Your first business improvement project is always the scariest and the most important. During this crucial first project, not only are you finding your feet, but you also carry the burden of having to prove why your training was worthwhile.

This can be a tough balancing act. Behave too cautiously and you risk creating impatience and frustration about the slow pace of progress. Work to quickly and you risk misunderstanding something and failing to get the results you expect.

However, get this first project right and you’re paving the way for success, not only within the business but for your future career too. Generate a great ROI or get a major success and it’ll not only feel fantastic, but it will boost the confidence of those around you allowing you to run more projects and deliver real value in the organisation.

Lean Six Sigma or other business improvement programmes are all based on success. Those that can show that they have delivered a solution or a great return are regarded more highly within the company they are working for. Obtaining this good internal PR is a major reason for really focusing on your first project. Don’t let the balancing act hold you back.

The scary part

Scary First projectThe first project is the one where we know least. We have learned all these new tools and techniques so every meeting, discussion or piece of data means using a new approach. This is hard work. Unfortunately, it also means we make mistakes and take longer to get to the same point. We need to be prepared for this delay, manage the expectations of those around us and ask for help from our Master Black Belt or coach.

It’s at this point we can also feel the need to use every tool and technique we have been taught both to show we understand and to have an opportunity to practise what we’ve learned. The result is that our project is slow, takes longer than it should and starts to frustrate all involved. The secret is to use only the tools you need to solve the problem and implement the solution.

Typically we only need a few vital tools to do so but as this is our first project, and we’re scared about making a mistake, we can struggle to recognise this. The scary part about projects, you’ll make the most mistakes in your first project, because it is your first project.

The vital part

Another equally scary aspect of your first project is just how vital it is to the future – both yours and that of Lean Six Sigma in your company. It is absolutely essential to make time to carry your first project to completion, whatever barriers you face in the process. This is for a number of reasons:

Firstly, if you don’t complete your project, you can’t certify. If you don’t certify, you can’t prove you have the skills you learned on your training course. This can be hugely detrimental to your professional outlook, both inside the company and with potential new employers.

Secondly, and more importantly, without completing a project you cannot ensure your new skills are engrained in your mind. The longer it takes to use a new skill, the less likely you are to understand it fully, apply it properly or even remember it. People I have coached that failed to use their skills quickly after learning, found their knowledge faded very rapidly.

Those that apply the learning to real-life situations quickly obtain maximum benefits – both for their companies and, as a result, themselves.

Lean Six Sigma senior manager buy-inWhen you have attended a course you’ve usually had to convince a manager to let you go on it or request special dispensation for the time off to attend it. This means your company are looking closely for excellent value for money, a good use of your time and, most importantly, some kind of a return. Your first project is your way of ticking all of these boxes.

With a completed project, you will have the data to show that, while your training cost £3,000, it helped you generate savings of £30,000. If you don’t finish that project you won’t have this data so the next time you need training it will be harder to get it signed off.

If you paid for the training yourself you need to justify this expenditure to yourself by way of more recognition at work, a promotion or a better position elsewhere. It could be that it has given you new skills to do your job more effectively. Whatever the benefits of the training, in your eyes, if you don’t certify, you often won’t see them.

The first project is the most important but also the scariest. We need to dedicate time, energy and effort to make sure we complete it: Those that do always reap the rewards. Take charge of your future and make sure you face the fear of the first project, certify and gain the success you wanted.

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