How to beat the mid-project blues

Your BPM, Lean or Six Sigma project has launched to great acclaim. The business is enthusiastic, management strongly backs the initiative, and staff are energized and believe that change is possible.

And then...
Something happens midway through the project. It's like the afternoon slump when blood sugar levels drop and all you want to do is curl up in a little ball under your desk and hope the world goes away. The challenges seem bigger than they did at the beginning, change is slower than everyone was expecting, and both management and staff lose interest in the amazing results you keep telling them that your initiative, gumption, and gosh darn "gung-ho-ness" will achieve.
It's like when American current affairs comedian John Stewart of the Daily Show asked President Obama whether in retrospect he would revise his 2008 campaign slogan to "Yes, we can — given certain conditions..."?
Obama replied: "No, I think what I would say is, "Yes, we can,'s not gonna happen overnight."
So what can be done to stave off the evil eye of the mid-project slump and keep management and staff engaged, especially when things don't happen overnight?
Advisors from the Process Excellence Network's editorial board share their thoughts:
"I’d ask 'why are we in a so-called slump?' We should think about the root cause of that apparently lack of enthusiasm instead of blaming people for not being enthusiastic. Maybe people aren’t getting the support they need from leadership to really make change happen? Maybe solutions and improvements were dictated to them in a top-down way, so they naturally don’t feel ownership of the ideas. To prevent slumps, we need to mindful of what would cause them and then, from the beginning, not do things that de-motivate people. As Dr. W. Edwards Deming would say, you can’t motivate people, you can only avoid de-motivating them."
- Mark Graban, Director of Communication & Technology, Healthcare Value Leaders Network
"Keeping staff members and business leadership engaged and on board with process improvement initiatives requires three things. The first requirement is to ensure that staff members work on improving processes that matter to them and are important to the business. The second requirement for keeping leaders on-board with your process improvement initiatives is to show results. Having a combination of short time quick wins and longer term game changers will keep them motivated. Lastly, it is really important to develop and execute process improvement control plans. Without good control plans, improvements may not stay, which may result in having to good back and fix the process again. This rework can be really de-motivating to staff members."
- Diane Francisco, Ph.D., certified MBB, Director, PECM, Clinical Development Services, Covance
"I'd do everything I could to prevent a mid-project slump in the first place. A key to keeping your leadership engaged in process improvement efforts is to make them a significant part of the process. For example, secure a monthly spot in the senior leadership staff meeting to present to them high impact projects that are ongoing, and enlist the feedback from the leadership on how the benefits can be accelerated to impact the business. Also take this opportunity to recognize the team members, as well as present certification certificates to employees in front of the leadership. If you secure the opportunity to increase the visibility to the leadership on a regular basis, then you will keep their interest and engagement, and avoid the potential for a mid-project slump or decrease in enthusiasm towards the process improvement effort."
- Julie Brignac, President and Founder, QuantumSix Solutions, Inc.
"I think the best way to keep management and teams on board are to make sure you discuss and hopefully acknowledge the milestones. Whether there are challenges or not, at milestone dates a commitment should be made to use those critical thresholds to discuss progress and status of the project. Additionally, sending an ongoing report out via a weekly update or monthly dash board status are excellent ways to make sure teams are staying connected to projects – if there are challenges – raise them immediately."
- Liz Feirstein, Product Operations Business Partner, Allstate Insurance Company
"The key to the success of any team is to ensure that every member has a stake in it. People will do absolutely amazing things when they believe in what they are doing. Establishing and maintaining that belief is the true task of the project lead."
Lee Campbell, Continuous Process Improvement Director, U.S. Army Military District Of Washington