person drafting plans for process improvement

Four Myths about Process Improvement…and One Truth You’ve Never Thought About

For years, organizations have pursued process improvement to proactively identify opportunities for cost reduction, quality enhancement, elevated productivity, and to achieve new standards. The industry of process improvement has exploded in size and scope, and has brought with it scores of buzzwords, methodologies, certifications, and associated requirements. Here are four myths that have hitched along for the ride…and one truth that hasn’t, but should have.

MYTH #1: Process Improvement is Slow.

I get it. It’s an advantage for the process improvement practitioner to say that it’ll take a long time to see the improvement, that it’ll take a long time to implement and embed changes, and that you should temper your expectations to match that timeline.

It’s also not true.

Process improvement isn’t slow. What’s slow is the accretion of organizational commitment. If your organization is committed to driving improvement, the change is faster than you may expect. What this means is that instead of expending time and resources on exacting and complex improvement methodologies, many organizations are better served by working on cultural initiatives, aligning the team to set the conditions for a rapid burst of improvement.

MYTH #2: Process Improvement Requires Certification.

Some companies like the idea of highlighting the certifications that their teams are achieving, citing statistics about the training that their people have gone through and the tests that they’ve passed. In fact, most effective process improvements come not from accredited process improvement practitioners, with decades of experience and scores of framed certificates on their walls, but from the day-to-day experts in a particular process.

The people who do the work generally know the work…and they can nearly always see ways to improve it. Providing a collaborative, respectful environment for those subject matter experts to drive that improvement is a key component of any organizational excellence commitment, and relying upon their expertise is a great way to build cohesion in the team and across the organization.

MYTH #3: Process Improvement Must be Statistically Validated.

As our business culture has embraced the power of big data and data-driven decision-making, we’ve inadvertently empowered the leader who’s afraid of challenging the status quo. Leaders can now lean on the tenet that an improvement hasn’t been ‘proven’ yet, and therefore, isn’t worthy of being implemented. ‘We don’t have enough data yet,’ they say, implying that the answer is in a spreadsheet or a statistical test somewhere.

Clearly, there are instances in which statistical rigor is required – astronauts shouldn’t be relying on ‘close enough!’ But for the vast majority of organizations, directionally correct information is sufficient to make decisions. Whether a statistical observation carries 5% risk of being wrong or 10% risk is often immaterial – and is almost always swallowed up by the opportunity cost of the time to drive that additional statistical rigor.

MYTH #4: Process Improvement Causes Discord.

When organizations talk about process improvement, they often think quickly about the need to integrate the ‘change management folks,’ as though, even before the improvement effort is underway, there will be resistance and disagreement.

We’ve found that this isn’t a reflection of the idea of improvement, though. Instead, it’s indicative of a culture that’s missing empowerment, transparency, or authenticity. It’s a sign that the improvement is being pushed on people, instead of relying on their expertise, their insight, and their perspective. Great process improvements shouldn’t be divisive – they should be invigorating.

SURPRISING TRUTH: You’re Already Doing It.

If you’ve ever held a meeting to solve a problem, if you’ve ever stood in a checkout line at the grocery store and said, ‘they should open another register,’ or if you’ve ever changed the way your closet is arranged, you’re already starting down the path of process improvement. What differentiates the teams that embrace process improvement from those who do not isn’t the skillsets of the team members or even the existence of a Center of Excellence, a PMO, or a Quality department. Instead, it’s a cultural embrace of the idea that, ‘a better way exists.’

At Propulo, we partner with companies that embrace the idea of a better way, helping them to unlock the ability to drive effective, efficient, employee-driven, and empowering change, generating tangible business results and enhancing organizational cohesion. If you’re interested in driving improvement, not bureaucracy, we’d love to discuss how our innovative ‘People and Process’ approach can help.


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