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Business Improvement Process Failure

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Millions of companies have pursued major business process improvement projects. Evidence reported in the Wall Street Journal, however, showed that most of these endeavors fail.

According to Satya Chakravorty, this phenomenon should be no surprise:

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.

Chakravorty correctly identified one of the  two broad reasons why most process improvement programs fail: change is hard. To implement new systems and maintain new patterns requires incredible diligence, and we are more likely than not to return to our previous ways.

However, there is a second, more fundamental reason why Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing and many other approaches are unsuccessful: forcing others to change is nearly impossible. Note the tone of some other parts of the article:

Team members collected data on their current working environment and, with the help of the Six Sigma expert, identified the changes they most needed to make to achieve their stated goal… the expert developed a “to do” list that included action items, responsibilities and deadlines and made sure needed resources were available.

With the departure of the Six Sigma expert, the teams…lost their objective voice…Without the expert to rein them in, some team members began pushing agendas that benefited themselves and their departments, making it harder for the team to agree on new goals.

business improvement process failure

© Flickr user erix!

Read those words carefully. The expert creates the “to do” list, not the stakeholders. The expert is the person who has to “rein in” the team, because only the expert is capable of being “objective.” This is a process improvement model based on telling people what to do, not helping them to develop new practices on their own or trusting them to be responsible.

We combat these challenges with methodology engineering by listening first, empowering stakeholders through training, and staying engaged with our clients for at least twelve months to help ensure that new habits become permanent. Improve your organization. Contact our consultants today!

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