A Leader's Guide to Project Management Success

"Sometimes it's necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly." — Edward Albee, American playwright

A leading vehicle manufacturer built a facility to manufacture its flagship product. The design parameters established for this facility identified models and options to be built in the volumes necessary to meet the client's marketing research. The plant was designed and built to meet those needs; however, when it came time to meet the production requirements, the plant did not meet goals.

What had gone wrong? It came down to some unforeseen items. Customers really liked the product and were willing to pay a little more for a more customized painting process. This changed the original volumes and model mix targets, which required more processing time and different routing in the paint shop. Most base parts can be painted in single solid colors or tutones, which is a combination of a single base color that is then partially painted with a secondary color. Custom finishes included tutones (plain or with decals or graphics), gloss and flat finishes. Each paint process requires a different routing and number of passes through the system. The original marketing mix expected fewer customized finishes. The less complex model mix allowed fewer passes through the paint equipment for higher volume throughput.

Every paint system is dependent on the paint supplier to provide future coatings to meet the customer's specifications, often years in advance. It is a difficult process developing paints that will meet all requirements for different colors, metallic flake size, gloss and workability. The original design called for paint that could be "spot repaired," allowing small defects to be corrected offline without repainting the entire part. Some of the materials did not meet the workability required for the process. It is common to find paint workability issues when first putting a new paint into production. Reprocessing parts required additional passes through the system. The change in model mix and the paint reprocessing added capacity requirements to the system, thereby reducing throughput.

There are few perfect projects, and sometimes you must go back to the beginning to see what is required to make the project a success. In this case, the manufacturer had to go back and do another production simulation with the revised model mix and coating restrictions to see what annual production volume could be attained.

Define and Document Need

To solve a problem, you first have to identify it. Projects address a specific need, such as improving throughput, quality or safety. Project charters can be useful in defining and documenting metrics of success. The project charter starts with the project definition, describing the need to be fulfilled and answering the questions of what, where and who. When defining the scope of work, leaders specify what is needed to solve the problem and how much it is going to cost. A charter does not guarantee success, but it does assure that a sound methodology will be used to measure the project's success against predetermined metrics.

The next step is to define how the project will be evaluated. Leaders should consider how success is defined in the role of each stakeholder, e.g., corporate executive, plant manager, comptroller, safety manager, project manager, contractors, production manager, quality manager, etc. This project did not meet the production manager's annual volume requirements, so it was a failure from his perspective. However, the safety metrics were very good, so from a safety perspective, it was a success. A project can be on schedule and within budget, but if it does not solve the original identified need, it was not a success.

A common symbol used in project management is an equilateral triangle with sides labeled schedule, budget and quality. It shows that if you focus only on one or two sides, the others suffer. In this case, the project did not have the quality requirements to meet the needs.

Identify the Project Scope

Projects are about change, and change is challenging. To mitigate the risk associated with change, get the view of operators, team leaders and other resources. Getting their buy-in and incorporating their DNA on project deliverables will lead to an easier, more accurate implementation and overall project success. Designers can develop systems that process product efficiently, but there is nothing like getting input from the operators, supervisors and maintenance team. Soliciting their feedback shows respect and gives them input into the finer points of operation. The more input, review and approval they have in the beginning, the easier it will be at implementation. You don't have to follow every suggestion, but you should have reasons for why you designed what you did and reasons for why the change everyone is afraid of is warranted.

Develop a list of subject matter experts (SMEs) and coordinate an offsite workshop to facilitate breakout groups that will identify the "must haves" and the "wish to haves." This is a great opportunity to start a simulation model to show the stakeholders an initial rendering of the project.

Throughout the project, the model serves as a dynamic representation of scope and progress. Because many people don't understand the technology involved in a paint shop, plant managers can use the model to show executives and decision-makers the direction of their investment.

When to Seek Approval of Funding

Getting funding for a project is crucial, but getting it approved on time and having funds available when needed is critical. Most projects require executive approval to receive the funding necessary in both capital and expense funds. The process varies from company to company, but the deliverables are similar. Each project must forecast a return on investment (ROI), often within less than one year.

Factors such as regional locations, union versus non-union labor, market conditions and bidder lists all have an impact on the level of scope definition and capital funding required. Take the time to establish teams and get input from others. This input will provide the insight needed to lead – and not just manage – the team.

Funding is a multi-stage approval process. Some funds are needed up front to cover startup costs, but there is a danger in seeking board approval too early. If the board approves a budget and the quotes are too high, the team can't go back to the board. Instead, it is forced to scale down the scope to meet the budgetary constraints. Only when leaders can answer the questions of how and how much can they be sure of meeting the deliverables in the project charter and giving leaders the metrics to measure project success. When executives understand the complexity of the process, they can also understand the development timeframe and the scope of investment.

"Management has no more critical role than motivating and engaging large numbers of people to work together toward a common goal. Defining and explaining what that goal is, sharing a path to achieving it, motivating people to take the journey with you, and assisting them by removing obstacles – these are management's reason for being." — Gary Convis, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky

Quality Flows from Leadership

Quality drives throughput, but to achieve quality requires leadership. No matter how effective the processes are, if the workers are not energized and passionate about those processes, quality will suffer. It is the workers who deliver quality, not the team supervisor or project lead. The workers must understand the vision of throughput and quality. This calls for a leader, not a boss. Quality cannot be dictated.

Leadership means caring about people and giving them the tools to succeed. The leader is often the first one to arrive and the last to leave. Leaders take advantage of opportunities to show they care during the project and celebrate the little victories along the way.

As an example, at a major automotive manufacturing plant, the presidents of the different contractors agreed to help serve meals to their workers at a company safety event celebrating 1 million hours with no lost workdays. Workers sacrifice their time for more than compensation. They need to see their leader as a person they can follow. There should be a relationship that extends far beyond production numbers. Even in production, it speaks volumes when a manager walking through the plant sees a piece of trash on the floor, picks it up and drops it in the waste basket. On the other hand, it can take only a few seconds to severely damage morale. For instance, when a manager declined a request by one of his workers for time off to attend a family event, he lost in 15 minutes the confidence that had taken years to build with his team.

"Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it." – Peter Drucker

The Game Changer

Projects can sometimes feel like a long journey where the path is often laden with starts and stops. Leaders must go out of their way to bring a project back on track. Defining the project allows everyone to understand the deliverables and see how success will be measured.

Properly identifying the scope is a mark of leadership. It engages the team members in their wants and needs. Quality is more than a number. It is the passionate pursuit by a team to be the best. Throughput is the validation that the processes are right and the people are working as a high-performance team.

The game changer is a company's project philosophy of in-depth and ongoing optimization. It shows that leaders are present to work together for the long haul and that they live with the highs and lows of a project. The project really is the foundation of a relationship.

About the Author

Gary Winslow is with Ghafari Associates and can be reached via email at gwinslow@ghafari.com.

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