This post is an extract from the upcoming book on “A Project Health Assessment Framework”

We have referred to this book in a previous blog post.

We have also referred to the subject matter of book in other posts:

Please read the above posts to get a clear idea of the context of this book.

The extract from the book follows:

Arjuna was relaxing at home. He had some soft, relaxing music on. He was in a reflective mood. He was thinking of a Zen koan.  “Shuzan held out a short stick and said, ‘If you call this a short stick, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short stick, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?’” One of the main inputs you get from Zen or Dhyana is that you miss seeing the point if you classify or define boundaries for things….

Arjuna, though thinking of meditation, let his mind wander. His mind slipped from Zen to Kaizen or “change for the better”. Continuous improvement.

That’s it! A vital sign that will tell you whether a project is healthy or not is its ability to continuously improve.

Do the projects under the Kurukshetra umbrella have the ability to continuously improve built in?

This is the question that he posed to Krishna when they met the next day.

Krishna said, “Improvement imperatives come from two sources; from within the organisation and from outside. We need to look at both.”

Arjuna asked, “By inside, you mean from team members and from management and by outside, you mean customers?”

Krishna said, “I meant more than that, but I think for this exercise, we can limit the sources to these you mentioned.”

Arjuna said, “Okay.”

Krishna said, “Improvement should happen as the team’s response to customer expectations or organisational expectations and also as proactive measures from the team, involving both the customer and the organisation.”

“I think I understand. Improvement can happen because the customer pointed out that something was wrong or the organisational VP pointed out that profits were dipping; or improvement can happen because a team member finds a new way of working that reduces development time thereby giving the customer faster results while increasing profits for the organisation.”

“Exactly. We have two dimensions through which improvement progresses. The organisation-customer dimension and the team responding-team proactive dimensions. The four quadrants we get when we plot these two dimensions will give us four of the components of continuous improvement. The fifth one is team-focused. Does the team get the recognition for continuous improvement? This is needed to incentivize ‘continuous’ continuous improvement.

Arjuna was impressed with the figure that Krishna drew on the wall board. He had managed to capture the concept of continuous improvement really well.

Krishna asked, “Now, Arjuna, let us take one component of continuous improvement.  ‘Team responds to ever increasing customer expectations’. What would you think would be its practices or manifestations?”

Arjuna said, “Well, the key thing is some sort of formalization of the practices that captures, analyses and implements appropriate features or processes to deal with customer expectations.”

Krishna said, “Correct. Go on.”

“The first, of course, is the formalization of capturing and internalizing of changing customer expectations.”

“How do we cast this as a formal process or manifestation?”

“Well…” Arjuna hesitated.

“How about this, Arjuna? ‘Team members actively participate in discussions with customers and among themselves in the generation of ideas that could improve service levels or value to customer’?”

“Great. You took the words out of my mouth.”

“Okay. What about the next part, the analysis?”

Arjuna said, “Improvement ideas are assessed for value to customer and are prioritized in terms of cost vs benefits.”

“Okay. This reads well. What about the next, the implementation?”

“How about this? ‘Improvement ideas are implemented like projects with defined goals and success criteria.’?”

“Good. Let us go with this.”

Arjuna said, “So we have three manifestations of the component ‘Team responds to ever increasing customer expectations’. Is this not enough?”

“Three should be about right. Let’s summarize the three.

  • Team members actively participate in discussions with customers and among themselves in the generation of ideas that could improve service levels or value to customer
  • Improvement ideas are assessed for value to customer and are prioritized in terms of cost vs benefits
  • Improvement ideas are implemented like projects with defined goals and success criteria”

Krishna said, “I think we missed out one thing. There should be some mechanism to formally capture inputs on improvements received from customer by various customer facing functions like account manager, sales manager etc. and various levels of management. These inputs should be funneled into the team.

“How do we formally render this?”

Krishna said, “Formal processes and channels exist to funnel improvement inputs received from various levels of the customer to the team.”

“Thanks, Krishna. I will have this written down.”