By Mike Loughrin, CEO of Transformance Advisors

The Challenge

Selecting an appropriate lean project can be challenging. You don’t want to find yourself in a multi-year galactic struggle with no hope of success. Alternatively, you don’t want to overspend by using your project team to research and decide on the flavors of ice cream to serve at the company picnic.

Let’s look at a sensible five step approach:

  1. Establish Selection Committee
  2. Identify Strategic Priorities
  3. Generate Project Ideas
  4. Score Each Project
  5. Prioritize Projects
Lean Project Selection

1. Establish Selection Committee

Lean Project Committee

You should create a team that understands the power of using lean.

You want to avoid that temptation where “if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail”.

A great selection committee would include champions and experts bringing a sound understanding of lean.

You would also want representation from strategic planning, operational excellence, and customer relationship management.

Additional options include supply chain management, finance, and human resources.

2. Identify Strategic Priorities

Ideally, your leadership team has identified 3 to 5 strategic initiatives which have been designed to achieve your organization’s vision and mission. These strategic initiatives would be the starting point for a vast majority of projects that will be funded by the organization. If you have this type of effective strategy execution program, then the selection committee should meet with the executive champion for each initiative to gain a shared understanding on how lean projects can apply.

Now, if your leadership team has not done the hard work of setting priorities in terms of 3 to 5 strategic initiatives, then you need an alternative approach. Your selection committee should meet with executives (the ones who should have established initiatives) to discuss organizational goals and priorities.

Caution: you do not want too much input from lower level managers at this time. This step concerns strategic priorities and too many organizations have big disconnects between executives and managers. Now, you might think you are different and that would never happen at your organization.

Then, you need to consider that an astonishing 95% of employees are unaware of, or do not understand, the strategy for their organization, as reported by Robert Kaplan and David P Norton in the Harvard Business Review. This lack of understanding is a significant reason why a vast majority of organizations fail at strategy execution, with some studies suggesting that up to 70% fail due to poor execution.

Do your lean program a favor and commit to identifying the real strategic priorities.

Lean Priorities

3. Generate Project Ideas

Lean Project Ideas

Based upon the strategic priorities, generate a list of projects which support these priorities. For many organizations committed to a lean transformation, there is an annual review of the current state value stream map for all key value streams. This review will have identified the waste and prioritized which areas should be improved through projects over the course of the coming year. If a project list is not available, then you may need to establish a brainstorming session with key stakeholders.

Remember your goal to hit the strategic priorities. You don’t want to get trapped with a long list of cost cutting projects, when top executives are more interested in seeing dramatic improvement in the quality of products and services. A lean transformation program can quickly be viewed as just a bunch of cost cutting projects unrelated to organizational strategy. This is not what generates great results for successful organizations.

Work the list of projects to understand general estimates of their key characteristics such as scope, customer benefits, other stakeholder benefits, and resources required. It’s too early to know all the details; those come later when a project charters are developed.

One characteristic, which usually needs greater understanding, is identifying the scope in terms on how long you think it will take to complete the project. Seek to scope projects for 3 to 9 months. Work hard to cut larger projects into smaller ones. There is simply too much risk associated with long projects.

Speaking of risk, you can conclude your list of project ideas by adding a few clunkers not linked to any strategic priorities. Perhaps, repaving the parking lot is the big need of the day. Hint: you can add a few crazy projects to the list; we will dispatch them later!

4. Score Each Project

Your next step, in selecting lean projects, is to score each project on your list from the prior step.

Use a “project selection matrix” that creates a quantitative analysis based upon key characteristics. One example of a project priority matrix is shown below:

Lean Project Selection Matrix

The above matrix contains:

  • Project Characteristic: An important aspect of the project that helps the team determine if this idea is a great fit for lean
  • Priority: Ranking each characteristic; in this example, 3 is high priority, 2 is medium, and 1 is low
  • Points: Quantifiable criteria and the points associated with each characteristic
  • Score: The points awarded to each project under consideration
  • Priority * Score: Multiply the priority points by the score for each characteristic – giving the weighted score
  • Project Score: A total of the weighted scores for each characteristic

5. Prioritize Projects

You can now sort the projects by their scores and have a prioritized list.

For those high priority projects without a Champion identified, you will need to determine who would be the best person to assume responsibility.

At this point, the project selection committee needs to work with each Champion. These Champions need to accept responsibility to resource the project.

Prioritized Lean Projects


Lean Project Selection Summary

The lean toolbox has great tools which can be used for all types of projects. However, lean is not an approach you should use for every project that comes along.

Certain characteristics make some projects ideal for lean, while others indicate a different approach would generate better results.

Sorting out which projects are best for lean requires a systematic project selection process as outlined in this article. A critical aspect is the use of a project selection matrix to score possible projects using quantifiable criteria.

Want More?

Read What is Lean?

Lean Colorado

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