Who is your department's helpline for projects?


My zipper broke on my winter jacket the other day and I was able to contact the manufacturer, work through a claim, and have it repaired. A friend recently purchased their first smart thermostat and used the manufacturer’s support line to make sure it was installed correctly. Within manufacturing organizations, who do we contact when there's a problem with one of our projects or the tracking of its value? Who can we rely on to provide encouraging and non-judgmental feedback on a hypothetical question regarding a project?


Leaders may believe that their transformation is set up for success due to having robust project tracking systems. These systems house a collection of projects destined to show the continuous improvement value that the organization deems is critical to its mission. It could be safety projects focused on reducing injuries or incidents. Or it could be a cost savings project that started its journey as an idea on the shop floor and now has been an instrumental success that is tracked in future business plans.


From the idea pipeline to the multiple states the project lives through, there are plenty of ways to track these projects and calculate their value. I have seen tracking systems from Excel spreadsheets to cloud-based systems tracking projects through regimented stage gates.


Regardless of the system to track the projects, project managers will inevitably require support to track, elevate barriers, or assist with calculations. The outputs of these trackers show the leaders the velocity, maturity, and criteria of the projects? But the transformation the leaders are seeking and realization of the targetted value fails. Why?

Efforts that don’t have a powerful enough guiding coalition can make apparent progress for a while. But, sooner or later, the opposition gathers itself together and stops the change. - Harvard Business Review

Within manufacturing, transformations can fail because the team being guided to transform doesn't have a support structure they can trust. They have been through these journies before and have seen the markings of failures of previous attempts at continuous improvement, TPM, or six sigma. You will hear them say, here we go again.


In a recent podcast on Freakanomics MD, Dr. Bapu Jena dives into a study that brought healthcare to Black men in Los Angeles with an alternative strategy. The podcast discusses the energetic platform within barbershops that removes vulnerabilities of challenging subjects and is rich with openness and trust.

This was a program that was going to be much more interactive and much more progress towards, actually, eradicating the problem.

This "barbershop" concept got me thinking; where do organizations have "barbershops" for employees to seek assistance on something important for their organization's image and objectives? Are there ways management can set up a trusted environment in which an employee can drop in to get help, then go back to work?


The "barbershop" in manufacturing would have a dedicated staff of lean thinkers who provide empathetic support to the organization on topics such as measurement techniques, the application of analytic tools, or working in the project tracking system. It would have regular business hours of a defined start and end time, like a barbershop. The purpose of these sessions is to allow this dedicated staff to work on their projects and then quickly pivot to a team member’s question on their project when they come in the door or log on to the virtual meeting. Anyone is welcome to attend the barbershop.


You need a quick trimming or support on a calculation, come drop in. You need a detailed shave in preparation for a big presentation, come drop in and we will work on your hypothesis. Do you need a new style that looks at a problem differently to underwrite a project? Come to the barbershop.


The “barbershop” concept is significantly different than a “help desk.” The “helpdesk” is waiting on people to call and makes this function their job. Hence you are on “hold” for assistance. The barbershop is a mindset and a revolving door, where people come in to gain assistance or drop in to listen to other people’s perspectives. And if it is too busy, you know their business hours and know you can drop in later to get the assistance you need. When the barbershop isn’t busy, the individuals running the barbershop are working on their projects. They are in the project tracking tools working on their projects.


As a leader and with a barbershop established, promote your team to attend the barbershop to improve their image selling a project. Market the barbershop's availability by indicating that they have a support chain to lean on for good clean-ups of a project through its journey. As a leader, don't spend a lot of time in the barbershop disrupting the organic energy of collaboration. Instead, drop in on occasion and listen to what is being talked about.


Next time an organization seeks to build a transformational change, consider how you create visibility and availability of a barbershop. The establishment of this functionality allows for a set team to schedule time for their projects while creating opportunities for others to seek support. Enabling this feature can foster a heightened velocity of value and provide confidence for the project leaders to promote the journey of their projects.


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