4 Tips to Maximize Project Walls

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Managing Director, Ephesus Consulting
David Hamme is the Managing Director of Ephesus Consulting, a boutique consulting firm based out of Charlotte, North Carolina that focuses on driving game-changing initiatives for its clients. David is the creator of a pioneering approach to innovation, which is presented in his book Customer Focused Process Innovation (McGraw Hill). For its contributions to the field of Operational Excellence, Customer Focused Process Innovation received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Award. Prior to founding Ephesus, David worked stints as a management consultant for Ernst & Young and The North Highland Company. His consulting work spans numerous areas including Strategic Planning, Process Improvement, Change Management, and Enterprise Wide Cost Reduction. Over an 20 year career, David has completed projects for over 40 clients including such recognizable names such as GE Capital, Kellogg’s, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Family Dollar, Delhaize USA, Fifth Third Bank, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Time Warner, Sonic Automotive, and Duke Energy. In addition to his consulting career, David served as an executive in Lowe’s Home Improvement’s Installation Business Unit. As a leader of this $3B business, David oversaw the strategic planning, marketing, product management, pricing, new product development and sales functions. David received his M.B.A in Finance from Indiana University and his B.S. in Industrial Management and Electrical Engineering from Purdue University. At Indiana University, David taught undergraduate students for the Decision & Information Sciences Department. He currently offers training programs to clients including Strategic Planning, Lean & Process Management, Facilitated Sessions, Business Development, and Enterprise Cost Reduction.

Projects create a maelstrom of documentation – charters, workplans, issues logs, process flows, requirements, solution designs, parking lots, and many more. With the deluge, invariably some of the documentation is relegated to the hard drive of death – hidden out of the view of those who might benefit from its availability.

Early in my career, a critical dependency to a project was omitted because it slipped into the background noise. While clearly defined by a stakeholder at the onset of the project, it gradually disappeared from the light of day. As the stakeholder was only sporadically engaged, the miss went unrecognized until the eleventh hour. Unfortunately, the gap caused a near rewrite of a major part of the technology solution. The impact was a delay of several weeks and hours of wasted effort. This occurrence remains etched in my mind. While documentation often seems like busy work, it is critical to the specific development of a solution. Details need to be written down and shared with stakeholders involved in and impacted by the project. Having worked on dozens of projects, I have a secret weapon in this endeavor – the project wall.

For as long as projects have been executed, teams have benefited by using wall space to share project creations. With the arrival of the improvement methodologies such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and others, project walls evolved into more than simply display cases for ideas. They became the medium through which ideas were brainstormed and solution designs were debated. In my opinion, every improvement effort with a dedicated team and the involvement of a good number of stakeholders needs dedicated space to create, debate, and iterate their ideas. And in this space, walls are the best medium to document and display deliverables. Walls can be the ideal sketchpad for a geographically centralized team – facilitating the sharing and evolution of ideas by making them prominently visible and immediately available. To get the most out of this tool, here are four tips for the use of project walls.

1.  Affix ALL project documentation to the wall. This includes project goals, stakeholder lists, issue & risk logs, design criteria, business rules, process flows, team calendars, etc. Omitting any valuable information invites the risk it is forgotten. The aim is to make information as accessible as possible. As the team is absorbed into the daily rigors of the project, this arrangement keeps the details visible, top-of-mind, and recallable. Routinely, encourage the team to take a moment and review the wall to remind them the parameters of the project. It is a great way to keep the train on the rails.

2. Keep the wall updated with the latest and greatest. This does not mean that every copy needs to be a clean, pristine copy. What it means is that updates be made directly onto the wall as conditions change and new items surface. Projects are an ongoing dialogue between team members, sponsors, stakeholders, and other partners. Keeping the wall updated helps make sure everyone is consuming and working off the best available information. Don’t waste time making it pretty until it is time to sell the solution. Just make sure it is accurate and up to date.

3. Keep a parking lot. A parking lot is a list of items that may be opportunities, risks, or important reminders for the team. While their content is often ancillary to the primary focus of the project, they should not be neglected. Often times collaborative opportunities or additional benefits accrue simply because the parking lot items were noted and captured. On a regular basis, review the parking lot and either address the items or keep them on a list for further evaluation at a later date.

4. Schedule gallery walks periodically with stakeholders, sponsors, performers and other potential contributors. Gallery walks are time set aside for individuals outside the immediate project team to review the project wall and see firsthand the progress of the project as well as contribute ideas, suggestions, or information. If possible, schedule blocks of time for these reviews and provide packs of yellow stickies for the attendees to jot down questions, make comments, or offer suggestions. The stickies can be placed on the relevant part of the wall for the team to review and address. My preference is that the contributions be anonymous – thereby mitigating political biases and keeping the team focused on delivering the right solution – not the politically pleasing one.

While simply having a well maintained wall with information prominently displayed does not always translate into outstanding results, not having it relegates teams to firing at unseen targets. When project walls are used to collect information and make it readily available to the team, the opportunity for a successful outcome vastly increases.

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