I’ve been working with a technology firm that offers customized solutions for unique situations. Each such solution is different in some way. And, like any organization with multiple people, each person developed their own way of approaching the strategy and test plan each custom application demanded. While this story refers to a specific service organization, you can easily recognize the same scenario in many organizations.
The company in question wanted to learn from past projects, apply continuous improvement techniques, and improve the accuracy and efficiency of its solutions. It wanted to analyze technical and business performance data the customized installation and testing services generated.
The manager asked his team members for their calculations that justified test plan selection. The team members looked at each other and back at the manager with a distressed and quizzical expression. The manager looked back at them and asked, “What’s your process for calculating the proper set up? You do have a standard process, don’t you?”
One of the team members then said, “I’ve been doing this for years, and I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to write that stuff down.” The other team member nodded in approval.[pullquote]
Now, they were getting to the heart of the problem. Experienced technicians felt they knew how to do their job, with or without documenting exactly what they did. Upon deeper questioning, it became apparent that each team member had their own way of developing installation and testing plans. Each, of course, thought their method was best.
The manager had a problem. There had been 20 or 30 customized projects completed during the past two or three years. Some were successful and some weren’t. The manager wanted to analyze the projects to see if there was a pattern. Without data, there was no way to compare effectiveness of project methodologies.
What was the temperature and humidity? How good was the power quality feeding the equipment? What was the load on the system? How long did it take for initial indications of positive results to appear? Did the project cost exceed the value gained by spending time and effort on it? You get the picture.
It was obvious that the team needed a way to get on track. The answer was to get their processes under control and gather the right information so it could be analyzed.
A process that’s under control yields consistent outcomes. The best way to establish control is by ensuring everyone involved understands the objectives. This is often done in the form of a charter with explicit descriptions of the purpose, objectives and the definition of success. A charter provides guidance on what needs to be done and why; it provides a common goal for everyone.
Next, map out the process graphically. Use flow charts and process diagrams to lay out the sequence of functions or events to be performed. Graphical representations show where activities fit in the big picture; they provide information about the where and the when pieces of the puzzle.
The next step is to set up a RASI table to identify who needs to be involved. RASI is an acronym that means responsibility, accountability, support and information. RASI tables have specific descriptions of who is accountable and responsible for each box on the flow chart. It also identifies who supports, who is supported and who needs or provides information to carry out the process.
The final action is to write a narrative description of the each step in the process. This guide must clearly communicate the process in words. A process guide also forms the basis of a good training program.
Any process (simple or complex) can be documented this way. Once it’s documented, it falls on supervisors and managers to establish process discipline. An organization using process discipline will generate better data. While this doesn’t automatically mean that the processes will be efficient, at least the data will be consistent. And consistent processes and data are needed to identify opportunities for improvement.
Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP, is president of Alidade MER Inc. Contact him at [email protected] and (321) 773-3356.