Performance Improvement: It’s a Small World After All

NEWS AT SEI

Author

Bill McSteen

This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:

Process Improvement

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: January 1, 2008

“Small businesses account for 99 percent of all employer firms in the U.S. and are critical to the U.S. economy. In other countries, small business is the economy. Organizations and governments around the world are approaching the SEI for help,” says Caroline Graettinger.

Graettinger is leading the Improving Processes in Small Settings (IPSS) project, a recently formed SEI project that focuses on small businesses, projects, and organizational units. It is part of the International Process Research Consortium (IPRC), an SEI-led collaboration of industry, government, and academia from around the world seeking to advance process research.

“It is sometimes said that ‘Process improvement is only for large companies,’” says William Peterson, director of the SEI’s Software Engineering Process Management Program. “IPSS will give motivation, insight, and guidance to small organizations so that they can also get the associated performance-improvement benefits, but at an affordable cost relative to their size and resources.”

The first sponsors of and collaborators in the IPSS project are the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) and Lockheed Martin Corporation. Why would these two organizations—with employees numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands—be interested in small settings? Suzanne Garcia of the SEI responds, “Because, like many large organizations, they are amalgams of small projects, business units, partners, and suppliers.”

Health care companies such as UPMC contend with almost constant change in regulations that must be reflected in their information technologies. One-day projects are common. Large DoD contractors such as Lockheed Martin regularly subcontract to small businesses and obviously benefit from contractors with effective, efficient processes.
 
Lynn Penn of Lockheed Martin says, “Small settings are part of our daily lives. Although everyone associates Lockheed Martin with a large company, the interfaces are often not so large. We must manage small projects as well as large ones, and the small ones can often be more challenging. Through IPSS, we hope to gain guidance on skills and competencies needed to sufficiently manage small-settings projects,” Penn says. “Understanding the requirements going in is crucial to quality coming out.”

IPSS Field Guide
The IPSS Field Guide will be an on-the-job resource to help answer questions and solve problems, independent of the process model or standard used. Caroline Graettinger describes the guide: “We intend it to help small-setting practitioners be smarter consumers of process-improvement products and services or be better at improving processes themselves.”

She continues, “Our plan for populating the Field Guide includes collecting real-world experiences from experts across the process community who can provide knowledge, examples, checklists, and other artifacts to help others succeed in small settings.

Both Penn and Chris Carmody of UPMC say that working with other IPSS sponsors and team members has been a learning opportunity. Carmody adds, “Another benefit to me and to UPMC has been assessing how we currently approach our process-improvement work in our small departments and projects. We’ve used the structure of the emerging IPSS Field Guide to reassess and modify our own Project Management Guide to improve its acceptance and usability.”

“We are early in the development of the Field Guide,” Graettinger says. “Our first prototype details a few tasks, and with input from the process community, we’ll create step-by-step instructions for various situations.”

Penn says it is significant that the IPSS Field Guide will be the first research product out of the IPRC. “Individuals put stock in first impressions. To start in small settings emphasizes their worldwide importance. Isn’t it time that the little guy got attention?”

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