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. Process paradise can run into several problems. Watch out for these potential snakes hissing in your process garden:
“Step on the snake’s tail and it will bite you.” The customers are the most important stakeholders for any organization, because they pay for the organization to exist. So, do not step on the tail of that snake or it will bite you back with poisonous teeth. Process improvement is to be used to provide better customer experiences.
“Culture of snakes.” Many people do not like change, but culture of change is very important for process improvement. All the employees of your organization must be convinced that they are in the change business. People who believe that process improvement is not their job create problems. It is impossible to retain old habits of working when world around organization changes all the time due to globalization, Internet, etc.
“You cannot use a submarine to kill a snake.” Watch out for mismatch between new methods or tools and the work. Remember to apply proper project management techniques to direct your 6sigma initiative’s scope, standards, schedule and levels of risk. Start with end in mind.
“Focusing only on the costs of snakeskin boots is not effective.” Do not use process improvement solely to do cost reduction. Cost is just one factor in the equation, although it is important. Do not be so focused on cost that you overlook opportunities to add customer value. Remember, that cost comes from doing things that do not benefit the customer.
“How many stripes does that snake have?” Management can become more fascinated with statistical measures than with the actual process, not to mention the customer. Management has to understand that better quality does not come merely through the use of more sophisticated statistics. It is also about the colors of snake’s stripes.
“Finding the snake’s lair is a serious job.” Process improvement also can fail if teams do not care about root cause analysis. The natural tendency for people is to jump from identifying a problem to finding a solution, without first addressing the root cause. You may kill one snake, but you are leaving rest of them to appear again.
“I don’t care about the snakes!” Lack of top and middle management commitment will cause serious problems. Implementing a process improvement program requires top management’s support or otherwise you are doomed to fail.
“I’m blaming the other snake killers!” Consultants can help to adapt process improvement methods. A greater danger is that the entire responsibility for the process improvement program will be put on the consultants. Management must accept ongoing involvement and do their share in snake killing. Consultants can help in showing the flashlight into dark lair, but management has to walk in it
“Be gentle on the snakes and tell them to leave the paradise.” Do not neglect the so-called “soft skills” of communication and human interaction. Great statistical measurements will not do you much good, if people lack meeting skills, cannot communicate and are not able to work together. Also put strong emphasis on customer communications.
“Indifferent snakes do harm.” Employees need training that creates true behavioral change, not programs that just hand out information. Information and skills are worthless without being put to practice.
“Holding the snake from the tail will cause problems.” Poor quantity and/or quality of training will cause wrong working habits. Process improvement program needs sufficient, appropriate resources, including training, so people learn to use new tools and methods properly. And this means everyone in an organization.
As you can see, many kinds of snakes can live in process paradise. If any of them seem familiar to you, maybe you should spend few minutes thinking about what are you going to do about it? Remember, it is not the thoughts, but the appropriate actions that you will take after thinking, which will bring the results to your garden.
PS: No snakes were harmed while writing this article 🙂