The projects

Just this week I was reading an article “10 Common Misconceptions About Lean” by Jon Miller on the Panta Rei and loved his statement; “Lean manufacturing is about making the work easier and less frustrating so that time at work can be spent on what matters, serving customers and growing as people.”

I shared this statement with my Executive Management Team. Priscilla Boucher, our VP Corporate Social Responsibility expanded the statement such that it now embodies all our values at ACU; “Process Excellence is about making the work easier and less frustrating so that time at work can be spent on what matters, serving members and communities, growing as people and lightening our impact on the environment.”

As I mentioned in my last blog, process improvements are run as individual projects through our Process Excellence (PE) department. There is a lot of work that goes into identifying and determining the projects we are going to work on. PE projects must improve how we work, so ACU can focus on providing value to our members and developing our staff. The results generate benefits for our members and staff, contributing to the overall future of our credit union.

PE project ideas are generated from various sources including; ideas submitted from our ACU staff through our online submission tool, executive management initiatives, feedback through member and staff surveys and most recently new projects have been identified through the research we have completed in our original 2009 PE projects. Once the ideas are identified, we move into scoping the projects, determining the opportunity and project goal statements.

Scoping the projects can be pretty tricky.  We write our project goal statements using the structure recommended by our consultants Air Academy Associated; Verb, Noun, Number and Timeline. So for example we had a project focused on identifying the optimal cash levels held within our branches. The more cash we hold in the branches, the higher our float costs. So, the goal of our project was to “Reduce (verb) branch cash holdings (noun) by 10% (number) by December 31, 2009 (timeline). Important to note, while we did want to reduce our cash holdings, we had to make sure our improvements did not have a negative impact. We could not reduce the levels to the point where the branches could possibly run out of cash in our cash recyclers. This would negatively impact our ability to serve our members. You have to make sure your improvements do not negatively impact something else.

As a result of my project management experience, I was particularly concerned with the size of the project scope. But what we learned is that sometimes you need to broaden the scope to start the projects and then let the data further refine where to apply your improvement efforts. 

Prioritizing the projects can also be quite challenging. As we all know, there are only so many resources available – both staff and money. My recommendation - ask the question - What would happen if we DIDN’T do the project?  The more significant the impact, the higher the project priority!

Currently, we are working on identifying what projects we will work on during our “Kaizen” training. Kaizens are a means of “blitzing” a problem or improvement opportunity. A team of 5 to 8 staff work on the project for one week, full time. Most of the data is gathered before the week long “blitz”. During the week we are going to spend our time analyzing the data, understanding the root causes and generating improvement options and implementing. The majority of the improvements should be complete by the end of the week. This is pretty different from the 6 to 9 month projects we have worked on to date and identifying/scoping Kaizen appropriate projects has had its challenges.

We have four viable options right now, but as we collect the data I am finding that we are already looking at what the improvements should be and some projects are turning into Just Do It’s! Our training is scheduled for the week of September 27 to October 1, 2010. Stay tuned to find out which 2 projects we initate, what we learn in Kaizen training and the improvements we are able to implement!

Regional Finalist – Canada