September 08, 2011
Technology Solution Delivery

Out to Lunch

This week, I left my office to grab lunch and headed to fast food Restaurant A to pick something up. When I got to Restaurant A, the line was very long with about 20-25 people ahead of me. I waited in line for about 5 minutes and didn’t move very far, so I decided to leave and go to fast food Restaurant B instead. When I got to restaurant B, I was discouraged to see that there were again about 20-25 people already in line, but I overheard somebody say “this line usually moves pretty fast”. Within 5 minutes, I was at the counter placing my order, and a couple of minutes later I was headed out the door back to my office with my lunch in hand. I asked myself as I walked back, “why did I barely move after spending 5 minutes at Restaurant A, but was placing my order and out the door within 5 minutes at Restaurant B?” There were the same number of people ahead of me, and the food assembly at both places was about the same.  In fact Restaurant B’s menu is quite more extensive.  Then I started thinking about some of the differences I noticed between the two restaurants.

In Restaurant B, all the employees behind the counter had very specific tasks to do in their part of the assembly line, and everyone seemed to stick to their defined task. For example, one man took my order another man added the meat I chose to my plate, another asked me if I wanted rice or pasta, and the next asked what kind of bread I wanted, etc. The tasks may have been small, but each individual knew their task well and was able to complete it with a very quick turnaround time. I also noticed that the next task did not begin until the preceding task had been completed, and there was little deviation in the process.

In Restaurant A, things were more chaotic. I noticed that the employees behind the counter were a bit all over the place and were either responsible for managing too many tasks, or were not adhering to their roles in the assembly line. For example, the man who was responsible for putting meat in the sandwiches sometimes added additional toppings from the next station to an order, and sometimes did not. The cashier was a bottleneck as she seemed to be responsible for too many things at once. She was responsible for asking if someone wanted something to drink, getting the fries to add to the person’s order, dropping more fries into the fryer, and also handling the regular cashier duties of collecting money from the customers. Clearly, these inconsistent processes and a lack of clearly defined, manageable responsibilities for each employee in the assembly line were hurting their speed to delivery and customer service.

So how does this all apply to the world of program and project management? Have you ever been involved in an initiative that was chaotic, unproductive, and behind schedule? Chances are the roles and responsibilities of the program/project team members were either not well-defined or were not being adhered to rigorously. Effort required to complete critical tasks was probably not estimated accurately. Phase containment was likely an issue.  I’m guessing that clearly defined entry and exit criteria were neither established nor used for deliverables or delivery lifecycle phases. These issues usually lead to inconsistent processes, poorly planned work efforts and miscommunication between teams during delivery efforts.

Establishing and communicating well-defined roles and responsibilities for all individuals involved with your initiative, and defining and adhering to exit and entry criteria as you move from one phase to the next, helps to establish more consistent processes and better communication between teams. Conducting some upfront planning and effort estimation based on educated assumptions also ensures the team is staffed correctly and timing for completing work efforts is reasonable. This enables a more efficient path towards implementation and quicker turnaround on realizing the benefits that you’ve promised in your business case, and in the case of Restaurant B, it allowed me to realize the benefit of getting to eat lunch before my next meeting!

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