Sloan Review on Process Improvement
Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong“. It compares process improvement projects to the behavior of a metal spring, by dividing into three phases:Interesting article in the MIT Sloan Review on “
- Stretching – at the beginning, a small team is motivated to succeed, and has support of executives. A six sigma or process improvement coach helps them navigate some of the harder issues to make sure they stay on target and achieve early success, which causes additional initiatives to be kicked off.
- Yielding – As the process improvement coach is removed, teams begin to revert back to prior behavior, or lose the ability to get the team objectively past some of the harder sticking points. Executive attention, and perhaps some of the best team members, has moved to other projects. Performance starts to retreat, though not necessarily to pre-improvement levels.
- Failing – the vicious cycle begins “With the improvement expert long gone and no additional training in Six Sigma or other improvement strategies provided by the aerospace company, team members became increasingly discouraged by their failure to build on earlier success. They eventually stopped caring about the improvement project, partly because it wasn’t tied to their performance reviews.”
- Keep the improvement expert around longer – or share this expert among more than one team to spread the cost – but the recommended term was 2 years, augmented by training managers to pick up these responsibilities.
- Performance appraisals tied to improvement.
- Keep teams small (less than 10).
- Executives need to directly participate in the projects, not just receive reports from someone who has incentive to focus on only the good news.
- Some resistance to the “yielding” phenomenon described in the study results.
- Accurate measurement over time – no dependence on manual measurement techniques that may degrade as team members lose interest in the stop watch and other manual measurement techniques.
- The ability to “bake in” an improvement and move on to the next thing, rather than get stuck in a high-cost maintenance of the first improvement.
- A “control” baked into the software. (Six Sigma has standard approach called DMAIC – define, measure, analyze, improve, control… and BPM software directly addresses D, M, and C, and supports the A and I activities…) So often the “failing” phase is because the organization loses focus. Software doesn’t lose focus – it just keeps running.