Tips & Tricks for Efficiently Tracking Lean Projects
Recently, we wrote about a couple of problems facing many Lean practitioners. These were problems that hindered their learning process and often caused overconfidence. Amongst the advice to help combat these problems arose the need for detailed tracking and note taking with regards to practice and progress.
Being able to accurately track not only the effects but also the process of a Lean project is critical to ongoing success, and is a key to stimulating growth amongst not only the receiving end of your project objectives, but also amongst the employees and Lean practitioners themselves.
To start off, let’s take a look at the current state of Lean project tracking for many Lean practitioners. A recent LinkedIn discussion posed the very question of project tracking, and sought to understand a few different distinct metrics. In addition to measuring the effectiveness of any program when it comes to completion, tracking can also be about measuring the scope of your projects, so that you can accurately project what the effects will be before you actually reach the stage at which you expect them. Part of this “scope” involves tracking exactly who is involved with your project, who is affected, and how they are progressing in their respective tasks.
Where we are now
First of all, it’s important to evaluate the current methods that are prevalent in Lean record keeping. The LinkedIn discussion starter, self-identified as Ian R., mentions in his opening post that, when he last posed the question about a year ago, the consensus was that most practitioners were simply using excel spreadsheets for their tracking needs.
While there’s nothing wrong with relying on Excel for the basics, other users were quick to offer up some slicker alternatives, signaling a sharp (and welcomed, in our book) departure from some of the more basic methods. Unsurprisingly, there exist several specialist software applications whose names popped up a few times.
Among such applications, KaiNexus was mentioned once, while Creative Healthcare’s COMPASS software earned itself several mentions. COMPASS is designed specifically with Lean/Six Sigma projects in mind, but rather than go through these programs like a traditional
product review or boring old “check this one out” type article, let’s talk about the various features that caused these applications to be recommended as effective in the first place. This way you can extrapolate various features into your own needs.
Collaboration and Task Assignment
One of the things that stood out as the feature of a good Lean tracking system was the ability to have active collaboration between members of the team, both amongst each other and with management. Communication is key in any management scenario, and Lean is certainly not an exception – projects are generally complex and mulch-faceted. The best programs cited in the discussion all allowed for active communication and alerts.
Even if your system is simple, this integration is very easy to achieve – so don’t assume you have to be spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on corporate software if that’s not an option for you right now.
The following can all be used to help with collaboration and communication efforts if you’re putting together your own system: Google services like Drive, Docs, and Calendar, cell-phones, both through basic texting and calls or through group chat apps like Whatsapp, email clients that can automatically send out alerts based on changing conditions and pre-set parameters, and even physical wall displays such as whiteboards. As a rule of thumb, for this and for other points, if you can’t just reach for a wallet, get creative instead!
Tracking, and the Ability to Implement Just In Time Changes
Nothing slows down a project more than not knowing exactly what stage you’re at. No matter the system you’re using, you need to be able to actively track progress; the more specific and detailed you can be in your tracking, the better. For example, tracking when certain stages are complete is great, but being able to see exactly who has completed certain tasks and when is much more insightful.
Another tracking consideration to keep in mind is how you actually visualize your progress. Many programs gives you a leg up over self-implemented methods by ensuring that data can be presented visually, as graphs and charts, rather than simply as numbers or letters in a cell. These display formats can help you more easily get a grasp of the ‘big picture’ and better organize projects.
Finally, the ability to track in real time, or as close to it as possible, is a huge help in being able to quickly adjust what you’re doing using “Just In Time” training and adaptations. Those familiar with lean will likely also be familiar with the concept of JIT, which basically involves being able to make changes as needed in real time, and in response to a certain variable, rather that with a long lead or follow up (as is the case with preventative actions).
You can imagine this system like a push/pull Kanban where you only change something precisely when another part of the chain requires it. The more agile you can be in adapting and responding to data, the better equipped you will be to get quick results from your various performance improvement projects.
A final consideration to keep in mind has more to do with the size and spread of your project(s) that their details. Tracking and collaboration are relatively easy with small teams, but become exponentially more complicated when coordinating projects between multiple branches of a corporation, or between teams that are spread across various locations.
Luckily, these barriers are becoming less and less of a challenge as we plow forward into the technology-filled years of the 21st century, but they still remain an important consideration depending on the scale and numbers involved in your Lean undertakings.
So, while fancy software suites may be the end goal for serious Lean practitioners and teachers, the reality of a more organized tracking system can be achieved through much more modest means, as long as you keep in mind what makes more expensive solutions effective at their core.