By David Pawlitz and Scott Widener
To ensure that a workforce is ready to start a project, two key items need to be in place for success:
- Management support
- Group staffing
Previous experience, across a variety of industries, has repeatedly shown that several factors within these two items are critical to ensuring that a project is successfully completed, and one of those factors is the group of people brought together to solve the problem.
The first thing that must be in place is a clearly articulated reason for what is frequently called “the real work”, the daily work that fulfills the production of goods and services, to be put on hold to work on the new problem in a project-type environment. This is frequently not the case, because projects are brought together on suspect bases or on issues that are not of interest to the participants. The wishes and desires of management are not nearly as captivating as addressing the constant breakdowns and sources of frustration that impact those being assembled in the group each day.
Likewise, any push that does not have a readily visible, and tangible benefit, is likely to also fail, for two reasons. The first is that there has to be a compelling case to put “the real work” aside, especially if those working the project are going to have to play “catch-up” later, as the production demands will likely not abate. This is supplemented by the second reason, which is that there has to be value in the project group’s work, because when push comes to shove, if the project is less value than “the real work”, the project will get pushed aside. Therefore, if at all possible, managers should have some means, such as a financial value, to better weigh priorities in the allocation of their available people.
With a sound basis for work in place, the next issue becomes properly staffing the group to do the work. A variety of suggestions exist on how to do this, but our experience shows that the group should only be as big as it has to be, and it has to be flexible. Therefore, groups of fifteen should be avoided at all costs if a group of three can do the job; other people can be pulled in as needed, but the idea is to keep the core as small as it reasonably can be. Managers must remember that for each person in the core group, that is a person not doing “the real work”, which sets up the cost-and-benefit of the allocation of staff to the value of solving the problem.
Expertise within the group is also critical, because the group has to be encompassing, yet flexible. Therefore, the key is to make sure the bases are adequately covered, which, in our experience, has boiled down to three primary questions:
- How SHOULD the process in question function?
- How DOES the process in question function?
- How is data acquired and processed to feed the group the information it needs?
In a manufacturing-type of setting this sets up with a classical approach of getting an engineer to work with line operators and maintenance personnel with the help of “an advisor”, such as a Six Sigma Belt or Lean specialist. However, in the processing of insurance claims, this situation does not exist, so the “engineer” is probably a lawyer while the “line operators” are adjusters and claims representatives. Remember, that all processes, make something, and the only difference between services and production, for these purposes, is that the result of a service cannot be put on a shelf: a served meal, a sold house, a hotel stay, a prepared tax return and so on.
With a small group of people given a task that both they and the management deems important enough to step away from “the real work”, and the freedom to allow these people to do the work, the project in question is queued up for success.