The Lean Way: Communicating Through the Ups and Downs of Projects

For reasons that vary, we’ve all had projects go through rough patches, forcing even the most integrated teams to struggle. To maintain quality, schedules and morale, project leaders require the ability to guide and adjust their team efficiently.

The most important asset of educating and integrating team members is a visual control that speaks to the project goals. Regardless of when someone joins a project, they must understand what the goals are and where the team is tracking those goals.

Project facilitators and team leaders know that team morale and communication require on-going effort. Regular evaluations of what is going on with a project are vital. We love to do simple “plus-deltas,” a post-meeting recording of what went well and what should improve for the next meeting or event.

Anonymous, retrospective surveys become important as a job transitions through phases. If team members are not comfortable with each other, they may not speak up in a plus-delta format. Allow your team members to talk about what is really going on, with both the project team and other team members, so you can address whatever issues exist.

Formal retrospectives throughout the project, taking a half to full day, help to adjust and maximize communication strategies. Before rejecting this time-intensive process, ask if you can afford delayed decisions or errors.

The number one complaint at the beginning of most projects is the amount of time spent training. At the end of projects, the number one complaint is an insufficient amount of training or learning. Grabbing the attention of team members is much easier if you can entertain them. Try making a video that communicates the guiding principles and concepts of the project, then show it to every person that works on the site.

You’ll need help sometimes. You may have a team that won’t listen, or you may need some outside inspiration. That’s okay, that’s what friends are for. It’s helpful to call a consultant to teach a new method, or reinforce an existing one, and maybe you know someone that can facilitate further education. Try switching speakers internally, or assign different roles on your team. You can involve team members by making them the educators.

It can be difficult for teams using lean tools in design and construction to see their immediate value. Make rules, stick to them and monitor your sessions. If you cannot get people to stand and participate, take their chairs away. People using their computers in team meetings? Take the tables away. It’s silly, but it works and your meeting times will be cut in half, allowing you to accomplish more.

As facilitators, we should constantly be learning. The Lean Enterprise Institute is a great resource for education, strategy and general lean knowledge. Their conferences are fantastic for learning what others are doing in the industry, and how to apply that knowledge to design and construction.

It seems a little cliché, but have fun with what you do. If your team senses you don’t want to be there, they won’t want to be there either. Practice the skills you have learned to prevent and breakdown road blocks. Understanding team members and their diverse backgrounds is key. Adjust along the way, and you will end up with great team relationships and the perfect project cocktail.