Improvement projects tend to follow the path of their leaders. Unfortunately, ideas to improve work processes fail more often than people would like to admit. Research by McKinsey and Company suggests that 70% of complex, large scale change programs fail. Regardless of the industry or the size of your organization, the hardest part of improving the work process isn't knowing what to do.
It's about figuring out how to do it. People should be able to assess the impact of the improvement in terms of reducing waste, increasing productivity, reducing defects, improving customer satisfaction and other key indicators of their company. The Economist article “From Bitter to Sweet” sheds light on the role that continuous improvement played in Honeywell International's dramatic change of direction. When organizations implement a continuous improvement program, they generally do so in addition to all the other activities that people are already doing.
This means that it is essential to measure the impact of each improvement project on key metrics in the short and long term. In general, the failure to improve a process is due to a myriad of errors or omissions that occur just when you thought that the general initiative to improve the process was going well. By asking people to identify opportunities for improvement and to make process changes, you're asking them to take risks. At the PEX Week conference in January (one of the largest global meetings of process professionals), more than 40% of respondents said that identifying in which processes to prioritize improvement efforts was their main obstacle to continuous improvement.
Learning to avoid the mistakes that are often made in a process improvement initiative is a proactive way for your company to maintain its advantage in today's highly competitive corporate landscape. They need to capture, analyze, improve and implement them, or else you won't be exploiting these valuable knowledge assets in the best possible way. It seems true that if companies had information about customers, incorporating it into the improvement process would be simple. For your organization, simplifying means taking a more critical look at the overall process improvement initiative, determining which elements are most important, and completing them first.
This implies that companies must move from top-down management, such as starting with the CEO, to bottom-up improvement.