Process improvement initiatives aren't easy.
Things worth doing never are.
There are common failing points of process improvement projects, and we've put together a list of the most common five we see so that hopefully you can avoid them in your projects.
The traps are:
1. Not being able to demonstrate the value of having improved processes
Easily one of the most common issues in process improvement is a lack of visibility into the positive change that has occurred. As a team or an individual tasked with improving an organization, it is very important to keep objective, data-based records of where the business was at the beginning of the initiative, the eventual goal destination, and where the company is at every step of the process.
Justifying the project is going to happen - whether as an employee to an executive who is curious about the progress and expenditures, or to employees who are growing frustrated with constant change or frequent questioning regarding their work.
Just as important as adding value to the organization is being able to explain precisely what that value is, along with how and when it was added into the processes. What changes were made, and where? Why were those changes made?
Have metrics to back these decisions up, and record the changes as they occur in the initiative. This will aid in not only demonstrating to other in the organization that the initiative is successful, but will help you find places that need a different approach quickly and implement a corrective change to keep the project beneficial.
2. Deploying software without understand the theory and methodology behind the actual improvement
Process automation and business process management software can be the single most valuable asset to an organization's improvement efforts.
A misunderstanding of the software's purpose or tools can be the greatest downfall of the entire project, though.
Before purchasing or implementing any kind of "fix-all" software, ensure that your company is prepared for the necessary changes that will come with it. Plan for integration with legacy systems and current line-of-business software to ensure you get the most out of the new tools.
Is the software absolutely necessary? Could this have simply been done with the tools currently possessed by the organization? Most process experts will say no - there is a reason specialty tools exist. Used poorly, however, they can do more harm than good and create the waste that you are trying to remove from the organization. Replacing waste with more non-value-added work and systems is simply against the overall goal of the project.
Ensure that not only is the software the right fit for your organization, but that the time to acquire the software is right. Discovery should be completed and accurate before software is even a consideration - establish clear goals, and find software that works for your organization. Don't get forced into creating a business strategy around a stiff and unbending software framework.
3. Solving problems that are perceived, but not necessarily proven with facts or data to be problems at all
We've mentioned before in another article that process discovery is simply the most important phase of the whole improvement project.
As a leader or functioning member of the project, you may see problems rampant in your organization. Due diligence involves collecting data on the perceived problems, and validating the reality of a work process with every worker that is involved in the process.
Without this, you begin making strides towards success based on assumption, and you are bound to fail. Process consultants and experts are invaluable assets to this process.
As a third party who is not attached to any single department or employee, getting a view of your processes through the lens of an objective expert becomes the best solution. Often, the time you would have spent revisiting a failed analysis will be more than enough to justify having a third party come in to analyze your processes in their current state.
4. Improving processes that don't add value to the company just for the sake of improving them
Face it - some processes just need to go.
It can be hard to let go of a method for doing work that has been in place for a long time.
Sometimes, a process is simply wasteful and should be removed entirely. This is where the third party objectivity comes into play.
You want your processes analyzed by someone removed from the company enough that, while acquiring knowledge regarding your current state of processes, they have the capacity and the viewpoint to make informed decisions regarding the added value of any individual process.
Where this becomes difficult is deeply rooted, complex processes that are tied to your most important business functions - in these cases, the solution may not be to improve the process, but start from scratch to truly achieve real improvement.
5. Intense focus on mapping process without actually improving them
There are hundreds of tools and standards of evaluation for mapping existing processes. In reality, this is an important procedure and should never be skipped during improvement.
But it's not the overall goal.
Having a clear idea of what your process looks like right now is important, but don't get caught up in details that may or may not exist. View the process as it truly functions, not the ideal way it should function now.
"Perfect world" settings become reality during improvement.
It's important to recognize when rules exist that are NOT being followed by employees, and also to understand why that may be the case. If a process is too time consuming, or too deeply involved to provide quality product in a timely manner, don't worry about mapping the phases that employees are skipping.
Be aware that those steps should be followed and currently aren't, and make sure to note that they should be included in the improved process. Be doubly sure that they do belong in the process at all as you move forward.
Avoiding these five pitfalls is a true methodology for approaching a process improvement project that will net success for both the individual and the business that is partaking in the effort.