What Challenges Do You Face in Business Process Improvement?

Anytime you introduce change in an organization, challenges can arise. Business Process Improvement (BPI) is no different. Whenever a process changes, you can expect push back from someone! So, what are the different challenges you might face and how can you overcome them?

1. Prioritizing the work: When multiple opportunities exist, you may find it hard to identify the biggest opportunity. On NBC’s The Biggest Loser, you can easily see who has the biggest problem! You can accomplish the same thing with business processes by building a Process Prioritization Matrix.

Merge your list, or inventory, of processes and prioritization criteria into a single spreadsheet, using the rows to list the business processes and using the columns to list the criteria. If you do not have criteria established to help you prioritize, identify some by thinking about the impact, current state, and value of the existing processes as a starting point. Begin your improvement efforts with the highest scoring process.

2. Avoiding scope creep: Once you begin working on a single business process, you can easily veer away from the original focus of the work. Have you ever started a project at home and then you find that one thing leads to another? This happens all the time in BPI work because new ideas, demands, and needs surface as you get into the work, and the temptation is to continually expand the scope of a BPI effort.

Before you begin working on improving a business process, establish a foundation for your work. Similar to building a house, where the foundation carries the weight of the entire structure, the process “blueprint” will help you to avoid scope creep. While you can do this in various ways, I find it helpful to create a one-page document that includes, at a minimum:

  • a description of the process that anyone can understand
  • the process boundaries (where the process begins and ends)
  • the customer and their needs
  • a list of the measurements of success

3. Getting people engaged: In the perfect world, you have sponsorship for BPI, but this does not always exist. Colleagues may not see “what’s in it for me,” or you may not have a culture of improvement in your organization.

Employees have to “own” process improvement to achieve sustained success because that is where the POWER of business process improvement lies! Until everyone in an organization sees BPI as part of their normal day-to-day responsibilities, process improvement will always come and go.

While managers clearly have a role (they are employees too), their responsibility lies in creating the right environment for process improvement. The problem with this idea though is that many managers got to where they are today because of their ability to deliver results as individual contributors.

All managers should list BPI on their annual performance plan and have part of their year-end review focused on their achievements in this area. They cannot view BPI as an “event” that they can check off though – it is a process, like anything else!

4. Handling difficult people: During any BPI effort you will encounter someone you probably wish would “go away.” You may wonder why they resist the change or display a negative behavior.

You should discover the source of your colleague’s concern. Forget about BPI for a minute, and try to identify what the person values and then match the benefits of BPI to those values. For example, if a colleague values job security, then you have to show him or her how BPI will enable them to keep their job – perhaps by doing more value added work. Once you match outcomes to values, you can overcome almost any challenge.

5. Changing priorities: As new management enters an organization, priorities can shift. So how can you stay focused on BPI?

The key is to stay focused on the customer. If a new manager comes in that only seems to care about the bottom line, take time to explicitly link “BPI,” “customers,” and the “bottom line” together. Only customers contribute to a company’s profits and keep this concept at the core of everything you do.

6. Criticizing your Improvement Technique: Sometimes colleagues would rather use another improvement method than the one you chose. You may face the dilemma of which one has a better reputation at your computer. Is it Lean, Six Sigma, Reengineering, Lean Six Sigma, or something else?

In reality, most improvement techniques come down to “quality.” All the techniques have the same goal — to achieve improvements in delivering a product or service to the customer, and all have a connection to the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement. While the various techniques have some differences, you will see more similarities than differences. You should feel free to take the best from several techniques, combine them, and select a name that works for your organization.

Copyright 2011 Susan Page