The business of improving your business is serious business.  How many times have you or someone on your team tinkered with a process and had it result in less than desired results?  Perhaps it wasn’t adopted, or only partially adopted by a few on the team.  Or worse, it had adverse results on other areas of the business.  In today’s world of commerce you need to be nimble and constantly thinking about how you can improve; either making things more efficient or creating a better customer experience.  Change is a constant, so read on if you would like to learn some tips on how to embrace it well.

It would be nice if it were possible to have process improvement initiatives without any problems. However, that is not the world we live in. Business Process Improvement initiatives can have several challenges appear.

Watch out for these top ten potential pitfalls when you embark on improving the efficiency and profitability of your business:

  1. Never bit the hand that feeds you.
  2. A culture that resists change.
  3. Don’t get a myopic focus on just reducing costs.
  4. Watch for the tendency to use too many band-aids.
  5. Is everyone in agreement there is a problem?
  6. Project ownership and pointing fingers
  7. Communication, communication, communication
  8. Indifference and keepers of tradition do harm.
  9. Don’t use a hammer to loosen a bolt
  10. Invest in the process.

“Never bite the hand that feeds you.” Customers are the most important stakeholders for any organization, because they fund the organization . So, always keep in mind the impact on the customer when you are investigating and contemplating process improvements.  The ultimate goal after all is to provide better customer experiences.

“A culture that resists change.” Most people do not like change, but fostering a culture of change is very important to the success of process improvement initiatives.  All the employees of your organization must buy into the fact that they are in the change business. People who believe that process improvement is not their job, or worse, consider it a threat, will create problems. It is impossible to retain old working habits of working when the world around your organization is changing quickly.  A culture of change is a differentiator and a competitive advantage, not to mention a requirement to stay in business.

“Don’t get a myopic focus on just reducing costs.”  Cost is just one factor in the equation, although it is an important one.  If you become so focused on cost you may overlook opportunities to invest in adding customer value. Remember that cost comes from doing things that do not benefit the customer.

“Watch for the tendency to use too many band-aids.” Process improvement can also fail if teams jump on quick fixes. The natural tendency is for people to jump from identifying a problem to applying the quick fix solution to the symptom, without first addressing the root cause. Fixing issues this way can likely cause other problems or just move the one being addressed elsewhere in the process.

“Is everyone in agreement there is a problem?” Lack of top and middle management commitment to the process will cause serious problems.  Implementing a process improvement program requires top management’s support; otherwise you are doomed to fail.  Management also provides a holistic view of the business and can help identify collateral affects of process changes.  Their full and across the board buy-in is critical for success.

“Project ownership and pointing fingers” Consultants can be a huge help to foster adoption of process improvement methods.  Danger is created when the entire responsibility for the process improvement program is put on the consultants.  Management and their teams must accept ongoing involvement and do their share of the work. Consultants can help to shine light on the problem areas and make great suggestions for improvement, but in the end everyone in the company has to own the outcome.

“Communication, communication, communication” Don’t get too wrapped up on the technical aspects of applying changing.  The soft skills of communication and human interaction are just as important. Great statistical measurements will not do you much good if people lack organizational skills, are poor communicators or don’t work well together. Facilitate strong communication skills across the entire project team, both up and down as well as across.  Also don’t forget to put strong emphasis on customer communications during the process.

“Indifference and keepers of tradition do harm.” Employees require training that creates true behavioral change, not just programs that just push out information.  Information and skills are worthless without being put to practice and actually adopted and embraced.

“Don’t use a hammer to loosen a bolt” Watch out for a mismatch between new methods or tools and the work you do. Your business is unique, but can benefit from industry-specific best practices and tried and true project management techniques to direct your initiative’s scope, standards, schedule and levels of risk. Start with the end in mind and deploy the right tools for the job.

“Invest in the process.” Both poor quality and lack of quantity of training can have disastrous results.  Process improvement programs need sufficient, well resourced training so people learn to use new tools and methods properly which will foster good, lasting working habits. And this means everyone in the organization.

As you can see from this quick list of examples, there are all kinds of pitfalls can infiltrate your business process improvement initiative.   Perhaps you have run into these already in your own experience, but were aware of them or how to deal with them proactively.   So spend some time thinking about how you can head off these pitfalls the next time you are improving the way you deliver your goods and services to your customer.   If not, your competition might have a jump on you.