I wrote an article in October 2015 describing how the eight forms of waste (a foundational lean tool) can affect project teams. Let’s do a deeper dive into the waste of over-processing.
Over-processing occurs whenever someone continues to work on an activity past the point where it would be deemed acceptable from a customer’s perspective or past the point where meaningful value is being added. An example of this might be a software developer who continues to refine the design or code for a module even when it successfully passes usability, functional and performance tests.
But can project managers also be guilty of committing this type of waste?
Think back to the last presentation you delivered to your sponsor or an executive steering committee. Did your work effort end once you had entered all the desired content into your favorite presentation tool? Most likely you would have refined the content, format and structure a number of times before commencing the Herculean task of “socializing” (a pleasant euphemism for further refinement) with progressively more senior stakeholders right up till the moment when it was presented to its intended owner. I’ve no doubt that a number of the edits made were critical, but were they all necessary? The likelihood of wordsmithing and needless content tweaking increases as the size of a deck grows which is why some organizations are encouraging staff to keep their presentations to a half-dozen slides or less.
So what are the impacts of over-processing on the project manager’s part?
First we have an opportunity cost associated with the effort wasted. Many project managers are already overworked so any increase in wasted effort furthers the likelihood of their having to burn the midnight oil. I realize that over 90% of a project manager’s work effort might be spent communicating, but time spent in needless refinement to presentations or reports could be better spent engaging customers, team members and other stakeholders.
Sometimes such gold-plating is caused by a misguided pursuit of perfection on the project manager’s part. But if the root cause comes from without rather than from within, most project managers are likely to become frustrated with what they perceive as the micro-management or marginalization of their work. Over time, this frustration will lead to lower productivity and disengagement.
So how can this be avoided?
- Ensure that there’s a clearly defined review and approval path for not only key deliverables but also for presentations and reports.
- Take the time to really understand what’s important to the stakeholders who will be approving or receiving such documents and to tailor content and presentation to meet their requirements.
- If neither of the above appear to be working, have a frank, professional discussion with the stakeholders who are demanding the changes to understand why they are doing so and to help them understand the impacts of this waste.
As with all lean analysis, focus on value from the customer’s perspective – if further refinement will not generate such value, don’t gold-plate!