Your company had high hopes for your continuous improvement project and are surprised to see far fewer results than expected. Management expected the project to deliver solid results against the strategic plan, but the gains were never realized. What went wrong? Sometimes it is not that easy to see the true reasons for a project failure.
Here are ten possible reasons for under-performing continuous improvement projects
- The project was not selected well. Sometimes the project assigned to the improvement team should never have made the cut. Perhaps the selection was a hasty reaction to a recent customer complaint, high-dollar quality failure or process disruption. However, if the problem is not a chronic issue, there might just not be the improvement value that was expected. A data step in the chartering process is essential to prioritize efforts to make sure the projects with the most value are given priority position.
- No champion or weak champion. A champion that is not engaged with the project or lacks the authority to clear away obstacles is of little help to the team. Without proper support, the team can flounder if the most significant root causes are beyond the team’s ability to influence.
- Scope issues. A clear, realistic scope is essential to an effective project charter. Scope too broadly or allow the scope to creep and the team may never find the finish line. Scope too narrowly and the team may be boxed out of the fertile area of improvement.
- Insufficient resource allocation. This can happen if the team was given team members without authority, too few team members or not enough time to devote to the project. Additionally, team members who lack diversity of experience may miss key areas with the most important root causes.
- Bad data. If the data used for analysis is biased or otherwise compromised, you may completely hide the true root cause. The unpredictability of the measurements themselves can rob the project of the precision necessary to diagnose the root causes.
- Confirmation bias. Sometimes teams restrict the analysis of problem symptoms to preconceived pet theories. It is important to collect data on a range of potential root causes to statistically prove which root causes are causing the most pain in the process you are trying to improve.
- Improper data analysis. Poor statistical techniques such as biased sampling plans, tiny data sets, failure to replicate findings, and lack of statistical significance can lend cover to a team looking to confirm a preferred root cause. If a team is relying on graphical analysis without statistical significance testing, it is easy to talk yourself into seeing patterns in data that either can be explained by random chance or are correlations without causation.
- Implementing an unproven solution. Even with a properly diagnosed root cause, a solution chosen without the rigor to test the actual improvement is a risk. In the rush for a completed project, a team can implement a partial or ineffective solution.
- Poor hand-off. If the process improvement team fails to secure buy-in for the solution, or otherwise poorly documents or trains in the improvement, the process owner may fail to fully implement the solution. Ultimately, the solution is proven in concept, but is not implemented in practice.
- Failure to control the new state. The last step in any good project is mistake-proofing against a return to the old process, and monitoring of the improved performance metrics and key root causes to ensure continued solid performance. Skip the controlling steps and risk reverting to old habits and processes that sparked the need for this project in the first place.
The good news is that a strong continuous improvement process with strong executive leadership, effective coaching, thoughtful project selection, and carefully selected team leaders minimizes the chances for these errors. Pervasive training in a problem solving methodology such as Lean Six Sigma is essential to ensure the organization is directionally aligned and understands how to deliver strong results on improvement efforts.
Author: Peter Robustelli
Peter J. Robustelli is Executive Vice President, Client Experience of Juran. Mr. Robustelli possesses over 25 years of diverse experience as a Key Executive in Process and Business Improvement, Consulting, Project Management, Client Management and Business Development. He is an effective, seasoned, hands-on executive who solves business problems and improves operating performance and profitability by integrating organizations, driving process improvement through statistical variation control, and restructuring organizations.
Mr. Robustelli’s primary areas of experience are Executive Leadership, Engagement Management, Change Management, Six Sigma, Lean, Business Process Management, Business Development, Evaluation and Assessment and Service Operations Management. His expertise crosses various industries, including, manufacturing, utilities, government services and transactional settings.