What’s Holding Back Your Process Improvement Efforts?


What is the main motivation for trying to improve processes? It might be different from company to company, or fall under a generic remit: saving time, increasing profits, allowing innovation to flourish and enhance customer experience are all common aims, but there are myriad others. The next question to ask yourself is: does the changed process actually equate to tangible improvement in the end result? If not, why not?

Implementing improvements is not always straightforward, and it is important to remember that just because you’ve documented a new process, there is no guarantee it will be followed. There are countless examples of a change being implemented, but the end-users simply rejecting it or finding ways to circumnavigate it. People will revert back to the previous process if they perceive it to be more efficient or easier. In some instances, team members will even find workarounds to avoid parts of a process that they don’t approve of. In these situations, end-users are often blamed, but the real cause may be related to how the change was defined in the first place.

So if processes must be adhered to for change initiatives to be successful, how do you ensure they are followed?

Build-in Success from the Start: Establish the Business and User Need

Striking a careful balance between the needs of the business and those of the end-user (as well as those of other relevant stakeholders), is critical in establishing any meaningful change. Although in a perfect world their requirements would already be aligned, things are rarely that simple.

If, for instance, an organization wants to understand more precisely the nature of inbound calls, it will propose a change is made to the call handling process. One option might require the call centre agent to log each enquiry and its purpose from a predefined list of 300 options. Whilst to the directors this might sound a viable method of establishing detailed information, in reality, the user is likely to find a list of 300 categories extremely difficult to navigate. Put differently, the end-user also has a requirement for the solution to be easy and quick to use. In a situation like this, unless these considerations are taken into account, the user is likely to mis-categorize some (or all) of the calls simply because they can’t find an appropriate category, and because they are keen to get on to the next call. Alternatively, they might try to find ways to circumvent the step entirely.

These kinds of problems can be avoided by engaging an appropriate range of stakeholders throughout the change initiative. Understanding different perspectives allows us to strike a careful balance and helps us to identify and resolve any conflicting requirements, address their concerns, and identify any benefits that change may bring for them.

Communication: Bringing People Along On the Journey

Communication is critical in every change initiative, yet it is easily forgotten or left until the last minute. All processes (and any underlying procedures/help-guides) must be articulated in a clear way and relayed to those that need to use them. Ensuring that process change is presented in a clear notation and stored in a single repository, along with consistent and regular focus on stakeholder engagement go some way to achieving this aim.

Early engagement helps gain support for the change initiative and build commitment particularly when stakeholders are given input and are able to shape the solution. The acronym WIIFM is often used: “What’s in it for me?” Considering change from the perspective of other stakeholders helps elucidate what their concerns may be, as well demonstrate the benefits for them. If shown how the new process will make their lives easier, they are much more likely to buy-in.

Revisit, Review and Tweak

All business change – whether that it affects processes, organizational structures, data, IT systems or any combination of the above – needs to be reviewed and revisited. It is well worth asking the question: Did the change achieve what we needed?

Similarly, by considering if the change had longevity, and to see if there are further enhancements that can be made is important to ensuring successful enterprise wide transformation. On larger and more formal projects, this may involve a full benefits realization exercise. On smaller initiatives, it could be an informal review against the original scope and objectives. Either way, identifying additional ways for improvement – and identifying where the change hasn’t been sustained – is crucial.

Ultimately, important factors including understanding and engaging stakeholders, communicating, and measuring success can contribute towards the success of process improvement initiatives.