Sharing tools and ideas for Portfolio, Program, and Project Managers

Archive for the tag “six sigma”

Using Six Sigma Tools for Project Risk Management

Show your work.  It’s not just for math teachers.  I’m a big fan of using and creating tools that allow me to explain and someone to follow my thought process.  While great as a communication tool it also allows me to share my ideas with others and how I came to my conclusions.  I currently work with inventors and students in the nascent stages of commercialization.  Mainly engineering or PhD types working on a product idea, the simple question “Who’s this for…?” causes puzzlement and consternation.  “Do you have written requirements…?”  A Requirements Document is a simple example of showing your work.  Others can look over the requirements and contribute by seeing what is written down.  It allows you to constantly input, review, and modify any requirements as new learnings and discoveries are made.

I use this example to help explain using a Cause & Effect Diagram, aka Ishikawa Diagram or Fishbone Diagram, for project risk management.  This is a simple Six Sigma Tool to assist in understanding where areas of risk may develop.  In Figure 1 below you can see the sections of the diagram.  The Effect is listed in the box on the far right.  You list ONE item of failure (or you could list a success), Scope, Schedule, or Cost. Then under the six main groupings of Measurement, Materials, Personnel, Environment, Methods, and Machines you list input factors that may have an effect on the output of  Scope, Schedule, or Cost.

Figure 1 Project Management Cause & Effect Diagram

Figure 1 Project Management Cause & Effect Diagram

In Figure 1 I’ve listed many items as found in the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) 5th Ed. plus a few others.  This is to help with the thought process.  For each of the secondary inputs you should be able to add additional detail.  For example, under Environment>Physical Location you could add additional legs for each of the various plants/division locations that interface with your project.  Many global companies develop in one location, pilot in another, and scale up in a third location.  Each of these should be listed.  Each one has its own risks associated with it.   THAT’S THE POINT.   You’ve now identified a potential risk to add to your risk register to grade and review and determine its level of risk.  Any risk item must fit on the cause and effect diagram because it is an input that has an effect on the output, e.g. schedule.  YOU’VE JUST SHOWN YOUR WORK.  In the risk reviews I’ve participated in everyone starts listing detailed risks.  There is no systematic method to ensure you’ve at least looked over the landscape. Another way of putting this is looking from the 10,000 foot lever meaning a broad overview.  Now someone else can come along and review your Risk related Cause & Effect Diagram at both a high level and detail level.

This tool is a way to systematically review and capture a wider and deeper look at potential risks.  Let’s not forget that it may also be used to capture success’ and understand what inputs were driving successful projects.  This is a simple tool to assist in better outcomes and at the same time allowing others to follow your thought process.  Show your work!


Project Management Synthesis (or PMS for the PM)

AN·A·LYZE verb (used with object), -lyzed, -lyz·ing.  (from

1. to separate (a material or abstract entity) into constituent parts or elements; determine the elements or essential features of; e.g. to analyze an argument.
2. to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements or give the essence of: to analyze a poem.
3. to examine carefully and in detail so as to identify causes, key factors, possible results, etc.

One who analyzes is an:

AN·A·LYST noun   (from

1.a person who analyzes or who is skilled in analysis.
There are many types of analysts:
BA Business Analyst
CSBA Certified Software Business Analyst
AFA Accredited Financial Analyst
CRA Chartered Certified Risk Analyst
CAPA Certified Asset Protection Analyst
CITA Certified International Tax Analyst
And so on…
There are no Project Management Analyst (PMA) jobs, titles, or positions that I’ve ever run across. (If you see one let me know. I’d be very interested in see what’s in that job description.)  While there are no formal job descriptions for this portion of your project manager position it is a key activity to your success that will contribute to your being an outstanding Project Manager.  A PMA must understand all the INPUTs to their projects that will have an influence on the OUTPUTs of their project (or deliverables). Recall that you must analyze, to examine critically, so as to bring out the essential elements, all inputs necessary to determine which ones are important enough that they will have a material affect on the outputs or deliverables of your project. What does this mean?  This is a Six Sigma approach applied to project management.  Things like risks, assumptions, constraints, and stakeholder identification are all INPUTs to your project plan.  In Six Sigma process development these are refered to as KPIVs or Key Process Input Variables.  These and other input variables have a bearing on the final OUTPUTS of cost, quality/scope, and timing of your project.  The quality side of these inputs are called CTQs, Critical To Quality.  They are the independent variables that directly affect your OUTPUT or desired deliverables.
Yet, being a PMA is only a portion of the key activities required to becoming an above average project manager. To deliver your schedule within the triple constraints you must bring all the elements together into a cohesive whole or synthesize your KPIVs to be able to tell a story on how to get from your  key inputs to your desired outputs. You must become a Project Management synthesist (PMS).
SYN·THE·SIZE  verb   (from form (a material or abstract entity) by combining parts or elements
Every team will create a different project plan and schedule, given the same inputs, based on the team’s skills, training, and experience. It is your job as the PM to synthesize and create the vision, plan, and schedule that is achievable.  Let me repeat-It is your job as the PM to synthesize and create the vision, plan, and schedule that is achievable.  While this may seem to be stating the obvious I’ve seen PMs put together project plans that were not realistic from the get go.  When queried, the response I got was “Manufacturing wanted it this way!” (???)  This PM did not create and synthesize a plan into a cohesive whole. What they planned for was eventual chaos and failure.  In other words outputs  didn’t match the stated inputs.  Even before project execution began you could review this plan and read the words “Defeat” across it.
As PMs our roles are to create and describe a vision of how to get from A to B, create a plan and schedule in a reasonable level of detail, and communicate this vision and plan to all core team, extended team and management.  With a core team of 15, extended team members of 30+, support functions, suppliers, and management you will have easily over 100 people in which you will have to communicate your vision.  I once had a boss that accused me of being “repetitive.”  While he meant that negatively I took it as a complement because it is my job to make sure everyone understands project goals, plans, and how you get from A to B.  You can give a message 100 times to a group.  Some get the message the first time, others don’t or won’t get it after the 100th.
Make sure you understand all the KPIVs for your project then synthesize those elements into a cohesive whole.  Bring it all together  to create the vision and paint the picture.  When a project fails it can be traced back to either one or more KPIVs were not properly identified therefore its affect on project outcome was not controlled or one of the KPIVs changed  and as an independent variable had a material affect on the outcome.  Outputs are driven by KPIVs make sure as a PMA/PMS you understand both.

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