Business Process Improvement: Why Do Some Lean Projects Fail the Sustainability Test?

Business Process Improvement: Why Do Some Lean Projects Fail the Sustainability Test?

Many Lean project improvements fail because leaders neglect to pay attention to the human side of business process improvement. Change is difficult for many people. This is especially true with long-term employees who feel the way they are doing things is the right way and change is not needed.  They tend to say, “Why fix a wheel that isn’t broken?”  At times, employees who participate in a Project Improvement Week may strategically band together and agree to play along while the team is there but have a predetermined plan to go back to doing things the old way once the team leaves. Paying attention to individuals and their personal resistance to change can go a long way towards diffusing this type of situation.

How do you avoid getting stuck in the trap of having no follow-through from the department and changes that don’t stick? It starts with paying careful attention to the people in the department who are being asked to make the changes.  Have one or more persons who are respected by their peers join the process improvement team.  Having their personal involvement in the decisions about which changes to make is critical to gaining overall buy-in and support from those responsible for implementing and sustaining change initiatives within business process improvement projects.  Ask these leaders to check with their peers to see if they are willing to try the new process.  Ask them to find out what would prevent the department from being able to continue with the new process in the future. Use that information to identify the critical roadblocks and develop strategies to overcome them.

Process improvement changes may take a bit longer in departments with long-term employees. Slowing things down and taking the time initially to work with long-term employees while getting their agreement will be time well spent.  When the project is complete, map out the next six months with a control plan of checks to see how the new process is evolving.  Involve the long-term employees that have bought into the process improvement plan.  Find someone who is on the process improvement team, but not in the department, who is willing to take an hour every month to follow up.  Have them physically go through the department to discuss with employees what is working and not working well. This valuable information can be used to tweak the process.

It’s important for people to be recognized for their efforts to change. Praising people to their managers will mean a lot to them.  Asking a director or VP to do a walk-through in their department to personally review the changes and improvements that they have made is also beneficial.  When a department takes pride in their work and are proud of what they’ve accomplished, they are more likely to follow through with improvements and maintain them.  They may also volunteer for other process improvement projects and start on a path of continual improvement.  Helping people feel good about the work that they do is good management and essential to the Lean process.

Sheree Lavelle is a Six Sigma Black Belt and earned her certification in Lean by successfully completing the Global Production System Japan Gembe Kaizen program in Japan. Sheree has more than 20 years of experience as an Operational Manager in both clinic and hospital settings. Currently, she is president of Lavelle and Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement.


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