Top Ten Problems Reported by Process Improvement Leaders

January 24, 2018

Looking back on our experiences working with clients over the last 18 years, we've collected a short list of tips on how to avoid common issues found in process improvement deployments:

1. Leadership cannot be delegated. Successful and durable process improvement efforts depend on senior leadership engagement. Leaders should be active teachers. "Engaged" means process improvement activities are on their calendar and on their "to do" lists - not an initiative that is assigned to others.

2. This is not an "organic" exercise at the beginning. A certain amount of authoritarianism is required to get things started. It may seem counter intuitive when your goal is to build an empowered workforce, but you need a strong directive to re-orient people to enterprise processes. Most important projects will cross functional boundaries, so leadership will need to enforce value stream thinking that puts customers ahead of departmental priorities.

3. The "M" in DMAIC does not stand for Months. Don't let people get hung up on playing with tools at the expense of getting things done.

4. Don't take on projects that have massive scope. It is better to execute a series of smaller,tightly-focused projects that get done.

5. Remember the "3APs": Go to the Actual Place (Gemba) where the work is done, observe the Actual Process as it is performed, and talk to the Actual People who perform the process. Beware of Gembaphobia (the fear of going to where the work is actually performed)—tough problems can't be solved from a conference room.

6. Don't pick the most available people to become project leaders (Black Belts and Green Belts). There's a reason why those people are available, and it's not because they get things done. Make the functional leaders cough up their best people. Those people will get more done with the right attitude and good people skills than with a mastery of advanced technical methods.

7. Avoid establishing a "Caste System" or "Expert Culture" where only experts can solve problems. Everyone can use these tools and this thinking in their daily work. Waiting for an "expert" can become a convenient excuse.

8. Don't operate in secret. Over-communicate to offset the natural fear of change and suspicion.

9. Don't forget middle management. The layer of clay in-between senior leadership and front line leaders requires extra attention to penetrate. Middle managers must get on board for the approach to have legs. If leaders lead, middle managers will follow.

10. Don't train without projects! It's a total waste of time and money. Don't over-train, in advance, in batches. Try to pull as needed. Most improvement is accomplished with the most simple tools. The discipline to recognize problems from a customer perspective and address them head-on is more important than technical skills.

—Thanks to Jim Womack for coining the term "Gembaphobia".

Use Technology to Empower Your Continuous Improvement Program