Four common continuous process improvement mistakes and how to avoid them

There’s a set of “most common” mistakes for just about any field you choose, whether one is a novice or expert. The practice of continuous process improvement is no exception. 

Errors occur when we:

  • Are unaware of the proper way to handle a task.
  • Develop habits around a less-than-optimal approach.
  • Become lazy and choose the path of least resistance.
  • Don’t implement measures to avoid the commonly understood pitfalls.

It’s unlikely that one person or team would make all possible mistakes, and it’s equally unlikely that many people make none of them – ever. Most individuals and groups fall somewhere in the middle, occasionally committing one or more of these common errors.

1. Looking at symptoms as the root cause

It’s easy to overlook the root cause and devise a proposed solution based on symptoms alone. Everything may seem “better” for a while, until a different symptom pops up, thanks to that still-remaining root cause.

Many organizations are quick to reward action, leading workers to rush to decisions about the next steps. The issue is compounded when we feel root cause analysis is not actually “productive action” moving forward with visible changes.

How can we sidestep this situation?

  • Acknowledge that root cause analysis is work deserving of full attention as an early step in improvement consideration.
  • Schedule adequate time for investigation of underlying issues.

2. Assuming technology is always the answer

It’s tempting to turn to the latest and greatest technology as the first means to solve any problem. However, adding technological advances to the mix is unlikely to address the core issues when the process has faults or weaknesses.

Before jumping to technology as the “obvious” answer, consider the following areas we can address without technology changes:

  • The flow of the process.
  • The policies and procedures used to implement the process.
  • Staffing assigned to execute the process.
  • Measures and metrics used to evaluate the current process.
  • Motivational aspects of encouraging process efficiency.

How can we avoid rushing to technology as the answer? 

  • Establish a prioritized list of non-technological aspects to routinely examine first, such as the list above.
  • Approach new projects by reviewing these areas in order, with a focus on investigating organization, execution, staffing, training, and motivation. We can often implement these improvements at a lower cost than the technology investment.

3. Jumping in to solve the problem too quickly

The continuous process improvement field is attractive to those who are naturally problem-solvers. This can lead them to jump to an immediate solution as their first instinct.

When one’s mind jumps immediately to problem-solving mode:

  • It can be difficult to remain an objective and thoughtful listener throughout stakeholder interviews.
  • It shuts their brain off from absorbing new data or information that could be key to improving understanding of the issue at hand.
  • It potentially narrows thinking around options raised later in the process.
  • It could influence recommendations due to a focus on preconceived notions.

How can we exercise restraint and resist the urge to jump to solutions immediately?

  • Focus on listening and absorbing input without simultaneously analyzing.
  • Ask “why” repeatedly to push for a deeper understanding of the real problem.
  • When ideas come up, document them in a “parking lot” or “holding area” and return to the list after gathering all input.

4. Not building a culture around continuous improvement

No matter how rigorous or exacting a continuous improvement project is, failure is inevitable when the company culture doesn’t support and enable ongoing change suggestions and projects.

Change of any type can cause frustration among employees who believe that “we’ve always done it this way” is the best answer. Change requires commitment and support.

Continuous improvement sees the most significant success when leaders value it as a business culture involving every team member – management, leadership, and employees – and empowers each of them to own that improvement on an ongoing basis.

How can businesses encourage this culture?

  • Keep employees actively involved in process measurement and improvement.
  • Make it easy for employees to suggest changes as part of their daily work process, then respond to those suggestions promptly and without criticism.
  • Make visible commitment part of every senior manager’s responsibility, and ensure they continually speak about why they support the chosen initiatives.
  • Focus on ongoing communication with everyone, explaining how they can suggest changes, how suggestions are evaluated, prioritized, and acted upon, and how current change projects are being rolled out.

Process Improvement is part of everything we do at Thurman Co.

In addition to an in-house culture that thrives on ownership and responsibility throughout our team, we help businesses manage projects to significantly impact their success and growth, and this often includes analyzing and improving processes.

When you’re ready to put your project in the hands of a trusted professional organization, contact us to learn more about working together. 

4 thoughts on “Four common continuous process improvement mistakes and how to avoid them”

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