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5 reasons Why Process Improvement often Fails

Read time: 3 minutes

When you are a part of the team or the whole team responsible for leading process improvement initiatives in your organization, chances are you’ve experienced firsthand how challenging and frustrating it can be when those efforts don’t produce the desired results. I certainly know I have experienced this firsthand!

Today, we’ll dive into the top 5 reasons I’ve witnessed, why process improvement efforts often fail, and more importantly, what we can do to avoid these pitfalls in the future.

  1. Our Goals are not clearly defined

When people on our teams and throughout our organization are confused about what the intended results are, it is easy to lose focus and momentum. I’ve learned that it’s best to pick 1 or 2 clearly defined goals and then begin sharing the “Why” these goals were selected and “What” the intended results are for achieving those goals before worrying about the “How” to achieve those goals.

  1. Current state processes are not clear

An important step of any process improvement initiative is creating a current state map and many practitioners stop there. However, when people do not understand the current state at a detailed level, it will be easy to offer future state suggestions that distract rather than help. After we’ve created a current state map, I like to take the time to ensure everyone on the team is familiar with the details of each step before soliciting any ideas for improvement.

  1. Not involving the right people

It’s obvious to involve the people who are closest to the process we’re trying to improve. What I’ve found to be less obvious is to involve people who are adjacent to the process. In my experience, it’s when we combine these two groups that we achieve the most ideal results.

Additionally, when we get passionate about change and in our effort to be helpful, we can easily overstep and share too many of our own ideas rather than allowing everyone else to participate. This ultimately leads to lack of long-term acceptance because people will not feel as though they were a part of the entire process. Our chances of sustainability tend to increase the longer we wait to provide our own input.

  1. Not using a cycle of improvement

Seeing a big impact from a process improvement initiative is exciting. But too often that’s the signal that the end is near. That’s because big changes are often difficult to sustain over long periods of time. Instead, when we seek to achieve small, incremental improvements, we tend to experience continued momentum and sustainability. I’ve found it best to think of process improvement initiatives as a cycle of continuous improvement. If you need help getting started, you can find several frameworks here.

  1. No plan for what happens next

Even successful process improvement initiatives can fail when we haven’t clearly defined what happens next. We need to keep everyone on the team and throughout the organization on the same page when it comes to our initiatives. I like to be thinking about these questions:

  1. How will we know if this initiative is successful?
  2. How will we communicate our progress?
  3. What follow up activities need to be completed?
  4. Who is responsible for what tasks?

So there you have it – the top 5 reasons I’ve found why process improvement efforts often fail. By avoiding these common pitfalls and following a few simple suggestions, we can set ourselves up for success and see real improvements across our organizations.


The top 5 reasons I’ve found why process improvement efforts often fail, and what we can do to avoid these pitfalls in the future:

  1. Goals are not clearly defined > Pick 1 or 2 defined goals and focus on the Why and What
  2. Current state processes are not clear > Walk everyone through the details of each process step
  3. Not involving the right people > Include people adjacent and closest to the process
  4. Not using a cycle of improvement > Seek to achieve small, incremental improvements
  5. No plan for what happens next > Think who is responsible for what items after the initiative

When you’re ready to start your next process improvement initiative, take a deep dive into our 5-step Process Mapping framework to set your team up for success.

That’s it for today.

See you all next week!


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