What is a Green Belt project?
Date: 16th January 2017
Author: Susannah Clarke
Focus on: Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Projects
In the 80’s and 90’s I worked in the Financial Services and IT sectors and it was common to hear leaders say “Don’t come to me with problems… Come to me with solutions!” It was never accompanied by the offer of a means or method to find the solution, as if simply saying it was enough, a miracle would happen and we would be able to produce the perfect solution!
Eventually, this phrase became a management/leadership cliché.
If you are familiar with this leadership style, it doesn’t have to be an issue, this is exactly what an improvement project, using Green Belt methodology, is designed to accomplish.
The PMI Improvement Cycle
The means and method of a Green Belt project will lead you through the Improvement Cycle from the beginning, where you don’t really any have idea what the answer will be, to developing the solution.
- take a problem
- learn about it
- analyse it
- develop theories
- test and study the results of your theories
- and when you think you’ve got something, recommend solution/s that the organisation can implement to improve the process performance.
“Is it a Green Belt project or an Implementation project?”
We regularly get questions from potential customers asking our opinion on what makes a (good) Green Belt project in preparation for them working on their improvement projects and developing their own capability through our Green Belt programme.
In many cases customers are confused because they have been given a project to ‘do’ and they are not sure if it qualifies as a Green Belt project; they often do not know the difference between a Green Belt project and an implementation project, and how would they? If they work in an environment where they are traditionally given projects to ‘manage’ i.e. implement, then the temptation is to assume their Improvement project is the same.
A project that is focussed on working on a problem where the solution is not known, and identifying the root causes of the problem and then developing and testing solutions to address them before implementation, is alien to them.
When clients have this same dilemma, I use the PMI Improvement Cycle to illustrate the thinking/decision-making process they need to go through:
Looking at the Improvement Cycle, you need to decide if the project you are thinking about is suitable for an improvement project.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you currently at the stage where you know there is a problem, but you don’t yet know all the root causes?
- Do you have some ideas on which process/es are causing the problem but you need to investigate further?
- Do you have enough data to be confident about the current performance of the process/es, or do you need to gather data so that you can be sure on what is actually happening?
If any of these sound familiar, represent where you are and what you are being asked to do, then you will benefit from starting at ‘Select priorities’ on our Improvement Cycle. This stage helps you to diagnose which process/es are causing the results you and your organisation are not happy with.
This means you will be leading a Green Belt improvement project.
If the work has already been done to understand the problem and identify solutions, and therefore your job is to implement the defined solution, you are starting at the ‘Implement’ part of PMI’s Improvement Cycle which is the project management element of implementing a known solution.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, but here are some tips to help steer you in the right direction.
Things to consider
- The project should be ‘do-able’ over the period of about 3 months.
- It should be neither too big nor trivial.
- It should address an issue, which is important to your organisation.
- You will need a ‘Sponsor’ to provide guidance and to assist in removing barriers and getting resources.
- Customer concerns are usually priorities.
- It must be something which you, with your Sponsor’s support, can obtain the authority to change.
- It should require a small, carefully selected team (3-7 people) to investigate, work on and implement solutions – not merely recommend solutions.
- It should not be a ‘fix the world’ problem which people have struggled over for years and got nowhere.
Finishing the 1st cycle of improvement
You must be allowed to complete at least the first cycle of improvement in this project. Job changes or other priorities, which result in abandoning or passing the project to someone else, will seriously affect the benefit you and your organisation derive from the course, and your Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.
Susannah Clarke is Managing Partner at Process Management International (PMI) and a specialist in the field of Executive and Performance Coaching. Susannah has worked extensively in the learning and development sector, starting her career with NatWest Markets in the City before spending 17-years with GSK as a consultant.
In 2011 Susannah joined Oracle University as Partner Director for EMEA and in 2013 joined PMI as Managing Partner. As co-author of ‘Implementing ISO9001:2015” she brings together more than 35 years’ experience leading, managing and consulting across different organisations. Susannah has written several blogs and published many articles in leading process and Quality focused publications.