Friday, 6 September 2013

7 Deadly Sins of Process Improvement/Change - #4 Impatience

Whilst sin number two in my list is Inertia, sin number four is almost the opposite; Impatience, the state of restless eagerness. Typically this is a management problem but it can also stem from within a change team, or individuals caught up in the excitement of a change, or even in desperation for a change to the existing status quo. I have seen many change programmes wound down or cancelled because of management impatience for results, and many others fail because of impatience in change teams and sponsors, leading to insufficient preparation and planning and ploughing ahead with invalid assumptions, requirements and solutions.


Failing to Meet Expectations

Failure to meet expectations have been implicated in project termination since projects began and business change initiatives seem to be more susceptible than most. There are two main problems with expectations. The first is the issue of unrealistic expectations which is generally an executive induced problem. The second is more about invisible results which is down to the change team.

In fact both issues are everyone’s problem so there’s an example of how apportioning blame is fairly useless in resolving the problem. What is really required is a collaborative approach to set realistic expectations in the first place, and then deliver incrementally against those expectations to demonstrate that progress is being made.

If that smacks of an agile approach, I make no apologies - although I would rather keep to the more traditional terminology and call it an "incremental approach".  Critical to this approach is the need for executives to ask the right questions during progress reviews and not allow themselves to be fobbed off with what the change team wants to tell them. When initiative leaders start to believe their own hype in an attempt to make things look better than they are, the whole improvement cycle goes into a tailspin and there will be fatalities! It's really important not to rely on common project measures like schedule and cost performance indicators, especially during the implementation or roll-out phases of an improvement programme. Mindsets won't change according to an arbitrary project schedule!

Return On Investment

Return on investment in process improvement doesn’t happen overnight, and may not be demonstrable for months or even years. The fact is that changing, documenting or even publishing processes doesn’t achieve process improvement. People achieve process improvement, and that requires behaviour change which, as any parent knows, can be a pretty drawn out affair.

In the worst case I've seen, a six months into a major SPI initiative, a senior executive gave a centralised process improvement group in the US five weeks to demonstrate significant improvement against the bottom line otherwise they would be disbanded, and there would be no further central process improvement initiatives undertaken. What the executive failed to recognise was that the main reason the improvements weren't meeting his expectations was because his colleagues were not supporting them. He was delegating full responsibility and accountabilty to the change team but without providing them with the executive sponsorship required to enable the initiatives to succeed.

Acting on Perception

Impatience for results can often lead to a situation where the wrong areas of the organisation become the subject for unnecessary change, resulting in critical things being left unchanged, and perfectly good processes being modified to fix and incorrect perception.

Laws to Overcome Impatience

1st Law - Work with your stakeholders to set and agree realistic expectations

2nd Law - Keep stakeholders informed about tangible progress by using measures they can understand

3rd Law - Break down big initiatives into smaller projects with clear deliverables

4th Law - Develop process measures that can demonstrate improvement

5th Law - Improving the business is everyone's responsibility not just that of the change team

5th Law - Fix what actually matters not what you think matters

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