5 factors limiting process improvement success
Although every organization faces a different set of challenges in their process improvement efforts, to be effective they will all require dedication, clarity of vision and patience.
It’s no secret that embarking on an organizational change initiative can be a stressful undertaking. Here are 5 factors that most frequently hold process improvement specialists and their efforts hostage:
1. Poor planning
Process improvement specialists know that the first step should be to put a process improvement framework in place. But organizations that are new to BPM or those that have given up hope of taming their processes, fail to recognize the importance of doing so. Or if they have a framework, it is very basic.
Set your efforts up for success by appointing someone who will take ultimate process responsibility. This person will work with the management team to obtain the necessary resources and prioritize potential changes.
One of the lead process owner’s responsibilities should be to define a common vocabulary. For example, not everyone understands the difference between policy and process. Terms can mean different things to different people, so ensure your entire organization communicates by using shared definitions to eliminate wasted time and effort, and help clarify discussions and decisions.
The organization also needs a process in place for maintaining and updating processes. Will there be an approval process and if so, what is it? Where will process documentation be stored? How will process improvement efforts be prioritized, measured and reported?
Protect your organization from chaos by kickstarting process improvement initiatives with a solid framework in place. In the same way you’d build a house on a solid foundation, it is often better to take the time to develop a solid framework before rushing in to make other changes.
2. Indifferent execs
When the senior management team isn’t fully committed to meeting an objective, they leave their people adrift. Priorities change. People and teams aren’t empowered to accomplish their assigned goals, and there is a lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities. Chaos can ensue due to the lack of effective communication.
Everyone needs to understand why the organization is taking on a project, and what the upcoming changes will mean to them as individuals, to facilitate real commitment to change. Teams need to comprehend the impact the change will have on the organization and on their day-to-day lives and roles. This is the responsibility of the exec team. Failing to embrace this part of their role is a key reason why BPM projects fail.
3. Resistant teams
When faced with organizational change, most organizations traditionally see three types of behaviour. The first type consists of about 20 percent of employees, who will embrace the change and be excited and eager to get involved in the project. Harnessing this enthusiasm can carry the project to success, and can positively impact the mindset of the next group, who are willing but may be unsure about what is involved.
About 60 percent of employees make up the second behaviour type. They have no objection to the project, and can execute effectively with education, guidance and reassurance about their role.
The last group will always be naysayers, and consists of the remaining 20 percent of people. They are actively negative toward the project, and will say: “We’ve always done it this way” or “We tried that once and it failed.” Ignore their negativity - they will either adapt or leave.
4. Unmanageable processes
Process variations between job sites or business units are commonplace, especially in organizations with locations in multiple countries or regions. Customer segmentation or local practices sometimes lead to variations in the services provided, adding further complexity. While these practices can make process standardization difficult, they don’t make it impossible.
Effective control of process variations can be achieved by mapping the global standard process and the process variations. This helps identify the differences. Then, when job sites or offices argue that their existing process is better or can’t be changed because of a local custom or a unique requirement that can’t be grasped by people outside the area, ask them to document the reasons.
Insist on facts, not opinions. Ask teams to cite the specific law or contract that requires a certain process or step, and to explain why the proposed standard process doesn’t meet the requirement. Insist that they quantify the cost of the extra steps or services they require that other facilities don’t.
Hard analysis will frequently cause the objections and variations to evaporate. If the objection lingers and they produce the requested analysis, facts will help you determine whether it’s warranted to create and manage a process variation or exception.
5. No experimentation
The very definition of organizational agility is trying new things, measuring the results and then quickly rolling them out or changing direction, depending on the results.
There are ways to fast track organizational agility, but it can take time. When things go wrong, exec teams must guide people into identifying the root cause rather than focusing on who’s to blame.
Organizations that reward ingenuity and experimentation have mastered the art of organizational agility. Trying something new should be rewarded, even if the idea fails. Allow a percentage of an employee’s time to be used in the pursuit of new ideas, as Google does, or set aside funds to support trial projects. This signals to the organization that initiative and agility are valued and encouraged. Over time, this attitude will permeate the organization giving rise to a more agile, innovative culture.
Identifying these 5 challenges and getting commitment from their teams to address them will help organizations create a culture of process improvement.
With the help of a sound approach to business process management, process specialists can actively support business transformation, and break free from the factors hampering their process improvement success.