Why do process improvement projects fail? Usually, it’s because the organization is internally misaligned. 

Today, we’re looking at a few of the most common pitfalls in business process improvement initiatives. Most importantly, we’ll discuss how you can avoid them.

Why do Process Improvement Projects Fail?

1. Misidentifying Root Causes

Many organizations are so eager to improve their processes that they jump right into identifying pain points and diagnosing root causes.

However, it’s important to truly understand where the misalignment is happening, rather than jump to conclusions. In your haste, you might alter the wrong processes.

We recommend taking the time to build the right team and analyze the right data to truly identify the root cause of a problem. This way, you can make sure you’re correcting it at the source, rather than simply masking the symptoms.

The first step is mapping your current processes at a high level. During this time, you might also want to focus on value stream mapping. Regardless of your approach, an understanding of your current state will help you identify the true root causes of your pain points.

A Failed Payroll System Implementation

Panorama’s Expert Witness team was retained to provide a forensic analysis and written report to the court regarding the failed implementation of a major software developer’s ERP/payroll system.

2. Unclear Vision for Your Future State

Do you need a CRM system to optimize your sales efforts? What about an ERP system to simplify your internal functions? Where do you see your organization down the road, and how can your new processes get you there?

Without a vision for your future state, you can’t answer these questions, and as a result, you can’t effectively optimize your processes.

It’s important to understand employee needs and also meet with your executive team so you can begin defining organizational goals that you can reasonably achieve through process improvement.

3. Lack of Executive Support

Executive buy-in is the linchpin of all technology initiatives and process improvement projects. Unless your highest-ranking team members are on-board with the direction you want to go, they won’t support your efforts operationally and financially.

Before you put the wheels fully in motion, make sure that no member of the executive team disagrees with the project goals or project plan. If even one executive is misaligned, you might not get the budget and resources you need to move forward.

4. No Continuous Improvement Culture

Do your employees feel comfortable sharing ideas? If not, you can’t radically change the way you approach and conduct your business.

For improvement projects to succeed, there must be more than just a few people involved. All departments and seniority levels should work together to identify processes that should be optimized.

This is called a continuous improvement culture. When you have this culture, everyone in the company actively looks for opportunities to add quality and value.

For instance, your employees might notice inefficiencies in your legacy systems and suggest that cloud ERP software could help you centralize and consolidate your data.

In other cases, your frontline workers might notice that your customers are routinely running into the same roadblocks, so they share ideas for ways you can improve the customer experience.

5. No Process Improvement Team

To reduce your risk of project failure, it’s important to make sure the right people are at the helm of the process improvement. The people you select for your team should be a balanced mix of:

  • Employees who are actively involved in the process, including business process owners
  • Customers who receive the output of the process
  • Stakeholders who have a vested interest in the process

These are the people who work most closely with the process. As such, they are the best source of ideas on how it can be improved. If it isn’t flowing as well as it could be, they can speak to the root causes and identify the right solutions. 

6. Expensive Changes You Don’t Need

True process improvement often means investing in technologies that support your new processes. However, many organizations implement new technology simply because it works for their competitors.

Did you invest in a shiny new solution that your ERP vendor promised would solve all your problems? In your quest to achieve the most streamlined processes possible, you may get overzealous.

One way to avoid this is by using demo scripts. Before scheduling ERP demos, you should outline what you want them to show you based on your unique business requirements. This is essential because your ERP solution needs to support your organizational goals or, as our software expert witnesses will attest, you may experience ERP failure.

7. Lack of Organizational Change Management

Any time you introduce a process change, you open up your organization to some degree of employee pushback. This is especially the case if you adjust or automate a workflow that they’ve used for years.

This is where an organizational change management plan can help. What is organizational change management? Put simply, it’s about anticipating organizational challenges before they occur, and putting steps in place to reduce change resistance and maximize user adoption.

Clear, consistent messaging is at the center of this effort. From the very beginning, you should communicate the change to your employees. Explain why it’s necessary and what they can expect as the project unfolds. In addition, outline the benefits to their individual roles and set key milestones so they can follow the timeline.

Along the way, listen to employees’ concerns and take their feedback to heart.

Remember, you could make a given process 1,000 times better, but if no one is willing to follow along with the new workflows, true improvement will never occur.

Process Improvement is More Difficult than Organizations Expect

The most successful organizations are those that are never content with the status quo. Rather, they’re always looking for ways to make their processes more efficient.

However, not every ambitious effort delivers measurable results. Some fizzle before they even gain steam, costing organizations time, money, and brand reputation.

Why do process improvement projects fail? The answer boils down to a lack of strategic alignment.

When you have a north star guiding every project decision, you can ensure you’re improving the right processes, implementing the right technology, and setting the right path for your company’s future.

Our ERP consulting services encompass everything from ERP software selection to business process reengineering. Request a free consultation below to learn more.

About the author

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As Director of Panorama’s Expert Witness Practice, Bill oversees all expert witness engagements. In addition, he concurrently provides oversight on a number of ERP selection and implementation projects for manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, and public sector clients.

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