About this lesson
With the speed of change in business today, project management must be continually improving to stay practical and relevant. This includes both correcting problems and adopting new approaches.
Continuous improvement programs have become widely adopted in industry including those for project management. The programs should be structured and focused on fixing real problems associated with project management.
When to use
Continuous improvement initiatives are always appropriate for an organization. They can be used within a project by applying improvement actions after each major milestone and they can be used across projects by applying the lessons learned that are normally collected near the end of a project.
The principles behind continuous improvement programs were established by Walter Shewhart and Edwards Deming. They can be summarized in the four step cycle of PDCA:
- Plan – Plan the improvement based upon identified problem
- Do – Create a solution for the problem that should improve the situation
- Check – Perform tests with the solution to make sure it works and does not introduce new and bigger problems
- Act – If the check is positive, implement the solution. If the check is negative, go back and start over
Continuous Improvement programs are normally action focused. The goal is to get some improvement quickly, even if it does not totally and completely solve the problem, if it improves the situation, implement it. Then assess what is now the biggest problem and start to take action on that issue.
There have been many different continuous improvement methodologies introduced to industry over the years. These include: Total Quality Management, Quality Circles, 8-D Processes, Kepner-Tregoe, Six Sigma, and Kaizen. These programs have several common themes. Different programs will emphasize one or more of these, but all include some aspect of these four themes.
Continuous improvement initiatives can be implemented within a project or across multiple projects. When implementing within a project, it is often best to assess project and project team performance after each major milestone or toll gate and immediately implement an improvement based upon the most significant weakness or problem. That should improve that project’s performance over time.
A challenge when trying to implement continuous improvement activities across projects is that every project is unique. Therefore, an improvement for one project may be irrelevant on the next project. Cross-project improvements are normally managed by the Project Management Office (PMO) since they administer the project management methodology and often can direct the use of certain tools or techniques. Normally the PMO will use the results of a project’s Lessons Learned assessment to determine what improvements are needed.
Hints & tips
- Don’t try to be perfect when determining a solution to a problem, just be better than before. That way you can stay focused on quick actions and improvements.
- If your organization has a defined methodology, use it. There is little difference between the methodologies and any of them can create improvements.
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PMI, PMP, CAPM and PMBOK are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.