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In your experience, what's the number one reason a process improvement project fails?

Thursday, June 11 2015, 09:49 AM
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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 09:54 AM - #Permalink
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    People.

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    Thursday, June 11 2015, 09:55 AM - #Permalink
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    Expertise. Always. Across the board, "practice" and technical both. Though others' responses will most assuredly be more extensive than mine, that's what it always boils down to.

    Know what it is you're trying to do and why. Know the BPMS technology being brought to the fore to do that. It's that simple.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 09:56 AM - #Permalink
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    The answer is in the question: the fact that it is seen as a project.

    'we started a separate project for process improvement, so it doesn't disturb daily operation'

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    • Walter Bril
      more than a month ago
      Exactly. And this is the major reason I published my article at Linkedin 2 weeks ago :-)
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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 10:04 AM - #Permalink
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    People, but not just because people opposes to change, but because people has inertia.

    The inertia is not always bad, and if the company has been working with a process for years, it is healthy to ask “why changing?”. So the key point is that people should be convinced, of the urgent-need of a process improvement. And it is better if they do it continually (and it is not seen as a project as Emiel points out).

    Technology is the tool. But people should want to use the hammer.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 10:22 AM - #Permalink
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    False starts. Pick your favorite from this list:

    - no clear as-is (Lord Kelvin said:if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it)

    - no clear to-be - jumping on the solution (tool) before the problem (process deficiencies) is figured out

    - pushing the effort as a one-off project (already mentioned by my predecessors)

    - lack of upper rank support, leading to underallocation of resources (time, money, talent, attention span)

    - no clear path through the wilderness - people do not resist change, they are resisting the uncomfortable psychological transition associated with change. Someone needs to guide them through this transition. There is a lot of literature on the subject and frankly this should be THE initial training that needs to be performed on any business change initiative.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 10:24 AM - #Permalink
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    Yes, it's always 'People', but that's also a gross oversimplification. For year we re-engineered client business processes and specified new technology infrastructures and identified benefits galore; but sometimes 'they' still would not change.

    That's why, in 1999, we stopped just making the processes better and started studying organisational change practices in organisations around the world, 16 years later we are still doing so.

    What have we learnt? The differences between highly successful 'Change-Able' organisations and the forever-failing 'Change-Inept' are clear, relatively few and very straightforward.

    If you are interested you can find out how we did this, and check your own organisation's score for free at www.changeability.co

    • E Scott Menter
      more than a month ago
      +1 for the beginnings of an interesting idea, -1 for the blatant advertising
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  • Accepted Answer

    Maria Paz
    Maria Paz
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    Thursday, June 11 2015, 10:37 AM - #Permalink
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    I would say that the number one reason is doing too much too fast.

    Before doing any changes, it's important that those involved in the process understand why the changes are necessary. They need to feel the urge for change and see it as something positive.

    It's also important to make minor changes instead of transforming the whole process at once. BPM is supposed to provide gradual improvement.

    Remember: baby steps. You need to show tiny improvements as soon as you see them, in order to convince everybody that you are on the right track.

    In this whole process, the type of BPMS that you chose is crucial, that is stable enough and provides smallcontinuouschanges.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 10:38 AM - #Permalink
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    From my experience, there are three vitally important components for successfully implementing BPM:
    • Analysis and Design– Assessing and re-engineering “as-is” processes to eliminate waste while capturing business and technical requirements into realistic and attainable objectives, specifications, and solutions (“to-be”) aligned with strategic objectives and metrics
    • Project/Program Management– Aligning strategy with solution design and human resources to guide development and on-going change management to ensure on-time in-budget delivery
    • Training and Talent Development– Developing skills to analyze, design, implement, deploy, administer, and change solutions
    Projects fail when any of these components break down.Common root causes include:
    • Analysis - We think we have asked all the questions and furnished all the answers, but something was missed unintentionally or hidden intentionally
    • Project Management - We believe that after agreement has been made nothing will change, but once people learn the possibilities or fear the results change happens but the people and/or the business is not willing to accept it (by changning expectations, operations, resources, and/or budget)
    • People - We think people know what they are doing and are responsible for doing it and will stick around to complete it, but they don’t and they aren’t and they might not

    There are many ways to help ensure success but that is another post.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 11:09 AM - #Permalink
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    Emiel summarizes it nicely here. And of course it's (always) about people :-).

    I'd like to add that I see many times that BPM (as some sort of a standalone method) is piggyback riding on whatever "far more concrete" initiative (e.g., ERP implementation, ISO 9001 compliancy exercise). So basically BPM is seen as "part of the actual solution", whereas (and obviously) you already should have BPM in place as one of the fundamental pillars of an organization. You simply cannot "implement BPM". For the same reasons as you cannot "implement ITIL" or "implement ISO". You can however describe what you do, keep it up to date (there are quite some good solutions out there) and then choose a focus (e.g., ITIL, ISO, ERP implementation).

    Two weeks ago I posted a blog (see below) that basically attempts to answer this weeks question, for those who haven't seen/read it, please feel free to have a look at it: Feedback is more than welcome!

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 11:42 AM - #Permalink
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    The idea of "process improvement" is, in most cases, fatally misguided. With the tools we have today, we shouldn't be settling for marginal improvements. Instead, I recommend "process transformation". BPM-driven processes can be "improved" without the enormous overhead traditionally associated with such efforts; today, such improvements are more routine maintenance than they are strategic project.

    BPM offers us a great opportunity to drive broad change at relatively low cost. Let's take advantage of that and stop limiting our imaginations to what what was possible ten years ago.

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    • Walter Bril
      more than a month ago
      Agree. Too many times I see automation of old stuff. Ending up with automated old stuff if you get my drift. For example within governmental environments I many times see that the case is now being transported digitally from role to role (or dept. to dept.). Nothing has changed, really... (And I do therefore blame (or even dislike) swimlanes, but that's another discussion :-)).
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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 11:45 AM - #Permalink
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    -2 votes

    Old IT getting too involved in something that either they do not understand or feeling their future is being challenged!

    • Emiel Kelly
      more than a month ago
      -4 votes? Old IT must be involved ;-)
    • David Chassels
      more than a month ago
      But not in build or planning. Sure their input requires to link/use legacy. My comment based upon real experience! Next generation adaptive capability must be business driven with "IT" in support
      Ghandi summed up the real challenge for the new first they ignore then ridicule then you fight them then you win. Looks like moved to ridicule well that's a step forward......
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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 12:00 PM - #Permalink
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    4 votes

    Without considering all universal PM factors (management support, goals, measurable results, people, IT misunderstanding, baby steps, etc.), the number one reason is IGNORANCE of architecture.

    Any process improvement project is “touching” the iceberg of processes within an enterprise (see REF1). Thus dealing only with its visible part will be as dangerous as asking a captain to navigate close to an iceberg.

    Thanks,
    AS

    • John Morris
      more than a month ago
      Good point about icebergs. So it's interesting when someone from outside the BPM community says something relevant and non-trivial on the topic of the "hidden processes".

      For example, economist David Autor has written on the topic of "tacit work", i.e. all the unspoken skills and understandings that are required to perform any kind of work, with technology or not. He's of the view that automation is much more difficult than sales people and technologists would like to believe:

      "A key observation of the paper is that journalists and expert commentators overstate the extent of machine substitution for human labor and ignore the strong complementarities."

      http://www.nber.org/papers/w20485 (free paper)

      Polanyi's Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth
      David Autor
      NBER Working Paper No. 20485
      Issued in September 2014

      This paper is well worth reading as a counter point to the Brynjolfssons and McAfees of the world, who seem to be simultaneously predicting technology-based doom or technology-based nirvana.
    • Dr Alexander Samarin
      more than a month ago
      Thanks John, my favorite paper about automation is http://improving-bpm-systems.blogspot.com/2011/01/automation-and-intelligent-systems.html

      Especially, I like the sentence: 'Studies of failures in automation reveal an "epidemic of clumsy use of technology"'
    • John Morris
      more than a month ago
      Alexander, the paper you shared (written about 2000 I think) is terrific. The paper includes this note on automation anti-patterns:

      "Automation Complexity: The details of machine functions may appear quite simple because only a partial or metaphorical explanation is provided, and the true complexity of the operation remains hidden from the user."

      I mention this because coincidentally I recently read some materials on the famous "Therac 25" medical radiation machine (built in Canada). For exactly the design reasons defined in this paper (plus bad software practices and even ethics) the machine was the direct cause of the death and injury of patients in USA and Canada. (It's now a case study in CSC departments.) The discovery of the problems with the machine was in part related to how the machine was used by experienced operators (i.e. undocumented tacit knowledge).
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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 01:42 PM - #Permalink
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    3 votes

    "Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be carved." Immanuel Kant

     

    The problem lies in our brain - and our understanding of it.

    As we evolved we developed three layers of brain activity.
    The first - the lizard brain - covers the three Fs - Fight, Food and Fornication. We share this level of brain activity with most animals.

    It takes a wide variety of inputs and qucikly turns them into patterns we recognise so we can make instant decisions on whether something is a threat, a food source or a mate. It keeps us safe, fed, alive. It is very powerful - fear, for example, can override pretty much anything.

    The second level evolved when we became social animals. It picks up the tiniest eye movement, gesture or nuance of sound to work out intent. We then intuitively mirror their behaviour to show we are on their side or use gestures, inflections and tones to convey the social interaction we wish them to pick up.

    One thing dominates this brain's thinking - our position in our social group, whether it be company, social club or family group. This is evolutionary - creatures in a social species who are higher in their social group get first pick when resources are scarce and have a much higher chance of survival.

    These two powerful levels of brain are parallel processors - they can be animatedly interacting with one person, yet notice the body language of another at the far end of the street. They can pick up the mood of a whole audiencecrowd and spot outliers in milliseconds.

    The third part of our brain is much newer and weaker - around 70,000 years old instead of millions. It evolved when we learned how to speak. We can only speak on one subject at a time so there was no point in this brain being parallel - it is sequential and slowed down to the speed of speech communication. It turns a chemical signal (e.g. low sugar) or neural impulse (smell of food) into something we can communicate (let's go for lunch).

    This turns our decision making into a series of arguments as our position in the social group is expressed by arguing verbally for people to do things our way, only for others to take an opposing position, not because it is right but because they want to hold higher status than us. One story wins.

    Our problem, however, is that we have been brainwashed into thinking that this slow, flawed speech brain is our higher consciousness and anything else is irrational, impulse, intuition or even neurotic. Our education system is designed around this flawed speech brain - writing (even slower than speech), creating lists and arguments we can enunciate. Our exams based on this are at the heart of our education system. Of course our educators reinforce the idea that the speech brain is the higher level of human thought - it is what puts bums on seats in our schools and universities.

    We thus ignore 90% of the thought we have on a subject and almost all the clever work on patterns and social behaviour. Often we end up with conflict between what our real brain wants us to do and what it tells our speech brain - the person who says they don't need a girl/boyfriend, then abandons their friends as soon as it is an option. Or who is the good company person, while underneath resentment builds and instead subconsciously turns to undermining, obfuscating or derailing anything not invented by their group.

    This flawed thinking also kills most process improvement.

    We start any process improvement with one tribe member wishing to improve their social status. No analysis to find the most damaging problem to eliminate - we pick the one with a champion to advocate it. We draw up battle lines, building an army of supporters to overwhelm dissent - just as others oppose it just because of who it comes from and build their own armies. We create committees with systems designed so one person/group dominates. We decide there is a binary answer - no taking one idea from one group, one from another. Often we write long (sequential) explanations and arguments to justify the project, setting it in stone.

    We deliberately neglect human aspects of the change, dismissing fear, not invented here and someone else's problem syndromes. Indeed anyone who brings up such aspects is accused of being irrational, of inciting dissent etc. (classic bullying tactics of the alpha ape, now renamed "leadership").

    Our change processes and managment methods are really all about ape domination battles.

    This is why disruption works. Someone outside the tribe can see past the domination battles. Intuitively seeing what is really required, possible options and how to make them happen. Supported by buyers, because they know the old system is broken and the people inside it are ever going to fix it.

    That's the power of the intuitive brain.

    So how do you fix it? With science. Set up a measurement system to analyse which is truly the biggest problem and not just the most visible. Then set up a continuous experimentation programme to fix it, with proper AB testing and data to show what really works. Most important of all is keep doing it - you'll never need a process improvement project ever again, because the people and the egos are sidelined by the data.

    Then fire the people in the company with the biggest egos - they're the ones doing the real damage with their tribe domination goals dressed up as "process improvement projects".

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  • Accepted Answer

    Thursday, June 11 2015, 10:03 PM - #Permalink
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    3 votes

    Hi All !

    - Lack of aligment between the project and organization's strategy;
    - Absence of "heavy weight's" sponsorship and leadership;
    - Inexperience of project leaders;
    - Weak Culture for changes;

    I know that the question is about "project of transformation", but I'd like to share a personal perception... BPM is not a project... is a management discipline and yes, We can have projects inside and managed by BPM's effort.

    Rgds, M

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  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, June 12 2015, 07:52 AM - #Permalink
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    4 votes
    Well, I see that the major comments above are relating to the tecnhical implementation phase of a project.
    So, let me just complement sharing my experience regarding the business benefits, which normally noone sustains in the end.
    In this perspective, the main reason of fail of process improvement, it's because companies don't know their own as-is processes, and when we don't know where we are, we'll never know to where to go.
    For example, imagine an objective of reducing costs as process improvement. If we don't know what costs we have today, we'll never know how much we have reduced in the end.
    But worst is that we'll never know if that implementation costs (in time, money, people expectations,...) paid off or not, what cause frustration and distrust for new process improvements.
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  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, June 12 2015, 08:03 AM - #Permalink
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    2 votes

    Weak Management! Living by the illusion that rigid, standardized processes can be used to reduce thec what a business does. People love change if it is good for them. BPM simply isn't and thus they resist. Measure to manage is the same 1910-style idea. Big data is just a more expensive extension.

    empower staff to service a customer right the first time using goal-orientation

    • Bogdan Nafornita
      more than a month ago
      >> People love change if it is good for them.
      People can't tell what changes are good or bad to them until they actually go through them. References: addicts (before they become, and after they hopefully recover), soldiers, inmates, engaged couples :-)

      >> Measure to manage is the same 1910-style idea. >> using goal-orientation
      Goal orientation is still measure-to-manage (unless the goal is something like: be good but don't be bad with your customers) and born at about the same time.
    • Jose Camacho
      more than a month ago
      I think I understand what means "People love change if it's good for them", but the key is the conciliation between the interest of "people" and of the corporate organization, and to achieve that, we'll always need to find standard ways of work, which is the only way to be objective and not decide "improvements" based on perceptions.
      The point is to facilitate dynamic but controled changes, and that's the role of BPM as an individual layer as the link of strategy with the operational resources.
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  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, June 12 2015, 11:04 AM - #Permalink
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    Many process improvement projects have failure built-in at the start. Given this high level of risk a reasonable approach is mitigation. With "failure" at, for example, milestone #3, we return focus on core/key project goals while planning for and working around known risks.

    Failure mitigation is then the key for successful outcomes - in working alongside a staged demised with inverse avoidance built-in along the way. This is an agile, discovery oriented, methodology. As the team is now better prepared and expecting trouble, we see quick recoveries.

    In martial arts, balanced anticipation defies attack. What may seem like an ongoing match is actually several consecutive recoveries leading towards optimal conclusion. Obviously noting that project "victory" CANNOT afford losers. This isn't trench warfare.

    Then answering your question, "number one reason a process improvement project fails":
    (1)- Organizational character

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  • Accepted Answer

    Tuesday, June 16 2015, 02:10 PM - #Permalink
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    2 votes

    People of course but also inadequate process platforms, tools and frameworks. Too many platforms are rigid, not allowing developers and/or business people to improve upon processes and apps as business needs change. The business is always changing. You need a platform that adapts over time.

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  • Accepted Answer

    Friday, June 19 2015, 10:00 AM - #Permalink
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    2 votes

    Here is an interesting reference on the topic

    Slightly dated but still good.

    Mutschler, Bela, Manfred Reichert, and Johannes Bumiller. "Unleashing the effectiveness of process-oriented information systems: Problem analysis, critical success factors, and implications." Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, Part C: Applications and Reviews, IEEE Transactions on 38.3 (2008): 280-291.

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