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Avoiding the Pitfalls of Business Process Improvement

By Brian Schramke

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Too often, business process improvement (BPI) efforts produce mixed results. Lengthy or never-ending implementation periods, insufficient interest or acceptance by the organization, unrealized expectations… the tales of BPI project failures abound. Unfortunately, there is no single root cause for unsuccessful BPI efforts.

Getting started. While most organizations take a structured approach to their BPI investment, they fail to carefully manage the steps along the way. Selecting the right BPI project and involving the right people provides a foundation for BPI success.

Twelve pitfalls to avoid when setting out on a BPI journey:

1. Choosing an “easy” or “simple” business process to improve that has little strategic value to the organization. Instead, consider the value-delivered to the internal and/or external customer so you don’t waste scarce resources.

2. Choosing the “obvious” business process to improve without an accurate understanding of how that improvement contributes to strategic objectives. Success is best realized by understanding how a future-state improvement will positively contribute to a product or market segment and how it aligns with the organization’s core vision and values.

3. Not securing the strategic process (or issue) owner’s agreement and involvement. Regardless of how well the issues are framed, the project is structured, and the stakeholders are engaged, there will be roadblocks and barriers. It is critical to involve the process/issue owners who are best positioned to remove them.

4. Leaving the planning and work to external consultants or internal “business improvement” groups. At the end of the day, it is the people who know, understand, own, and ultimately need to execute the process improvements that should commit their time and understand that commitment before the project begins. Gaining their involvement is crucial to successfully navigating the BPI journey.

5. Silencing or ignoring critics. Why dismiss potentially valuable insight and information? Giving these individuals a role within the project, a voice to express what they believe can be done, and a forum equipped to affect positive changes will provide an opportunity for the organization to benefit and for them to excel.

6. Viewing the BPI effort as a series of meetings or a committee. The work necessary to have the requisite information for making decisions and building consensus is typically accomplished outside a conference room. Subject matter expertise beyond the core project team is often necessary to successfully complete the tasks.

7. Designing improvements based on a review of process performance levels. Truly improving process performance usually requires asking new questions and gathering new data.

8. Believing that existing procedures and workflows document how work is actually performed.Observations of real-time process execution may identify previously unreported or unrecognized sources of process waste.

9. Over-documenting and analyzing the current state to a time-consuming “ISO 9000 level” of perfection or rehashing what is already known. There is little value in spending more time than necessary and getting bogged down in current state analysis and documentation.

10. Using changes to the organization structure, a new software application, or a continuous improvement program as a starting point. A well-structured BPI engagement ought to identify where these approaches fit within the overall objectives and use them to assist in achieving objectives, not leading the charge.

11. Believing that the more complex the “solution,” the more valuable the result. Complexity does not equate to better. It is wise to weigh the incremental, lesser-value solutions, before making a large investment in a complex design that achieves all of the BPI objectives.

12. Thinking that a “best practice” solution is one-size-fits-all and can be implemented in turnkey fashion.Whether the process improvement draws on the concepts of a best practice or an entirely new approach, it will have to function within an existing organization. That requires future-state design work that considers other business processes, the organization structure, modifications to information and knowledge systems, and what human capability deficiencies need to be.

Find out how Kepner-Tregoe helped a client in the consumer goods industry to achieve a 38% reduction in intellectual property processing costs by implementing an improved process:
View case study

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