If Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Prioritized Projects…

Whichprioritized projects would Peter Piper pick?

I’ve been asked to speak about project selection at an upcoming symposium. In doing research for this,I’ve reviewed articlesfrom iSixSigma and other sources, from both the Six Sigma “ranked project hopper” perspective and the Lean A3 – strategic deployment perspective. And I’ve done some project-picking in my time, too, using both those methods. With all the emphasis on data-driven decisions, there’s one element that is usually mentioned in passing that may be the most important of all. And that is… (drum roll please) Which problems are the executive leaders mostemotionally driven to resolve?

Even if significant costs can be saved – even if reliability can be improved – even if staffing efficiencies can be realized – in my experience, if the project or deployment champion isn’t engaged, youmay end up with a beautiful project that won’t be sustained.

A trite saying is that “people treasure what their bosses measure.” If one or more leaders isemotionally engaged in a project, they will pester the facilitator and team members. They will ask for data at inconvenient times. They will ask whether there are any barriers to be resolved. They will cheerfully provide resources. Staff members will know this is important to them, and will respond accordingly. These leaders will behave in a way that lets everyone know this is important work – they have an obvious commitment to the project and its success.

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When leaders are somewhat interested, they may ask questions and be willing to meet, but forward movement is definitely in the realm of the facilitator. These leaders may be helpful when asked, but they will wait to be asked. They are pleased to be involved as long as it doesn’t take too much effort on their part.

When leaders are not engaged, it’s hard to get meeting time with them, and meetings may be frequently postponed or cancelled. They don’t want to be bothered with details about the project. They only want to know when it’s over so they can go back to spending time on their other “more important” activities.

If you’ve ever led a project, you’ve seen behavior that falls into one of these categories. The pain-in-the-butt activist leaders can be the most forward thinking. The middle-of-the-road hobbyists can be helpful, if always a step behind. The don’t-bother-me-now-can’t-you-see-I’m-working types will be happy to take credit once the project is done, but then ignore it to concentrate on other crisis situations.

So I’m suggesting that, while project prioritization matrices and strategic deployment models are great when all of the leaders are equally and emotionally engaged, there may be a simpler method to use when getting started or when engagement is not high across the board.

Have any of you ever selected your project by which executive was most enthusiastic? It would be great to hear your experiences!

p.s. For those of you detail-oriented folks whose memories are tickled by Peter Piper, it’s from the collection of “Mother Goose” rhymes.

Comments 2

  1. Daniel

    I’m not sure if this is suitable for Green Belts as well, because they often have no choice but based on own experience as a Black Belt, the sponsor/executive/leader plays a very important role, regardless the topic of the project. Especially for resource support, the control phase and most important, the project methodology.

    The common ’firefighter’ manager does not have the time, the mood nor the interest to understand all those 6S voodoo. They are asking for solutions, pushing team and belt into a specific direction and forget the implementation after appearance of the next fire. In a perfect environment, it wouldn’t be necessary to include the sponsor into consideration of projects but we’re in the real world. Yes, I have selected projects based on sponsor and I recommend this to other belts as long as there are some ’black sheeps.’

    This is just fighting the symptoms and addressing the root cause requires leaders who are willing to listen. But maybe, those ’preferred’ sponsors may act as good examples as long as they are able to handle the work load.

  2. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks, Daniel, for your reply-post. I agree about it being an example of treating the symptoms rather than the root cause, and I also agree in an ideal world you would choose your projects in a logical and data-driven process.

    However most of the deployments I’ve seen recently have been middle-outward: A middle-rank leader gets the bug to do lean or six sigma, and then tries to push it upward (to executive level) as well as downward (to front-line level). In these cases, picking a project that an executive can have passion for, may be a good starting step.

    Your insightful comments are appreciated.

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