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7 Deadly Sins of Process Improvement (or Change Management)

No-one ever said that Process Improvement was easy but there’s no reason why we have to make quite so hard. By understanding some basic principles it is possible to give ourselves a fighting chance of success. Gerald Weinberg famously said: “No matter what the problem is, it's always a people problem”, so it might make a bit of sense to start looking at some fundamental people problems which are often responsible for thwarting process improvement initiatives or indeed any other kind of organisational change programme.

Typically, when we look at do’s and don’t of Process Improvement or Change Management we focus on tasks, activities and actions which are recognised as good practice. “Run the initiative as a project”, “Obtain visible and effective sponsorship”, and “Communicate, communicate ,communicate” are some of the more popular concepts. But as Peter Leeson suggested at last year’s SEPG conference in Prague, despite understanding what good practices and techniques we should be using, we are still largely failing in our Process Improvement programmes even after 15 or more years.

One of the key issues is that while Process Improvement experts understand the problems, most of the people that they have to deal with don’t, so we need to step back and understand what makes these people tick, and how we need to approach them to help to better understand their roles and to adapt their behaviours to enable change to occur more smoothly.

This posting takes a different approach to the traditional Do’s and Don’ts by looking at key behaviours of people which are often the real reasons why improvement and change programme fails. If we can understand what dysfunctional behaviours to look for, how to spot them in ourselves and others and how to take steps to prevent them from interfering in our process improvement efforts we may be able to eliminate some of the problems which continue to plague us.

The 7 Deadly Sins described here are not the original Biblical sins which don’t translate too well in an SPI context, but are useful monikers to help describe the dysfunctional behaviour we are trying to eliminate. It’s important to appreciate that these terms, which could be considered somewhat emotive, are associated with behaviours, not individuals, although I’m sure we would all be able to recognise these traits in some of the people we have to deal with.
  1. Arrogance - typified by Ivory Tower and Not Invented Here Syndromes, but also failure to use data rather than perceptions and refusing to take internal or external advice. Most likely to affect change agents and teams
  2. Inertia - lack of momentum, analysis paralysis, fear of the unknown. Often associated with weak or ineffective leadership
  3. Ineptitude - using the wrong people with the wrong skills. May be as simple as not defining roles and responsibilities carefully enough, but sometimes due to leadership appointing the wrong people
  4. Impatience - dealing with unrealistic expectations. Specifically associated with executives who want instant results, but can affect all areas of the organisation
  5. Carelessness - failing to focus on the details. Poor planning and poor implementation are often to blame, the devil is in the details
  6. Ignorance - understanding what you don’t know, aligned to the attributes associated with arrogance, but often a common cause of resistance in the end user community
  7. Extravagance - getting carried away. Process Experts, especially from a technical background are just as likely as programmers to gold plate solutions. Senior Management may also play a part in demanding more than the organisation can absorb
We'll examine these sins in more detail in future postings.
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