Why Process-Improvement Initiatives Can Fail

An insightful new book titled The Basics of Process Improvement by Tristan Boutros and Jennifer Cardella just recently hit the streets. Process improvement, as most know, can be quite a complex topic, but this book shows organizations how to achieve success by fixing basic operational issues and problems using a broad and wide-sweeping process-based toolkit. 

I recently had an enlightening talk with Tristan, and I asked him: What causes many process-improvement initiative to fail? Here is his response:  

In the current economy, many process and quality organizations are looking for opportunities to elevate their departments to become true business enablers. Unfortunately, even the most sought-after business process improvement projects can fail. Here are four common reasons that these efforts fail: 

1. Lack of Management Support - Regardless of organizational size, attempting to initiate a process improvement effort without clear and publicized support from management can make improvement efforts challenging. As process improvement projects are often difficult, reinforcement from management that improvements are necessary and appreciated is critical to any team's success. 

2. Organizational Resistance – In many organizations, corporate culture can also make process improvement efforts difficult. Given the fact that process improvement efforts have the potential to uncover individual or system weakness, or even departmental challenges, it’s common to find resistance when improvement efforts are undertaken. 

3. Lack of Involvement or Representation – Improving a process without ensuring that all of those with a vested interest are represented during the effort is sure to bring hurdles. All stakeholders from each part of the process should be invited to participate, as end-to-end understanding is needed to properly make recommendations for improvement. 

4. Overemphasis on Technology - Although technology is playing a larger and larger role in process improvement efforts, the outcomes need not be about technology at all. In many cases, simple training, activity, or culture improvements are all that is required. Properly leveraging technology in ways that optimize a process is key towards true improvement. 

In any environment, taking slow and deliberate steps towards improvement can help ensure your project is a success. Ensuring leadership endorsement in place, being inclusive, ensuring your projects consider all areas of improvement, not just technology, while also ensuring the importance of your project is communicated throughout the organization can make all of the difference.  

I'd surely like to hear from those who have lead or participated in a process-improvement initiative and have stalled because of particular problems. Were they like those that Tristan described?

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