Home » Change Management » What Project Management Can Learn From Medical Weight Loss Management

Lack of sufficient sleep may compromise the efficacy of typical dietary interventions for weight loss and related metabolic risk reduction.

I loved this quote, but what does it have to do with Project Management?  It strikes directly to the heart of the challenge in so many process improvement projects.  The process or quality improvement effort may not have much of an impact because of another factor that prevents it from having the desired effect.

Let me reword the quote to apply to a typical project management problem I’ve seen:

Lack of sufficient schedule may compromise the efficacy of typical process improvement interventions for engineering productivity and related product delivery risk reduction.

Medical Weight Loss Management and Project Management AlignThe insight then is that as we strive to improve things or implement something new that there can be other factors, that if they remain, will essentially prevent the great new project from having much chance of improving anything.

Typically what I’ve seen are organizations, striving to bring their product and project management into control, regularly implementing improvement projects that have little impact.  Examples I’ve seen include implementing a project management office, Six Sigma training, Agile development techniques, project management certification, business and process dashboards, life-cycle project management tools, and business analytics.  We are constantly striving to improve, but often without a lot to show for all that activity.

While the typical things that go wrong in such “silver bullet” improvements and how to avoid them I’ve chronicled in silver bullets the critical idea we need to keep in mind is still summarized by this notion in medicine.  The treatment only works well if we are not also doing something that either aggravates the problem being treated or otherwise interferes with the ability of the treatment to have an impact on the problem. I typically summarize this notion as:

People + Process + Tools – Bad Habits = Product/Project/Process Improvement.

The key is the “- Bad Habits” because most organization know what they need to do.  All we generally have to do to gain this insight is to interview the folks doing the work and the managers managing the work. Inevitably this will produce a great list of actions that if we found a way to implement them, the organization would leap forward in a very short period of time and often with little additional effort.  The reason for the short period of time and little effort is that the potential in the “People + Process + Tools” is there, but is being held back by the “Bad Habits” which are often management bad habits as opposed to technical challenges.

The challenge with “- bad habits” is that the habits are often ingrained in the organization. Typically, for example, we see schedules and commitments that are consistently unrealistic.  They are assumed possible because when a project is executed, there are so many errors made that we feel if we somehow avoided all those errors, we would have been able to achieve the schedule and commitment.  What we don’t see, as indicated by our medical quote, is that the bad habits (e.g., compressed schedule) are in fact the root causes of the problem that undermines the efficiency of not only any improvements but also the baseline people + process + tools.  So, as in this example, the errors are induced by the unrealistic schedule (trying to do too much too fast in too short a time) but the intuition is that if we were able to do everything perfectly at that speed, it should not have been a problem!  This mindset, that we really can overcome all problems if we just believe and try hard enough, leads us over a cliff.

We try everyday to do a better job.  Too often these efforts at improvement don’t have the impact they should have, because there are other things going on that undermine their effect.  Find a way to remove these impediments and we may find our project improvement efforts having a success beyond our wildest expectations.

What are the key impediments to success in your current project?

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