The pursuit of process excellence is core to the success of many growing enterprises. However, not every process management initiative thrives, and not every business reaps the rewards that continuous improvement promises. There are five significant factors that could be causing your process practices to falter.
1. Stumbling at the start
Establishing a process improvement framework is the first step in building towards better processes, but many organizations new to process management fail to recognize the importance of that foundation. Others have already given up on gathering process information in any meaningful way or lost enthusiasm, with only the most basic framework in place.
What’s needed is a champion. A lead process owner who can take responsibility for the overall initiative, working with management to prioritize resourcing and the changes needed.
A key part of their role will be sharpening the organization’s focus with a common vocabulary. Not everyone understands the difference between a policy and a process, so establishing uniform terminology and shared definitions will eliminate confusion, and reduce time and the effort required. That ensures discussions around processes are clear and decisions are made based on solid understandings.
They also need to lead the charge on effectively managing processes. That means determining how processes will be updated and maintained, whether they will require approvals, by whom, and how the resulting outcomes will be measured and reported.
Get your process improvement off to a flying start with a solid framework. Just like in any marathon, the preparation begins before the gun sets the stage for the race ahead, and ensures you reach the finish line.
2. Executive apathy
Without engaged senior management, any project will begin to drift. Without a commitment from the top, priorities will change, responsibilities and roles will blur, and teams will begin to question whether they’re following the right plan. A lack of communication and empowering from the top can lead to chaos very quickly.
Executive management need to grasp their part in making the plan succeed. That begins with communicating the strategy clearly and regularly, making sure everyone understands what changes are ahead and how they’ll be affected. Real commitment to the evolution of your processes comes with support from the leaders, helping teams comprehend how their everyday work will change as the project unfolds.
3. Team traction
Typically there are three responses to significant organizational change. For about 20 percent of employees, the change is an exciting opportunity to be embraced. This enthusiasm can be harnessed to create momentum towards success, with the eagerness of this group positively affecting the mindset of those who are still unsure.
That group makes up the majority of any business, usually around 60 percent of the staff. While they have no specific objections, the project is not their priority. With adequate support through education, guidance and reassurance about their role in the project, they can help execute process improvement effectively across the organization.
The remaining 20 percent of staff will be those who are actively negative towards the initiative. For whatever reason, they’ll dig in their heels, with phrases like “We tried that and it didn’t work,” or “We’ve never done it that way before.” This group will either learn to adapt, or will leave the organization to find an employer that doesn’t require a change in their behavior.
4. Unrestrained renegades
Any enterprise with multiple sites, business units or regional divisions is going to have process variations. Customer segmentation and localization can create further complexity, requiring bespoke approaches to what would ordinarily be standard processes. When those are left uncontrolled though, they can create chaos at a process level.
Although those factors are a challenge to process standardization, they are not insurmountable ones. Process variations can be effectively handled by mapping a global standard first, then identifying the key differences that exist. When divisions or districts argue that they have unique requirements or better practices, those can be documented and compared objectively.
That will silence any protests about how those outside the specific context can’t understand the unique demands or requirements. Have them capture facts, not feelings, including legislation, additional costs, and local-variant services. Insist on quantified measures that make their needs distinct from other locations or teams. Hard analysis and side-by-side comparisons frequently see objections and proposed variations vanish. For those that don’t, the facts are clear and can guide sensible decision making around whether to create and manage a variation or not.
5. Absent innovation
Trying new things, assessing and either implementing or pivoting based on the outcomes is the very core of organizational agility. It’s not an easy rhythm to build, but when a business signals that innovation and initiative are valued and encouraged, it becomes part of the organization’s DNA.
Innovation is not without risk, so it is equally important that executives are prepared to identify the causes when things break down, rather than assign blame. Trying new things should be exhilarating for teams, not threatening, and exploring better ways to work should be rewarded, even if the experiment fails. Whether allowing a percentage of employee efforts to be channeled into pursuing new projects like Google does, or setting aside resources to support trial projects, the attitude that innovation and agility are valuable will permeate the organization and impact it at a cultural level.
There are numerous factors that can contribute to process excellence, and multiple challenges that any organization pursuing it could face. However, identifying these five challenges and committing to address them as an organization will go a long way toward making process management succeed in any business.