Occasionally, business teams find themselves in the thick of a project feeling lost and overwhelmed.
This is, precisely, what happened with one of the business executives’ team. The team forgot to step back and reflect on the purpose and pathway.
When I shared the Six Sigma 5W1H business model with the business executive, he realised the utter simplicity of the framework to help him establish the fundamentals of project management to achieve an optimal outcome. This post is a great reminder about project management basics and reminds us to keep in mind the questions we should ask when embarking on a new project.
Always, remember, when things are starting to get complicated, it’s good to go back to the fundamentals. And it’s not the knowing but implementing the fundamentals that help you deliver Six Sigma quality business projects.
In one of our recent board meetings, a high-performing executive was giving an update, but he was clearly not feeling as if he was performing in a high fashion. He looked frustrated, irritated, and a little upset with himself. He felt, the team that he was reporting into him was working on a project and they were being very collaborative, but somehow they were not being progressive in the right direction. And they were just going around in circles, the timelines were shifting and there was a lot of ambiguity and a lot of flux all the time, a lot of changes were happening and goal posts were constantly being shifted.
So at this point, you can imagine how he was feeling. And I asked him, “Are you familiar with this Six Sigma concept of 5W and 1H?”. He smiled and said, “I think I know where it’s heading, but you know what, tell me properly. I want to understand how I can make my project teamwork better, in a collaborative way, but surely progressive, heading towards the outcome in a timely fashion.”
I will be discussing with you today 5W and 1H, which is actually a Six Sigma concept, and how you can use this very well-known management concept in your day-to-day functioning with the team, when you’re working on some key projects, key initiatives, to make sure it’s moving at the right speed, in the right direction, leading to the right outcome.
What is Six Sigma?
Sigma is a Greek word and it is a measure in statistics. It measures standard deviation, so what’s the number of variables in a spread of values. In a business context what that really means, if someone says they have Six Sigma operations, it means they make around 3.4 defects. Six Sigma actually stands for 3.4 defects per million opportunities. That’s the level of accuracy and efficiency. If that is the level of efficiency streamline, functioning, and accuracy, then the company is delivering output in an absolutely brilliant way, leading to very high performance.
The concept, within Six Sigma, is 5W and 1H. What does that really mean? By the time I speak to you about the first W or second W, you will know exactly what the other W’s are, and 1H is. Let’s understand the nuances which are involved in this.
When you are looking at a project or an initiative, the first thing is, it could be done with a team, it could be done by yourself, just sitting on your own, but let’s go through the steps.
are you trying to achieve? What’s the outcome that you’re after? Not like, what’s the outcomes that you’re after, the question really is what’s the core number one outcome that you’re after with this project. It’s clearly jotted down, clearly defined in a measurable way.
The mistake that people make is, they talk about, oh we’re looking at this, this, and this. But force yourself to come to one core outcome. What is that one core thing that you’re after?
For me, this is the most important question. What people do, and especially executives who are go-getters, they love to take on more projects, wherein I always remind people to be the kings and queens of deletion. Try not to add to your list. In fact, try to abort projects, try to let them go. You have to be so methodical, so choosy, so picky about what you are committing to. Because, if you are saying yes to something, the question really is; what are you saying no to? You don’t have unlimited time and resources. You have to be careful of where you are committing, and why you are committing.
Going back to the management world, there’s a very simple rule of thumb, of asking this ‘why?’ five times. For example, someone might say we need to do this exercise because we need to do pricing strategy. Okay, why? Because, if we don’t do that, we will become irrelevant to our marketplace. Why has this become relevant right now? Oh, because there is a competitor, who has just come on the block and they’re offering an aggressive price. Why is that important? Because we’re getting into our high season, so it will really impact our value and volume. Why that is important? That’s important because of the profitability or the survival of the company.
Eventually, it comes down to the very core financial or non-financial consequence, but you need to be very clear why you need to commit to this project. If it’s getting fuzzy, it can wait, it’s not worth committing the resources. Be clear as to why that project needs to be done. And be rigorous, be thorough. That’s exactly what I do, with our executives, before they say, yeah let’s go for this. Hold on, why exactly? And they appreciate this value, and we actually end up saving time and resources, because that project could have been deleted or weighted, not that important. It’s the prioritization, which is one of the skills which really smart managers, executives, and business leaders have.
A huge number of distinctions sit here. What I mean by that is, when typically you ask someone saying who’s going to be working on this? In this case, this executive said, “Oh my four team members are working on this project.” Okay, so who’s really accountable, and who’s responsible? He responded, “I understand these words are similar in meaning, so what do you mean by that Shweta?”. This is what you need to understand. Accountable really means where does the buck stop? If you are accountable for something, means you cannot really say, “oh, but I couldn’t do it, because that fellow didn’t do this, and this person didn’t do this.” It doesn’t matter, reasons stop existing. You are the person accountable, you have to mobilize the resources and make sure, that that project gets delivered. But yes, to get that project delivered, you could take other people’s help and make them responsible. It’s possible someone is responsible for the project but not accountable. And some people could be both responsible and accountable, but generally, for the project, there is one person who’s accountable, you don’t have four people or three people accountable. Because if that’s the case, then no one is accountable. Everybody was trying to collaborate with no progress because there was no one person who was taking charge of the project and spearheading. It very important, whatever you do in your organization, make sure you’re asking this question. Saying; if this is the target, if this is the project, if this is the initiative, who is the one person, who’s really accountable for this?
When do we want this project to complete? A simple difference here to note is that you need to have a clear timeline, but very importantly – work backward and chunk it down. Have at least some phase timelines, otherwise sometimes when you say, ‘Guys this is a four-month project.’, generally the rush gets crept in, right towards the end of four months and that’s where bad quality, defects, errors pressure, stress, all that stuff creeps in. You don’t want that. You want to stagger your timelines as in phase one, phase two, phase three and this is the time when the project gets launched or gets activated. Simple things, but they do really help you ensure that you are working with a high quality level in your organization.
Where will this project get implemented? Is this local? Does it have any geographical consequence? Are we looking at some department leverages? Or some sector synergies? Think, ask this question, because you might be thinking very, very local, when just by asking the question people become very clear about the benefits of the project, and where it’s going to be implemented.
A quick recap on W’s. We’re talking about what needs to be achieved. Why do we really need to do it? Then, if you’re convinced, that we have to because I’ve asked five ‘whys’ and yes, there is a logic in it, then you move on to the third one, which is who is that one person who’s accountable? And then obviously, along with that person, build the team for the project or initiative. Then we’re talking about; by when? There has to be clear accountability timelines, otherwise we’re all nice and happy and doing things. The final thing is where will this be implemented? Those are your five W’s and then there is this one H.
How will this be done? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting you to know at this stage, all the steps. Sometimes it’s possible, sometimes it’s not possible. Because the project evolves. Things change. You figure out the best pathway, you figure out the critical minimum path, which is the path of minimum resistance, and which gets you from point A to point B in the fastest possible way. That’s called a critical success path.
But if you are clear about the first few steps, then your team will get started. This is where I’ve seen executives make mistakes. They maybe tell people what they have to do, give them the timelines, they know about where it’s getting implemented, but they ask the person, “Are you clear about what needs to be done?” and the person says, “Yeah that’s fine” but that detailing, that thinking through of how goes missing.
When that happens, then people pretty much go around in circles and the project suffers. The point that I’m trying to make here is that, whether you do it with the team, or you do it yourself, I personally prefer to think at my level first, saying; how would I go about it, if I was accountable? What would be the first few steps, I would be looking at? And that’s where my application is coming in.
I’m actually being rigorous here, and once I can think of a few steps at a draft level, then I take it to the team and say let’s build on it. Or, let’s think of a different way of doing it, which is better. These are my ideas, but let’s listen to your thoughts and opinions, how would you go about it? Then, obviously I put into the mix, if it can add value to the collaborative intelligence. That’s your one H and it’s really important to be clear on the first few steps as the project is getting initiated.
At this point, you can imagine the executive was like, “I did some of it, but I missed out some of it” and I’m like, “Yes, that’s why there’s a little bit of a circle phenomenon happening right now in your team”. He knew exactly what he needed to do. Go back to his team, get them around the table, and discuss 5 W’s and 1H, to check if they are all aligned and if we have one person who’s accountable with a very clear timeline and spearheading the project.
Along with this, I also gave him a really cool hack, which he absolutely loved, I hope you will like it as well.
The point is again, just in my true style, it’s not rocket science. It’s very common-sensical, what really matters is not what you know it’s what you are doing in a consistent way in your organization. My team knows I do this day in and day out, they would tell you that. I said look, once you have had this discussion, whether it’s one to one, whether it’s in a team scenario, whatever that is. Always just develop this habit, always ask for a recap. Just say, and the script for this is, just to make sure we are aligned on this project. Could I please ask you to recap for me the agreed action points and the timelines of the project? Or, if it’s week to week, you can say – just to make sure we are totally aligned, will it be okay if you were to recap your action points and clear timelines between now and two weeks? Give me the key timelines and actions. And then you sit quiet, just sit back, and just listen. And the team member will recap it for you.
I’m sure you know what the benefits of it are. It straightaway tells you, how clear they are, how aligned they are. If they’ve missed out on something, you have an opportunity to correct it now.
The other benefit is because they are saying it, they own it. If you say it, they don’t own it. It’s a basic human thing.
Make sure that they’re recapping, so they own it, they understand it and they feel absolutely in full ownership of that project, and they can move forward with clarity and confidence.
I hope you like that hack. You just make it part of your management style. Once again, a quick recap. 5W and 1H – make sure you’re clear and your team is clear and to ensure that they are clear, ask them for a simple recap. Just to make sure you’re on the same page of understanding.