Winging It is for Birds – Prep and Thou Shall Be Successful


Don’t be the person that is stranded on a raft in the middle of the Ocean and can’t set off the flares when the big cruise ship comes by, because they didn’t read the instructions. There are just some things you do that you want to be really prepared for, because you only get one chance. If you are lucky, maybe a couple of chances.

Rapid improvement events are one of the best ways to leverage the power of concentrated team effort to improve something within your business. These events are not absent of risk however. An event that doesn’t go as planned, or doesn’t product the results desired by the team can rapidly reduce the enthusiasm for future improvement work. You will start to hear things like, “We did a lot of talking and planning, but nothing really changed.” Rapid improvement events are an investment. They require significant staff time, effort and costs. Don’t take this responsibility lightly. A rapid improvement event may only last a day, but proper preparation should start weeks in advance. Typical rapid improvement events that we run start with a three-week prep timeline and end with a three-week sustainability timeline. Here is a list of things you should consider before every rapid improvement event to increase your chances of success:

Team selection: Carefully think through who should be involved in your rapid improvement event. You need the right mix of subject matter experts as well as a few people from outside the process that have very little knowledge of what’s going on. These folks usually ask all the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask. Thoughtful team selection is critical for the success of the event, but it also helps you align resources to cover for the team while the event is taking place. Nothing is worse than an event that is constantly interrupted by people stepping out to fight fires.

Resource Alignment: You want to make sure that you prepare backups for your team members so that they can be fully focused on the improvement event. Aligning with other managers if your team members report to others, is a critical part of the process. You might also have to align resources that are external to the team actually engaged in the event. For example, you might have to have an IT contractor at the ready, in case your team determines that they have to move a couple of data lines so they can lay out a space more efficiently.

Crystal Clear Objectives: Be very thoughtful about what you are trying to accomplish with the event. How are you planning on measuring success? Your team needs to have absolute clarity about what they are trying to accomplish. They need to know this well in advance of the event so that they come in with the right mindset. If your objective statement has any “and’s” in it, you need to rethink your objective. Try to accomplish one or two things during a rapid improvement event and you will set yourself up for a higher likelihood of success.

Tight Scope: It is as important to know what is out of scope as what is within scope. In fact, be explicit about this. Write down what is not within the scope of your rapid improvement event. Scope creep is the absolute worse event killer. It’s a distraction and a temptation that a lot of teams get into. If you don’t have a clearly defined scope and more importantly know what’s out of scope, you will likely walk

out of the event with a vague sense of accomplishment. Keeping the scope tight allows you to define clear measures for success.

Measures of success: Know how you are going to measure the success of the rapid improvement event objectively. How do you know the event was a success? Does it just feel successful or can you objectively measure success? At the end of the event, you should know whether you accomplished the action items you sought to complete during the event. After the event, you should know whether the event was successful through metrics you put in place. These can be financial, operational, etc.

Understand the current state: Prior to making changes, you need a clear baseline. That’s the only way to know if you have made an improvement after the event. It’s also the best way to keep your team from spinning out of control and speculating on how bad or good something really is. If you have done your homework and collected critical data prior to the event, you will not only give your team greater confidence, you can get to the fun work of improving a lot faster.

Project Charter: I saved this one for last but it should really be the first thing that you do. A project charter is a one-page document that provides clear and concise information about the rapid improvement event. It outlines the problem statement and objective, measures, scope, team members, dates, etc. A charter document forces you to think critically about what you are preparing for. We have personally cancelled many rapid improvement events because the project leader didn’t have a properly prepared charter. It is that important.

Read your instructions, and have your flares ready for when that cruise ship comes by. Consider every rapid improvement event as an opportunity that isn’t available to you every day to get something really great done for your business. Prepare, and thou shall be successful.

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