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Improve Phase -

How will the team mitigate the root causes of the problem? Once the project teams have determined the root causes it’s time to develop solutions. The Improve Phase is where the team brainstorms solutions, pilots process changes, implements solutions and lastly, collects data to confirm there is measurable improvement. A structured improvement effort can lead to innovative and elegant solutions that improve the baseline measure and, ultimately, the customer experience.

Brainstorm Solutions That Might Fix the Problem

The team’s effort at this stage are to produce as many ideas as possible to address the root cause of the problem listed in the Project Charter. These ideas can come from process participants, colleagues, benchmarking or from the many classic solutions developed in the Quality world. There may be innovative ways to solve the problem but there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel so teams draw from techniques like Cross-Training, Setup Reduction, Kanbans and many other well-defined methods.

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Tools: Brainstorming, Benchmarking and Classic Lean Improvements

Select the Practical Solutions

In many cases, a project team can employ a robust list of improvements to their processes, but if they are forced to choose between conflicting options, teams can use the Weighted Criteria Matrix to make the best decision. They can also use the Impact Effort Matrix to assess which solutions provide the most impact for the least cost or effort.

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Tools: Weighted Criteria Matrix and Impact Effort Matrix

Develop Maps of Processes Based on Different Solutions

With solutions in mind to reduce issues like rework loops, waste and wait times, the team creates a new, improved map of the process, also known as a To-Be Map. These new maps help guide the team’s efforts toward the new process and provide a reference tool for new employees as they learn the new process.

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Tools: To-Be Map, Value Stream Map and Swimlane Map

Select the Best Solution(s)

In order to ensure they make the right decisions, the team may employ mini-testing cycles known as PDCA or Plan Do Check Act to refine the solutions while collecting valuable stakeholder feedback. These cycles are a great way to find out if small improvements are viable in a fast and low impact way.

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Implement the Solution(s)

Accomplishing successful implementation requires careful planning. The team must consider logistics, training, documentation and communication plans. The more time the team spends on planning, the faster they achieve total adaptation to the improvements by their process participants. For large scale implementation, the team can run a pilot to ensure the changes work prior to implementation and it’s always a good practice to create an Implementation Plan.

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Tools: Pilot Checklist and Implementation Plan

Measure to Ensure Improvement

Once the team has implemented the solutions they collect data to check whether or not the process changes have improved the baseline. This can take anywhere from 1 week to 4 months depending on the length of the process cycle. Once the team demonstrates the solution resulted in measurable improvement, it’s time to celebrate success! Then the team can move on to the Control Phase.