Why Process Improvement Projects Fail

Interesting times.  There’s an emerging consensus that Lean, Six Sigma and other process improvement programs are failing, and a myriad explanations why.  And yet – I just saw a(nother) Nimbus client video on a remarkable success in sustainable process excellence.

There’s no shortage of doomsayers.  In a PEX Network podcast just released, Nigel Clements, who will keynote at the Process Excellence conference in London in April, estimates that up to 70% of process improvement projects fail.  In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Professor Sakya Chakravorty estimated that 60% of Six Sigma projects fail. And the PEX Network poll launched last week on ‘why continuous improvement projects fail’ has already attracted 500 voters.

But why? That’s where the divergences start.  There may be common agreement on the symptoms, but there are many different diagnoses of the underlying condition.

Nigel Clements, for instance, points to Deming’s ‘five deadly diseases’ as the root causes: lack of constancy of purpose; emphasis on the short term; compensation that distorts incentives; over-mobility of management; and only using visible figures.

Professor Chakravorty suggests the need for Six Sigma ‘experts’ to be retained on projects for longer; for smaller project teams; and for tying in performance appraisals to adoption of change.

Both though agree on what must be the single over-arching truth here: that success in continuous improvement (CI) is about creating an enterprise-wide culture of engagement and collaboration.  And that it is impossible without leadership from the top.

Even Nimbus Control is not, dare I say it, an essential for success in sustainable process excellence.  It hugely increases the chances of success in setting up and maintaining any CI program. But, ultimately, it is simply an enabler.  Without executive vision and commitment, nothing sustainable can succeed.

The client case study I just saw is on the launch of a global CI program in a Fortune 100 organization. It brings new levels of creativity in how it leverages Nimbus Control. There’s huge attention to graphic design as one of the keys to users engagement.  It has real-time metrics that look beyond process performance to cover as well process adherence and popularity. It also extends the standard RACI model in a way that brings a new clarity and productivity in compliance. And subtly, and throughout, it reinforces this organization’s values.

What made it possible? Executive energy plus the adoption of Nimbus Control as the process platform, and UPN as the process language.  But it was also the Nimbus methodology: the inherent creativity in live workshops for SMEs in the discovery phase, facilitated by an experienced Nimbus consultant, to map out new ways of working.

It’s confidential right now – for obvious competitive reasons – but hopefully might make it into the public domain in due course. It’s a sparkling glimpse of the future in a world of CI gloom and angst. And exactly the kind of story that can fire up C-Level imagination and commitment.

This entry was posted in Case Studies, Continuous Improvement, Process Excellence, Process Platform, Sustainability and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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