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BSS #012: Why Process Improvement Fails

If you’re 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.

Today, we’ll dive into the top 5 reasons why process improvement efforts fail, and what you can do to avoid these pitfalls in your own initiatives.

1. Goals are not clearly defined

When people are confused about what the intended results are, it is easy to lose focus and momentum. You want to pick 1 or 2 clearly defined goals and then begin sharing why these goals were selected and what the intended results are for achieving those goals.

2. 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 you’ve created your current state map, take the time to ensure everyone on the team is familiar with the details of each step.

3. Not involving the right people

It’s obvious to involve the people who are closest to the process you’re trying to improve. What’s less obvious is to involve people who are adjacent to the process. Additionally, in your effort to be helpful, it can be easy to overstep and share too many of your 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. Including people from before and after as well as directly touching the process will lead to the most impactful and sustained efforts. You can increase the chances of sustainability further by waiting until all others have offered suggestions for improvement before weighing in yourself.

4. 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, your goal should be to achieve small, incremental improvements. Think of your process improvement initiative as a continuous improvement cycle. You can find several frameworks to follow here


5. No plan for what happens next

Even successful process improvement initiatives can fail when you haven’t clearly defined what happens next. You need to keep everyone on your team and throughout the organization on the same page when it comes to your initiatives. You should be thinking: How will we know if this initiative is successful? How will we communicate our progress? What follow up activities need to be completed? Who is responsible for what tasks?

So there you have it – the top 5 reasons why process improvement efforts often fail. By avoiding these common pitfalls and following a few simple suggestions, you can set yourself up for success and see real improvements in your organization’s performance.


The top 5 reasons why process improvement efforts fail, and what you can do to avoid these pitfalls in your own initiatives:

  1. Goals are not clearly defined > Pick 1 or 2 defined goals and the why plus intended results
  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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