One of the most common questions I receive from my clients right after they go through Lean Six Sigma (LSS) training is, “What should I do at my team’s first meeting?” No matter how much you love or hate meetings they are the primary mechanism we use to drive LSS projects from Define to Control, and how you use your team’s time in those meetings can make or break a project.
To describe this process I’ve broken it into three unique phases that include 1) preparing for the meeting, 2) conducting the meeting, and 3) what to do after the meeting. In this post I’ll address how to prepare for the meeting, and in parts two and three I’ll cover conducting the meeting, and what to do after, respectively.
Preparing to Meet.
Getting off to a great start is key to overall success of your LSS project, and to do so requires planning. You can almost guess where to start in planning an effective meeting; you guessed it-creating an agenda!
While it seems so simple, I often find this basic step is something most people skip, which leads to the inevitable meeting that wanders from one topic to the next; getting nowhere fast! My approach is simple and straightforward and includes 5 key agenda items that are as follows:
- Introduction to the project by the champion
- Basic overview of LSS (i.e. DMAIC process)
- Agreement on project charter
- Action items
- Meeting cadence
Why are we here? What is my role in this project? Why should I care about this problem / opportunity? These are all questions the project champion should address in kicking off the meeting. Every team member needs to feel their time will be well spent, and their unique knowledge, experience, etc. are critical to the success of the project. The project champion needs to be able to convince the team members without them success is unlikely.
I also find that for many people involved in LSS projects they know little to nothing about the process and want to jump right to solutions-something I’m convinced is built into our DNA! To avoid this from happening you as a facilitator need to provide a basic overview of the DMAIC approach. A simple tactic I often use is to go right to the idea of just jumping to solutions and what skipping the DMA phases could look like if we did so.
For example, if you ask the team “What if we skip the define phase? What could we expect?” You’re likely to hear, “Well, we’d probably be improving something, but without clear definition of the problem it may not be the right thing to be working on.”
You can also do the same for the measure phase that would lead to not knowing if we’ve made an improvement since we don’t know where we’re starting from. Essentially, you want the team to understand that if you skip phases it will only lead to less than stellar results.
The heart of the meeting (75-90% of the meeting) should be spent on the project charter. I focus on 4 key aspects that include, 1) problem statement, 2) 1-2 performance metrics that can be used to determine the size of the problem and how we’ll know we’ve made an impact, 3) the business case or how we translate the problem into dollars, and 4) the goal or vision of success for the project; typically measured as a percent reduction, increase, etc. in the performance metric.
Action items are always a great finishing, and eventually starting point, for all meetings. Keep it simple with no more than one or two action items per team member. I like to ask, “What’s the most impactful thing each of us can do based on what has been discussed today?”
One of the most common frustrations I find my clients telling me about is the job of babysitting other team member’s action items, which is usually due to taking on too many action items and not having enough time to complete them. In the end more action items almost never leads to more results, it just leads to more facilitator frustration. Having only one action item also gives little wiggle room to team members for making excuses. Nobody wants to have to report they are so poor at managing their time that they couldn’t even get one action item completed!
A final, yet highly impactful agenda item, is determining your team’s meeting cadence. I find that teams who plan one meeting at time tend to take far longer to complete their projects compared to those teams who use what I call a “set-it-and-forget-it” approach to scheduling meetings.
The set-it-and-forget-it approach is simple. Pick a day, time, location, and cadence that the team can agree on, and then use your organizations calendaring tool to set a recurring meeting for the next 3-4 months or however long you feel the team will need to meet. Once this is done you can forget about trying align team member’s calendars for every meeting-a real hair pulling exercise for most of us!
A few other things to consider are checking out the room before the meeting to ensure it meets the needs of what you have planned; doing a technology check to ensure projectors, laptop connections, power outlets, etc. are functional; and sending out any pre-read materials that will speed up the process and / or add to the discussions.
Keep it simple.
Taking a simplified approach to kicking off your project will ensure you don’t try to do too much in the first meeting; a common failure mode for new belts. Often, I find newly trained belts think they can cover a dozen topics in the first meeting only to find out they can get through just a few.
Your primary focus for the first meeting should simply be to ensure everyone is on the same page with what you are trying to do, how it will be measured, and what success looks like from both a process and financial perspective; in other words agreement on the project charter.