knowledge and habitual behaviors. Essentially, culture is not changed until a majority of the population is thinking and acting differently from the previous culture.

Developing a continuous process improvement culture requires this type of change as well. Practitioners must gain widespread understanding and support for their efforts. Two tools – straight talk and exit strategy – used in the Define stage of a DMAIC project can help Belts get their projects off the ground and ensure they stay within scope.

Straight Talk

Process improvement professionals can be significantly more effective in their work for organizational change by asking for help. However, given the often tenuous positions and roles of practitioners, asking for help may be difficult.

For this reason, a simple tool – straight talk – has been developed to facilitate use of the word “help.” The straight talk tool leverages the widely used elevator speech – traditionally an overview that can be delivered in 30 seconds, or the length of an elevator ride.

Straight talk is a systematic effort in both creation and presentation. It is generally developed in the Define phase of a process improvement project, though it can evolve over the course of an initiative.

A straight talk pitch should be documented and memorized. It consists of answers to four simple but telling questions:

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • What will it do for the organization?
  • What can others do?

Answers to the first three questions set the stage for the case for change. The final answer opens the door for a request for help. Sample straight talk responses are shown below.

What am I doing?

I am leading a project to improve our organization’s customer call center contact performance.

Why am I doing it?

We have received feedback from a representative number of customers indicating that it is difficult for them to contact us. They are not happy with us.

We also found that our out-bound calling contact rate is significantly lower than our benchmarks. We do not want to be second best.

What will it do for the organization?

Our surveys indicate that our poor contact rate is the major reason for our customers not renewing their contracts with us. Project success will see higher contact rates, higher customer promoter scores and more repeat sales. The bottom line is that if we can address this issue, we will see revenue increases in excess of 20 percent.

What can others do?

Our team needs you to attend its planning session and provide your input related to the new dialing concept we are considering. We also need you to attend the final recommendation presentation and provide your personal support for our effort.

The form is not critical in this exercise, but content is. The more time that is spent developing concise answers, the more effective they will be. A side benefit is that the project leader – the individual tasked with creating the straight talk – scrutinizes the real meaning of the project. Many efforts have changed as a result of this exercise.

Exit Strategy

During the Define stage, Belts typically prepare a charter with the express purpose of clarifying the problem at hand, specifying customer requirements, developing baseline performance and establishing improvement goals. Even with the charter, projects often fall prey to scope creep, which can make a short-term effort focused on a specific issue feel like a long-term career. The result can be budget or schedule overruns, and even the death of a project.

Adding a simple exercise, known as exit strategy, to the Define phase helps ensure project focus and sets the stage for smoother project closure. Exit strategy defines what and how much is expected from the project, and also gains formal agreement between the Belt leading the project and the project sponsor on those definitions of success.

To complete the exercise, Belts should create a document with the following items:

  • Measureable project characteristics – These are the specific, critical-to-quality (CTQ) process outputs that the project will address. For example, a CTQ might be decreases in processing time or cost, or increases in output volume or quality.
  • Specific project deliverable expectations – Taking the measureable characteristics one step further, these define what the quantity and frequency of expected deliverables, such as a 10-minute decrease in cycle time or 15 fewer defective products per hour.
  • Signatures of agreement – After reviewing this document and formally agreeing on the expectations, the project sponsor and Belt leading the project can revisit it to help prevent project slippage or scope creep.

Ready to Begin the Project

Straight talk and exit strategy act as bookends for the define phase – one can be used to build buy-in for the project, while the other helps keep the effort on track. When both are in place, practitioners can move forward with their project knowing that they have the support and discipline needed to make lasting improvements.

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