The Biggest Problems with Process Improvement

Problems with process improvement can pop up in any organization. That’s because every company has opportunities to improve processes, but not every company takes a well-thought and measured approach to process improvement.

What do weight-loss plans and process-improvement programs such as Six Sigma and ‘lean manufacturing’ have in common? They typically start off well, generating excitement and great progress, but all too often fail to have a lasting impact as participants gradually lose motivation and fall back into old habits.Satya S. Chakravorty

While intentions may be good, it’s incredibly easy for processes to become cumbersome and costly, which is the opposite intention and can be incredibly frustrating for the employees who have to work within those processes each day.

For example, a company might decide to upgrade its IT infrastructure to improve security and make certain processes more efficient, but the addition of multiple IT systems only exacerbates the problem when the systems aren’t made to communicate with one another.

When a company purchases new tech and tries to implement it without understanding how it impacts all the processes it touches, the majority of the time it creates problems with process improvement.

Here are some of the biggest problems with process improvement and mistakes the companies make most often.

Key Problems with Process Improvement

Not Problem Solving

One of the biggest problems with process improvement is when operations get tunnel vision, locking onto efficiency. While efficiency is important, you can’t neglect effectiveness and the act of solving a problem.

A process is slowing or has become inefficient, because of one or more underlying issues. Part of process improvement is identifying the source of the problem and addressing it. If you don’t aim to identify and fix the problem, then you haven’t made any improvements. You’ve simply changed a process without creating a benefit.

Workshops Are Not Process Improvement

Rather than tackling a process at the root cause, some organizations hold workshops in hopes of training up their teams, improving efficiency, and essentially trying to manage the problem by managing the people. Unfortunately, workshops for process improvement are rarely effective.

This is one of the biggest problems in process improvement because gathering people from different departments never really addresses the finer details that are the root of process issues.

Likewise, workshops are often held far apart from one another. With wide-spread workshops, the ideas people come up with on a daily basis are forgotten. And because you’re dealing with a larger group, you’ll rarely dive into finer details.

It’s nearly impossible to identify the key components to improve processes from workshops. Which brings me to the next point.

Making Decisions by Consensus

Like workshops, you can’t make process improvement decisions by consensus. Your processes are never something that should be adjusted based on a popular vote or group decision. While you certainly want to include your team in identifying problems, and hosting group ideation to find solutions, the end improvement should be grounded in fact – not popular opinion.

If there are competing choices which are both attractive, use the data to make your choices.

Averaging the Data

Data is a key part of process improvement, but one of the biggest problems with process improvement occurs when data is misused or the wrong data is applied. Placing too much stock in the law of averages can get you into trouble when working to make improvements.

For example, the average size of a part or component might make it look like you’re producing within tolerances when in fact the true output has a high defect rate. Likewise, the average ship time compared to your target time tells you virtually nothing about making on-time delivers to customers.

Avoid averages when measuring data for process improvement, and instead look at the spread of data to compare on your own.

Not Pulling Enough Data

A common issue with process improvement is when those in charge take in too little data or pull input from stakeholder groups that are too small.

Many times, an aging process has been “Frankensteined” over time to work with more than one group or touches a larger number of stakeholders than originally intended. To avoid this problem, expand the audience from which you’re gathering data. This way you ensure no department or individual perspective is overlooked.

Comfortable Process Improvement

When your team comes together to talk about issues and work to make improvements, a lot can be lost to memory. As you work on ideation and formulating a plan, it’s also not accurate to assume that the sketch of your processes is going to flow properly.

A lot of mistakes can be made from the comfort of a conference room where things look good on paper. Even with process maps created by people who handle the process every day, you’re still likely to find mistakes and omissions.

Instead, go out and get involved in the process. Work it from start to finish as you pinpoint ways to improve it. Solid improvements take accuracy, and you’ll be making improvements based on guesswork if you’re constantly refining processes from the comfort of the office.

Language Changes Process

A process that needs improvement is likely one that involved multiple teams or departments. Unfortunately, this often means a difference in language or terminology. Each group will have its own way of describing the problem, the process, and ways for improvements to be implemented.

One of the biggest problems in process improvement is when departments aren’t on the same page, and language use creates confusion. Don’t assume that everyone understands the process, or improvements to be made. Take the time to speak with everyone involved and really listen to how they describe the issue and define the process in their own words.

Taking the First Solution

Enthusiasm to finally see improvement and change an aging process can sometimes lead to jumping the gun. This happens when you or your team is too focused on the problem, and you’re hell-bent on finding a solution as quickly as possible.

When this happens, it’s less about process improvement and often more about beating the clock to get a solution in place. If you try to solve a problem instead of watching and listening, you could miss critical data and info that would help you understand the process and what is needed to make appropriate improvements.

Relying on Technology

Like the example I made above with new IT infrastructure being added as a solution, technology doesn’t solve problems. Technology is a tool, whether it’s a restructure of your intranet or as simple as using a tool like Tallyfy to help automate some processes.

Technology only amplified the process, it is not a solution. You still need to improve the process and map out what part technology will play in that. Otherwise, the random addition of technology is likely to only make the problem worse.

As a general overview – the video below covers ways in which your process improvement initiative can be more successful.

Stalls in Implementation

There’s typically more than one small group involved in process improvement. Process improvement often involves a series of improvements, like chapters, as things roll from one team to another – where one set of actions is completed, the new team starts another series of actions to improve the process.

When the next team doesn’t do what they’re supposed to, implementation can stall. Insufficient transition happens more often than you think between solution development and implementation. This is where a strategy and documented, a tracked process is necessary to move things from one team to another seamlessly.

No Ownership

This is most often a manager slip-up and occurs when there are numerous teams involved in process improvement but no ownership has been set up for the improvements. Teams work in their own segmented parts of a process but aren’t effectively communicating because there’s no one individual owning the process improvement.

Accountability and ownership are two different things. The manager is accountable for improvement and the results. The person who owns the process is actively engaged, and manages the project from start to finish. They drive communication and tie the teams together to ensure continuity with the new process. You need to create ownership among your teams, but you also need someone to own the overall project to keep it moving.

Have you experienced problems like these with implementing new processes? How did you and your team cope? Let us know down in the comments!

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