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There are times when one is just given a project and there is not much time to use the tools provided to determine whether or not it’s the “right improvement project.” Do you have any advice for these kinds of scenarios?

You remind of an adage we often use when dealing with the “time” issue around fixing processes: “We don’t have time to do it right, but we always have time to do it twice.” This doesn’t mean that I’m not sympathetic to your situation. We are often handed projects and told to just get them done. But I would advise you to put the project through some kind of rigor in order, at least, figure out what you’re in for. It might take an hour or so to set up the initial criteria but after that it takes just 15 minutes to screen the project. Once you do that you can prepare appropriately.

If it’s just an implementation project then you’ll want to to focus on Project Management and build a good Implementation Plan. If it’s just a decision then you can do some cost benefit analyses. If you are concerned that there is no data available, you might ask for leadership’s assistance in verifying where the data might come from. Even if leadership is not flexible on the need for the project – vetting it would give you a prioritized list of where to focus in order to maximize your chance at success.

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner at, the co-author of The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit and co-host of the Just-in-Time Cafe. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.