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Intro: Welcome to the E6S-Methods podcast with Jacob and Aaron, your weekly dose of tips and tricks to achieve excellent performance in your business and career. Join us as we explore deeper into the practical worlds of Lean, Six Sigma, Project Management and Design Thinking. In this episode number 136, please enjoy an excerpt from my "coming soon" book, "Is Lean Six Sigma Right for Me?" with a story about Jonny B. Ermuda in a "Tale of a Project Lost." If you like this episode, be sure to click the "like" link in the show notes. It's easy. Just tap our logo in the artwork, click and you're done. Tap-click-done! Here we go. http://bit.ly/E6S-136 Leave a Review! http://bit.ly/E6S-iTunes
Jonny B. Ermuda - A Tale of a Project Lost
Excerpts from Is Lean Six Sigma Right For Me?
When it comes to stakeholders, the project manager will encounter no shortage of “jerks” when it comes to their projects. These jerks can come in many forms and from any part of the business. They can be your boss, your champion/sponsor, your team members, or even someone you had no idea was remotely involved with your project. What does a “jerk” do? They block the progress of your project through a number of means.
Depending on a jerk’s stature within the organization, they may engage in this subterfuge with a different tactic. While the term “jerk” may seem harsh as a label for a book, it is intended that the proper color is cast on the actions of these project detractors, so the potential practitioners reading this can empathize with the emotional aspects of many projects.
The Straits of Resistance act as a vortex, funneling any project swiftly into the seas of no return....
Now that we know what makes a jerk a jerk, (i.e. what their behaviors are), let’s now ask, “Why is a jerk a jerk? What are their motivations to act in such jerky fashions?” There are many potential reasons, and they are not exclusive. In a nutshell, the practitioner will come across these three main motivations: Fear, Confusion, and Ego. It can be imagined that each one of these feeds another or can be drawn in a Venn diagram with significant overlap. In this we have a seemingly inescapable, “Bermuda Triangle,” where projects get lost unless the practitioner effectively addresses at least two of these three main resistance motivations.
The Story of Jonny B. Ermuda
Not long after completing his training, Jonny was eager to demonstrate his new knowledge and skills and beat the statistics around all the programs that fail to deliver on-time, in-scope, and within budget. Jonny recently left his IT role and joined his company’s Operational Excellence program as part of a two-year rotation. Jonny sought out his own certification project to improve the Accounts Receivable bill-to-cash process- to improve the turnaround time. He managed to get the backing of a sponsor, Annette, the local controller for the Northeast Region. (See E6S-021 It Takes a Village- LSS Champion & Community - Part 1). Jonny put together a project charter and a business case to share with Annette. Jonny’s analysis was deep and sound, and had the promise of great savings, if he is successful. Annette is enthusiastic and curious to see if Jonny can pull it off. She approves his charter, as-is, with one small note to expand the scope to all of North America, since they share the same billing system. They work together to brainstorm a list of team members to represent the various departmental interests. They decide on Jeff, Johanna, Corina, Alex and Gregory, to represent Accounts Receivable (AR), Receiving, Procurement, Planning, and Quality, respectively. (See E6S-027 Building a Project Team). Jonny’s plan is clean and is shaping up as diligently as it was taught in his class. It is in-line with all the best practices he studied for the certification exams. As far as Annette is concerned, Jonny is the real expert, and she trusts him to manage the project as he sees fit. As far as Jonny is concerned, he is the best person for the job. He was given a large tool-set to pull from and the authority to move forward with a lofty goal. As far as the team members are concerned..., well, with the exception of Jeff, they did not yet know about the project, and none of them had worked with Jonny in the past. Nonetheless, Jonny gets his signatures and crew, loads his goods, and sets sail.
Jonny greets his crew the day they set sail. Jeff and Johana remember each other from another project they both worked on. Corina, Alex and Gregory work together on a regular basis. None of them are aware of Jonny's capabilities or his history. They know only that he’s been authorized to lead them on this voyage. Jonny takes charge in the classic style – by calling a kick-off meeting. (See E6S-036 Team 10K - (Team Building) Push to Perform)
“Thanks, Everyone, for meeting with me,” starts Jonny. "You’ve been selected by Annette to help me out with this project. Our goal is to shorten the bill-to-cash time in AR. That’s why Jeff is on the team, as the ‘SME.’” Jonny glances around the room as he speaks, and promptly reengages with his computer to display his work. “So I did some digging to prepare for this meeting and went through a lot of data analysis. I found some interesting things. Firstly, it takes 50-90 days to get paid after billing. Jeff, does that sound right?”
Jeff shrugs, “Uhh, yeah, I guess. That sounds pretty typical.”
“Great!” Jonny continues. “So there’s that. Also, looking at the capability, you’ll see our Cpk is 1.2. That’s a 3.6-sigma process, which is NOT good. It’s really bad, actually. We want a 6-sigma process. That’s 3.4 defects per million opportunities. We’re at like 17 thousand DPMO. The data is also non-normal, so we have a lot of work to do if we want to get below the 75-day USL.” (See E6S-067 In the eye of the Cash-holder- Part 3A- Capability Indices)
Johanna cocks her head to the side and interjects, “Wait a minute. Where did that 75-day number come from? Our average bill-to-cash cycle is less than 60 days.” There is a moment of silence in the room. Jonny tucks his chin a bit and gives a mild shoulder shrug. “I think your data is wrong,” Johanna continued. Jonny didn’t know it yet, but he was sailing through the Fog of Confusion.
“I got this data right from the reports in our ERP system.” Jonny pulls out a massive spreadsheet and projects it on the screen to share with the rest of the team. He scrolls down through hundreds of lines, and does a hotkey shortcut to the end. “See? Over 1,200 data points. So I’m not sure where your 60-day number comes from.” Jonny slips into the Flight Straits of Resistance. He didn’t really see it coming. He miscalculated where the Fog of Confusion and Malfunctioning Instruments of Ego would meet and what affect that might have on his project. The Straits of Resistance act as a vortex, funneling any project swiftly into the seas of no return, where Fog of Confusion, Malfunctioning Instruments of Ego, and Rough Waters of Fear meet- the Bermuda Triangle of Projects.
Jonny pulls up his control chart for the data. It is a jumbled mess of black and red colors, resembling a tiger striped caterpillar. “It’s kind of hard to see, but this is what the data looks like as a run chart,” Jonny explains. “All the black points are what’s normal for the process, and the red points are out-of-control.”
“Out-of-control?” questioned Jeff. His eyebrows crinkled and his eyes crossed as he attempted to make out what the caterpillar represented. Gregory, of course, was quite familiar with these types of graphs, though he’s kept quiet until now. (See E6S-064 - In the eye of the Cash-holder Part 1A- Stable & Capable)
“Yeah, out-of control basically means beyond those 3-sigma control limits. We use these for some customers, but we don’t usually use more than 30 data points at a time. This is just a jumble.” Gregory turns to Jonny. “What are we looking for in this chart?”
Jonny fumbles a bit. “Well, I guess just to get a feel for the variation and the average performance. See here.” Jonny points to the x-bar notation. “This is the average performance for the project: 58.796 days.”
“Yeah,” pipes in Jeff. “That’s right. That’s the average we report on our metrics. Well, we round it to 58 days. That’s what Johanna was talking about a minute ago.” Johanna raises her eyebrows, and nods briskly, rapidly shaking her curls in agreement.
“OK. That makes sense. So we’re on the same page?” Jonny checks the room and receives approving looks from most of the team, with the exception of Alex.
“What about the 75 days? Where did that come from?” asks Alex. “Just looking at the data, it’s clear we’re doing better than that.”
“On average” answers Gregory. “But we’re talking about an Upper Specification Limit, meaning we want all transactions to happen faster than 75 days, or whatever that limit was. I’m not sure where that came from either.” Gregory looks down at the table, tapping his pen. Other than his chiming in here and there, Gregory appears very distracted and removed from the conversation, like there’s somewhere else he’d rather be.
“OK, yeah. That 75-day value is one that Annette came up with. That’s where she wants to get it to. She says that’s a good benchmark,” Jonny explains. Johanna and Jeff exchange glances. Gregory chuckles to himself and begins to gather his belongings. The rest of the team follows suit. Jonny notices the meeting time is almost up and proceeds to adjourn. “I’ll send out an invite for the next meeting,” says Jonny. (SeeE6S-008 Running a Team Meeting) “Let me know what day of the week works best for you next week.” The team acknowledges Jonny’s closing remarks and splinters into cliques as they withdraw back to their normal work areas. Luckily for Jonny, Gregory had helped tow him from the Flight Straits of Resistance. However, he is left drifting with Malfunctioning Instruments of Ego. If he does not take decisive action to understand the fears, egos and confusion of his stakeholders, he and his project will meet their end in the Bermuda Triangle of Projects.
How SHOULD Jonny's story have started?
How might his story continue?
What comes next?
How does it end?
Does he get the girl?
Happily ever after?
Crash and burn?
Continue with your version Jonny's story in the comments section.
To avoid the project Bermuda Triangle or its evil Straits of Resistance, a practitioner must become informed with the various interests around his or her project. This is referred to as stakeholder analysis. The depth to which this analysis must go varies greatly. It is possible that a practitioner “wins” a group of stakeholders who have a prior positive experience with the application of Lean Six Sigma and experiences "smooth sailing." Most commonly, though, a significant amount of stakeholder analysis must be performed, and a risk mitigation and communication plan must be drafted and continually be revised throughout the life cycle of each project. (See E6S-024 Stakeholder Management - Part 1)
This stakeholder analysis and communication plan can best be summed up as “politics.” For many LSS practitioners, it is indeed a dirty word, and it takes the practitioner away from what they might consider as value-added in the project, (away from data analysis), and slows the project down. Rest assured, yes, it will indeed slow the project down. However, it is more value-added than it may appear. What value is any activity if it does not get accepted or embraced by the user or new owners? Exactly zero. It is important that practitioners accept politics as a way things get done within organizations and recognize that despite whatever branding your project may have associated with it, it is not immune to politics, even if the practitioner and the project were hand-selected by the CEO. This does not make the Bermuda Triangle disappear. Considering the extra potential for ego and fear, it could actually make the dangerous pull from the Straits of Resistance much worse....
Outro: Thanks for listening to episode 136 of the E6S-Methods podcast. Don't forget to click "like" or "dislike" for this episode in the show notes. Tap-click-done! And please don't forget to finish Jonny B. Ermuda's story in the comments section for this episode. We love hearing from our listeners and learning about how you use Lean and Six Sigma. Feel free to email us, firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us through our website, we reply to all messages. Please leave a review on iTunes at your earliest convenience.... ehem. I mean right now so that this podcast does not die a slow painful death likes so many other podcasts do. Don't forget to you can find notes and graphics for all shows and more at www.E6S-Methods.com. "Journey Through Success. If you're not climbing up, you're falling down? Leave a Review! http://bit.ly/E6S-iTunes