Monday, September 23, 2013

Tool integration Kaizen

As per Wikipedia, "Kaizen" (改善) is   Japanese for "improvement", or "change for the better". It  refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management.  This word  became popular with Toyota Production System, though the word originated when Americans started training Japanese with a program called "Training in Industry" post second world war.    

Kaizen  is started when a problem is noticed in an operation. It is also used  as a first step in implementing productivity improvement initiatives in an organization. As team members can easily participate in the idea generation and implementation, this initiative is easily adopted.  Though IT tools are widely used in  organizations
, there is usually lot of manual work required when putting together  progress and/or review reports.  The improvement required may not be priority for the organization, hence some sort of a kaizen is called for.  I illustrate the same with a simple example from Earned Value measurement exercise.

When I worked as a Project Manager for a product development, we used MS Project for planning and tracking. For Earned Value computation for a task we need PV, EV and AC. PV stands for Planned value, i.e the amount planned for a task (it is expressed in person hours rather than  money, as the project was contracted based on a Time and material model). EV stands for Earned Value, which is an indication of the progress on the outcome of the task. AC is the Actual cost  incurred for the task.  Effort spent by team members is captured in a separate tool, which was developed to cater to the project and its life cycle phases. User's entries with respect to task are also captured in a field.   As a team member can work on multiple tasks and a  task can be worked on by mutiple team members, it is not possible to find the actual effort that was incurred for a specific task. Asking team members to update the data in both tools led to consistency issues.  So the tracking consisted of more of the variance in the planned effort versus actual effort at the project level.

The kaizen that I proposed and implemented  consisted of adding a custom field(task number) to Microsoft Project and using that to map the team members efforts in the time sheet tool, by having the team enter the task number followed by the description of the tasks.   Microsoft Excel was used to process the exported  time sheet data  and MS Project data. The updated date was finally imported into Microsoft Project. This along with improved definition for EV of  a task  and manual updates from the members allowed us to compute Schedule Performance Index(SPI), Cost Performance Index (CPI) metrics at a task level.  Traffic light representation of these metrics made the project status more visible to every one thereby improving the tracking and ultimately the project performance.

Modern tools provide support for tool integrations or provide open interfaces.  Do take a look at the various tools that your team uses and identify how the lack of integration is impacting the work. Start an integration  kaizen to improve the productivity. 

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