The Achilles Heel of Process Improvement
Process improvement is a noble and critical skill within any organization, and it's important to know its limitation. Leadership and learning expert Kevin Eikenberry identifies a danger when focusing too closely on process improvement.
From a fairly early stage in my career I have been involved in process improvement activities. While at Chevron in the early 1990`s, I served as a Quality Training Consultant teaching organizations, among other things, process improvement tools. The goal of the training and the efforts overall were to improve quality, reduce waste and take existing work processes and make them better.
These ideas certainly didn`t start at Chevron.
Experts, notably W. Edwards Deming, have long used statistical analysis and process improvement tools to transform Japanese companies and eventually the entire economy. It was from this transformational success that American companies began looking to process improvement in the 1980s and beyond.
I have enormous belief in process improvement. There is no question that process improvement (and it`s more current cousin Six Sigma) can create massive improvements and efficiencies in any business.
But, like anything else, its great strengths are counterbalanced by a weakness that too often goes unnoticed.
Let me explain with a hypothetical example:
Imagine in the 1980s, when process improvement was really starting to catch on in the United States that the leading maker of pay phones decided that process improvement was the key to the company`s future.
They invested heavily in training and support for process improvement methodologies. And, as they hoped, they found major improvements in their key work processes.
These improvements reduced costs, improved efficiencies and added money to the bottom line. . . for awhile.
With the advantage of hindsight, we now know what happened to our imaginary company. They got better, more efficient and produced a better pay phone than anyone, but soon no one was buying them because everyone had a cell phone.
And THAT is the Achilles heel of process improvement.
Process improvement skills are wonderful, but even the very best process improvement experts often don`t ask a fundamental question:
Do we need this process at all? Or, even more importantly, should we be doing something entirely different to start with?
Once we are sure this is a valuable and needed work process, we should definitely work to refine and improve it. But these skills alone don`t automatically lead us to ask that fundamental question.
Just as using all of your leg muscles in unison gives you better results (and doesn`t injure your Achilles tendon), using all the tools of process improvement is important, but those skills alone can`t lift your business to the highest heights by themselves.
It is your responsibility as a leader to use these tools intelligently, supporting your teams in using them, and ALSO asking if the time calls for a breakthrough or the creation of something new instead of the ongoing refinement of what exists.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Remarkable leaders know that process improvement is important, and support it within their organization. Leading both process and project improvement is one of the skills in the Remarkable Leadership Learning System - a one skill at a time, one month at a time approach to becoming a more confident and successful leader. Get two complimentary months of that unique system as part of my Most Remarkable Free Leadership Gift Ever today at http://MostRemarkableFreeLeadershipGiftEver.com. Kevin is a bestselling author, speaker, trainer, consultant and the Chief Potential Officer of the Kevin Eikenberry Group.