How Do You Engage, Involve, and Motivate Employees?

Any Lean or performance-improvement initiative cannot survive on tools alone. Leaders must cultivate learning environments and develop the shared values that serve as the foundation for  dynamic culture. This month, Janis Allen and Mike McCarthy published an interesting book called How to Engage, Involve, and Motivate Employees: Building a Culture of Lean Leadership and Two-Way Communication that shows just how important it is to motivate and excite employees to take ownership of their roles.

When I spoke with Mike recently, I asked him, "Why do current employee-engagement programs fall short?” Here is his complete answer:

When asked, “Do you have an employee engagement program?” many managers answer, “Sure! Look at these engagement survey scores.” Beware! Quite often, people tell us what we want to hear on engagement surveys. If you really want to know about engagement, gemba gembutsu (go to the shop floor and see for yourself). Ask questions. Ask operators what ideas they have for improving the work. Then: 1. listen, and 2. help them test their ideas. You are now engaging people in improving their own work.

“Engagement” is a noun. Nouns are names of objects. Engage is a verb. Verbs are action. So, instead of asking your company’s managers “Do you have engagement?” say “Let’s go walk the shop floor and engage with our operators by asking what improvements they are making.” It’s the difference between saying “I have a stapler,” (the name of the object sitting on the desk doing nothing) and saying “I’m stapling these papers” (stapling is a verb, action, and you are doing something).

Engaged = observable actions by employees working on improvements. So, when a visitor comes into your workplace and asks, “Are your employees engaged?” say, “Let’s go talk to them. Then you tell me.” Take that visitor to the work area and introduce him to an employee. Say, “Allie, would you show our visitor the changes the team made on the shop floor?” If your employees can do this, they are actively engaged. The purpose of engaging employees is to inspire them to make improvements they can be proud of.

Survey Scores Vs. Go Engage. My new automobile monitors oil level, tire pressure, and other indicators electronically. I get an email with a link once a month that shows me if the tire pressure etc. has been low during the past month. What’s wrong with this picture? After all, I “have” a tire pressure report. Here’s what’s wrong: If I’m about to go on a long trip, I need to know right now if the tire pressure is low. I need to go to the garage (gemba gembutsu) and measure the psi in my tires by pressing (action verb) my tire pressure gauge to each valve stem and see for myself. When your focus is on a measurement tool rather than the actions you want, you get off track. If you steadily gazed at the speedometer while driving, you’d run off the road!

“What do you want me to say, Boss?” Many employees don’t tell the truth on engagement surveys; they say what they think management expects them to say. And in case this so-called anonymous survey isn’t really anonymous, who wants to be the one who says, “I’m not engaged?” This is another reason survey data is not an accurate indicator of actual engagement.

At an airline departure gate, we heard the announcement, “Please complete our customer survey when you receive the email. We want you to rate us a five, not a four. Five is alive; four is out the door. Ha ha. Just to help you remember to rate us a five, we have this basket of snacks here on the counter for you. Help yourselves. It’s not a bribe or anything.”

We saw a half-dozen people help themselves to the snacks. We wonder how many completed the survey, and even if they all rated the airline “Five is alive,” if it was an accurate indicator of their customer experience, whether they would fly with that airline again, and what they tell their colleagues about that airline. Often, people say what they think someone wants to hear. Why not? The person giving the score has nothing to lose. So beware of surveys. People have all kinds of wrong motives for the ratings they give.

Leaders can show people how they can take actions to make improvements they can be proud of. You can help them to do it. The most important results for your organization are the real actions taken to make improvements. But a positive side-effect of those engagement actions is that answers on engagement surveys will also improve. The survey improvement will be based on employees’ actions, their good results, and the satisfying feeling of being on a team. With action-focused engagement, your survey results will be based on actions and their real experience, not just words! And your company will be growing and prospering. 

Does your company have an employee-engagement program? Does it commit many of the mistakes Mike McCarthy mentioned here?


Is the Hoshin Kanri Forest More Effective than the Traditional Hoshin Kanri?

Many companies involved in Lean initiatives know the effectiveness of Hoshin Kanri as a policy-deployment methodology. It ensures that an organization's clear strategic goals drive progress and action at every level within that company and it incentivizes proper behavior.

Earlier this year, Javier Villalba-Diez published a book that expands on the concept called The Hoshin Kanri Forest: Lean Strategic Organizational Design. In this book, Javier introduces a theory called the Hoshin Kanri Forest that considers organizations as networks with organizational structure, functional connectivity, and effective dynamic patterns for attaining an optimal strategic organizational design towards the strategic goal of Lean management. I had a chance recently to speak with Javier about his book, and I asked him “What makes the Hoshin Kanri Forest methodology different and more effective than traditional Hoshin Kanri?” Here is his answer:

The crucial finding (there are others) of Hoshin Kanri Forest, and what makes it more effective than traditional Hoshin Kanri methodologies, is that it embeds complexity within the organizational design configuration. For the first time in Lean history, Lean practitioners have a model that enables them to embrace complexity in the management system.

Traditional Hoshin Kanri approaches aim to create alignment throughout the organization by coordinating several organizational units. This is typically done by describing a Hoshin (long-term goal) and cascading or deploying this goal throughout the organization (usually through some sort of problem-solving empowerment methodology). The problems with this approach, which is very deterministic and regular, pops up when complexity arises and the matrix-like thinking is no longer able to cope with the complexity associated usually to product or environmental variability.

To picture an example, the average path length (the number of managers information needs to touch to get from one manager to another in average) of a matrix organization of N=800 managers equals 100. This means that in average, to transmit a message/management order from any given node to any other, we would need 100 steps. The Hoshin Kanri Forest introduces the standardization of business communication through (CPD)nA (which is a developed form of the traditional current-state / target-state based PDCA). By doing so, the Hoshin Kanri Forest is able to create forest-like organizational networks that present several important topological advantages as compared with traditional organizational design configurations.

In the previous example, the APL of a Hoshin Kanri Forest organization is typically APL=ln(ln(N) which for N=800 managers equals APL=1,9!!! This is a 50-fold increase in performance than the traditional design configuration! With the same organization, with the same people, the Hoshin Kanri Forest changes the organizational design to enable the organization to compute complexity. In addition, the Hoshin Kanri Forest shows why methodologies such as Kata do not provide the necessary tool set to compute organizational complexity. But to find out more detail about this and other advantages of Hoshin Kanri Forest, you will need to read the book! ;-) You can visit the book´s website for more information: www.hoshinkanriforest.com

Here is a video of Javier explaining the differences between traditional Hoshin Kanri and the Hoshin Kanri Forest:


What are Current Leader-Development Systems Lacking?

This month, David Veech published a very interesting new book called Leadersights: Creating Great Leaders Who Create Great Workplaces. This book addresses an important need: How organizations can create a leader-development system that defines, builds, and reinforces critical leader behaviors. When I had the chance to speak with David about his book, I asked him: What is the biggest problem with current leader-development systems and how can they be improved? He provided an insightful answer:

I'm not sure there are problems with leader-development systems that would threaten the livelihood of organizations, but as with everything else in our continuous-improvement community, there are always parts we can improve. I’ve centered and focused on a couple of areas, and I’ve tried to simplify things a bit as I try to communicate with people about becoming better leaders.

After years of studying the Toyota Production System and other companies that demonstrate consistent success, specifically those profiled in Jim Collins’ books Good to Great and Great by Choice, I have come to believe that the key features of any leader-development program must be built on a platform of servant leadership. I get a lot of agreement with this from people, but there are lots of pieces to becoming an effective servant leader.

The most significant of these pieces is the structure of the workplace. If we have an organization structure that is based on traditional, functional silos, and one that bases compensation of the accomplishment of self-set goals, that structure forces leaders into a particularly results-oriented focus, regardless of their personal leadership style preferences. The system affects their leadership behavior. When a leader assumes a new role, the subtle (or not-so-subtle) competitive pressures implied by the results-oriented system force that leader, out of self-preservation, to either undo what previous leaders have done, or make a change that has their fingerprints on it so they can stand out a bit from the crowd. In most organizations, leaders rotate through key positions moderately frequently (sometimes as little as 18 months between roles), and they get conditioned to this kind of activity even though personally they may be humble and very people-oriented. Lean helps because we try to change the work structures for better performance, and because we focus on the development of people as the primary outcome.

Changing the fundamental structure of the conventional organization is a large undertaking, so I have tried to outline something of a more subversive approach than blowing things up and rebuilding from the rubble. We’ll need to first identify what behaviors are truly important to us as a workplace. Empathy. Listening. Encouraging. Correcting. Coaching. These we describe and operationalize in our statement of corporate values, which with our vision and mission set out our operating philosophy. Then we tie these to performance appraisals and bonus compensation. These are hard to measure, so this is a leap of faith for most workplaces. More importantly though, we must have systems and leaders who model and teach these behaviors, and as with other skills we want to develop, these need to be set out in the leaders’ standardized work. I think this might be the biggest departure from what most of us talk about when we describe leaders’ standardized work. Where most of us use this tool as a checklist and reminder of the key things we must complete daily, weekly, and monthly, we don’t articulate how to be empathetic; how to listen; how to encourage. I think we can fix this be setting out standardized work for these types of skills and reinforcing these skills through frequent coaching as a task within Short-Interval Leadership. 

Ultimately, leaders only need to do three things: Decide to love, continue to learn, and let go of the control they think they have over the workplace. Those skills I mentioned are all components of these three decisions/actions/ habits. These allow us to integrate various leadership styles in our daily work, including the “go out and get noticed” piece that I call “connecting”. But I have to take this back to the structure conversation. Without key changes in the way we describe, hire, evaluate, and compensate leaders; and without key changes in how the work is structured in the workplace away from batch-and-queue, lots of handoffs, and transaction-driven and toward flow, it will be very difficult to build these types of leaders for the future.  

What type of leadership-development system exists in your organization?  What are the major factors affecting your leaders' behaviors?


The Training Within Industry (TWI) Programs -- Are You Using Them Correctly?

An important new book by Donald Dinero just recently hit the streets titled The TWI Facilitator's Guide: How to Use the TWI Programs Successfully. In it, Don explains how practitioners of TWI (Training Within Industry) often alter the programs without understanding the underlying principles. These changes, he contends, have made the programs less effective. During a recent conversation with Don, I asked him specifically: "How have the TWI Programs been recently misused?" Here is his complete answer:

The TWI “J” Programs have many success stories -- those recorded both in the initial period of 1940-1945 and also in the contemporary period after they had been re-introduced. On the other hand, there have been instances in which the TWI Programs have not achieved their intended objectives giving people the idea that “TWI won’t work in our facility because we’re different.” If the TWI Programs are not yielding the intended results, they are not being used properly. Here are some ideas about how these programs are misused which subsequently leads to their being ineffective.

Each of the TWI Programs teaches a skill and each skill is learned for a specific purpose. Just in Time (JIT) teaches us how to transfer knowledge. Job Methods Training (JMT) teaches us how to see waste and improve a process. Job Relations Training (JRT) teaches us how to effectively prevent and deal with personnel issues. For a given program to be seen as useful, the problem that it addresses must first be identified, defined, and quantified. If this is not done, we won’t know whether or not we have achieved what we set out to achieve.

Another area of misuse is when people underestimate the effort and time required to master the skill necessary for the program’s proper use. Outwardly, each program is simple because it is represented by a four-step method. Many practitioners do not realize that it usually takes many hours to fully understand and get a “feel” for how to use each program. Attending a 10-hour session will introduce you to the concepts and methods of each program, but it takes many hours afterward to gain mastery of each program.

A third area of misuse is when practitioners attempt to change a program either to improve it or to have it fit a time schedule or some other parameter. The programs were designed to fit people’s needs and as those needs change, the founders believed the programs should also change. A key point here is that there are some principles in the programs that should not be changed unless society’s behavior changes. Ignoring these principles leads to their being ineffective.

What do you think of Don's thoughts on the misuse of the TWI programs? What have been your experiences when implementing TWI?


Common Misconceptions About Building a Supply Chain

I recently had a very informative phone conversation with William T. Walker, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, about his most-recent book, Supply Chain Construction: The Basics for Networking the Flow of Material, Information, and Cash. During our conversation, I asked Bill: “What are the most common misconceptions about building a supply chain?” Here is his full response:

At the highest level, there are two broad misconceptions about building a supply chain. First, there are businesses that see no need to build or renovate their supply chain. Let me give a few examples from former work colleagues:

One just left his employer to start a computer consulting company. Why would a service company startup need a supply chain? The answer is that third-party relationships, forecasting, planning, matching customer demand with service supply, cash-to-cash velocity, and delivery lead time are each basic supply chain considerations. 

Another colleague just traveled to Shenzhen, China to observe the pilot run at a new contract manufacturer making a new family of products. The parent company is small, engineering focused, and has a limited understanding of the operations side of the business. Why should they care about a supply chain? Won't the contract manufacturer will take care of it? The answer is that demand planning, inventory investment, process variability, and intellectual property protection each depend upon the relationship between the basic supply chain network design and the product design. 

And a third friend recently moved to Texas to establish a cross-border distribution center for product manufactured in Mexico. This was explained to me as just a simple cost-reduction exercise; how is this so important in a supply chain context? The answer is that landed cost, import/export compliance, risk management, information connectivity, and performance metrics are each basic supply chain operational imperatives. Such demand life-cycle events and supply life-cycle events often collide triggering the need to renovate or build a new supply chain.

My book, Supply Chain Construction: The Basics for Networking the Flow of Material, Information, and Cash, presents the supply chain from three basic perspectives. The network container is first. This is the set of trading partner relationships, information transactions, and cash processes that connect from raw materials to the end customer. The product contents are second. These are the locations of inventory items and SKUs across the network that supports product delivery. The matching of demand and supply is third. This is the consideration of push versus pull, capacity constraints, and/or dynamic pricing to operate flexibly and risk tolerantly under both small order and large order conditions.

A second broad misconception is among business organizations that understand the need for a supply chain but think only in terms of their most immediate suppliers and customers. A competitive supply chain is fully integrated and multi-echelon. The detailed blueprint presented in my book sequences the basics of how to build a competitive end-to-end supply chain. It explains how to budget price/landed cost from raw materials to the end customer. The book explains how to calculate inventory turns upstream and downstream. And it presents the concept of a Value Circle to tie together multi-echelon performance measures.

What do you think of Bill's response?  What other misconceptions in regard to building an effective supply chain do you think are worth noting?


Global Lean -- When the Gemba is All Over the World

For many organizations, manufacturing processes were once contained within specific areas and defined locations, and most managers and supervisors could see and observe the entire work area -- the gemba -- by merely taking a walk.

Currently, however, with globalization, many manufacturing processes have been dispersed over thousands of miles, across oceans, and different time zones. Sam Yankelevitch, in his new book -- Global Lean: Seeing the New Waste Rooted in Communication, Distance, and Culture -- demonstrates how to use Lean thinking to uncover and reduce waste in the interactions required in today's global organizations.

During a recent conversation with Sam Yankelevitch, I asked him: "To succeed globally, what are the substantially new obstacles organization now face?"

Here is his response:

Many companies try to copy and paste the success they’ve had in their natural, local environments when they expand their operations internationally. My experience managing global companies, has shown me otherwise and, in my new book, I’ve tried to share some key items companies and their leaders should be aware of to avoid financial losses.

As the title of the book suggests, communication, distance and culture should be taken seriously. Just labeling these factors as “soft” will not make them go away. “Soft” can have very “hard” impact on your execution and results. A positive point is that Lean thinking applies just as well to reducing or removing these obstacles.

Starting with distance, this is a factor that is related to trust and cause and effect. It is hard enough to establish trust with some of the local stakeholders and being physically separated also creates a mental distance. Furthermore, when cause and effect happen with a longer interval,  problems might not be easy to solve because the source is tough to pinpoint.

Culture is, of course, a very abstract topic, but it affects the way your requests and expectations are perceived by someone outside of your normal circle. One point is sure:  “our way” is not always the best way or the only way when dealing with people from a different culture.

And then there’s communication. Distance and culture are of course factors that influence how a message is sent and received. But it is evident that because communication precedes action, it’s best to figure out how to do this effectively across continents to improve your chances of success.

Success in the past can sometimes turn out to be a big obstacle because circumstances that helped and hastened success previously have significantly changed. It's important for leaders to see new situations in a new light and not be trapped by routine.

Here's a short video of Sam Yankelevitch speaking about the topics covered in his new book:


Manufacturing... It's Not Just About Production Anymore

Frederick Parker published a book titled Strategy + Teamwork = Great Products: Management Techniques for Manufacturing Companies, and it's quite different from most books on manufacturing in that its primary focus is not production -- Parker emphasizes techniques for excelling in engineering design, marketing strategies, and customer service inside a manufacturing company. He posits that managing a successful manufacturing company in the current competitive global economy requires teamwork between the those disciplines -- It is no longer enough just to be efficient on the production floor. 

Recently, I spent a few minutes speaking with Frederick and asked him why he took this approach when writing this book. Here is his complete answer:

I always viewed management as an art form and tried to perfect it. During my 40 years in leadership roles, I saw many dramatic changes in manufacturing and realized that the old techniques do not work anymore. We need new thinking and new approaches to manufacturing management in the 21st century. There are several reasons for requiring that: the rapid changes in technology, outsourcing of nonessential processes or components, automation, Lean manufacturing, and supply chain management. There are books written about all of these new trends, but my book is unique because it combines all of them into an overall strategy and concludes with this thought: 

Historically the most important task of manufacturing executives was to make the production floor efficient. In a modern manufacturing company, the emphasis must be changed into fostering teamwork among manufacturing, engineering, and marketing because these areas are now the center of profit. The importance of manual labor in the cost of the product is diminished. The cost and quality is determined by the design for manufacturability and the cooperation and teamwork between the manufacturing staff functions.

When I became CEO, I quickly realized what a difference leadership makes in the success or failure of a company. Leadership has changed in the 21st century. The old autocratic ways of management are dead. The management staff has to work as a team and CEOs must listen to them when they set goals. Current executives are much more highly educated and most are specialists in their field.  If you set goals for them that are too high they will not even try to achieve them. Attainable goals is one of the principles in my book. 

Manufacturing strategies in the book include outsourcing, investment in automation, continuous improvement, training and team building. These are the modern tools of manufacturing executives. 

You cannot expect to hire people from different backgrounds and different company cultures to work together as a team without guidance. My book describes various techniques for building your own company culture and fostering teamwork. I hope that documenting my experiences and the techniques that I developed and successfully implemented will help manufacturing executives to be more effective in their jobs. 


What Makes a Systemic Approach to Management More Effective and Appropriate for Current Organizations?

“But can you see the big picture?” That might be the most important question currently asked of leaders within organizations. 

An engaging new book that just hit the market, Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization maintains that many organizations are still very much trapped in an outdated paradigm of silos, fragmentation, conflicts, and a zero-sum game, and their leaders end up creating unhealthy corporate cultures through outdated thinking. 

I recently spoke with Domenico Lepore, Angela Montgomery, and Giovanni Siepe -- the authors of this book -- and asked them: What makes a systemic approach to management more effective and appropriate for current organizations? Here is their complete answer: 

When we begin to see that the everyday tasks of business are all connected at a deeper level, then we begin to see the power that those actions can have for a much bigger picture. And for that we need a “Theory of Everything for Management.” 

For decades now, people have been hearing about ideas such as the “butterfly effect” where the notion is that small causes can lead to big effects. This is just one evocative example of what we may call non-linear reality. In other words, we have come to understand the world in a radically different way to how we understood it one hundred years ago. Back then, the kind of mechanistic models that came from Newtonian thinking were applied directly to labor and production. Everything could be safely divided up into separate boxes and commanded from on high through a vertical hierarchy. That is why organizations were created with levels of command and separate departments. They even had to adapt accounting methods to report on this box-like “reality”. 

Today, instead, science has been telling us for some time that reality is non-linear and that we must understand new models based on complexity and that means understanding interdependencies and networks. So what does that mean for business? We need only look at the global crises we have been living through to see that a huge shift is happening and that many failures are due to a lack of understanding of how reality actually works today. It is no longer adequate or appropriate to divide organizations up into functions/silos that have difficulty talking to each other and that squabble over budgets. Not only do we need to see organizations as whole systems, we must work with whole supply chains, and beyond that, to how organizations impact all their stakeholders and their environments. 

 In Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization, we describe a “Theory of Everything for Management” based on the work of W. Edwards Deming and the Theory of Constraints. These combined bodies of knowledge provide all the philosophy, method and tools for managing in our age of complexity. We explain organizations at their most fundamental level, how to see them as systems and how to organize work as a flow through a pattern of all designed interdependencies to satisfy a common goal. When we talk about work in any organization, essentially we are talking about processes and projects. We describe an effective way to design those processes and manage projects successfully in a systemic way with Critical Chain Project Management. 

Change is a challenging process and we dedicate an entire chapter to it. We need to understand the human needs and the cognitive leap it takes to work in an organization fit for the 21st century, with no artificial barriers and that engenders the desire to continuously improve and innovate. Working in a systemic organization means constantly working on the cognitive challenges, overcoming conflicts as they arise and strengthening the emotional intelligence required to live with uncertainty. We provide details on the Thinking Process Tools from the Theory of Constraints that provide the support for the new skills – cognitive, creative, emotional and logical – needed to keep pace with rapidly evolving markets. 

We show how change can be also highly positive for those who work systemically, eradicating unnecessary barriers and tasks, creating opportunities for real empowerment and self-development, and finding more unity between who we are as people and what we do on a day to day basis. Thinking and acting systemically means having a practical way to overcome the zero-sum game that keeps business stuck in the win-lose mindset that has caused so much havoc in the markets and can only lead to more polarization. Working systemically is all about finding win-win solutions upon which we can build sustainable prosperity, for ourselves, our customers, our suppliers and all the stakeholders. 

Everything moves so fast now. Executive heads are rolling for not knowing how to cope in our new digital era. In spite of all the shifts happening, including the digital challenge in particular, most business schools continue to teach pretty much the same things as 50 years ago with a few new programs added on. We dedicate a whole section of the book to outline a program for business schools that is up to date for our era of complexity, from strategy to accounting.


Pascal Dennis' New Book -- Andy & Me and the Hospital -- Addresses Healthcare Challenges

One of the top Lean thinkers and coaches, Pascal Dennis, just published a compelling new novel titled Andy & Me and the Hospital: Further Adventures on the Lean Journey . Continuing the story established in his Shingo Prize-winning book Andy & Me, this latest book shows how Tom Papas and his sensei, Andy Saito, face perhaps their greatest challenge yet – a major New York City hospital.

I had the chance recently to ask Pascal some questions, so I’ll reproduce them here followed by his answers:

Why continue the story of Tom and Andy in a hospital/healthcare setting?

Health care represents Lean’s "undiscovered country." In fact, I spend much of my time coaching senior health care executives. In the book, Tom Papas calls health care a "dark realm" – full of risk, but also full of opportunity. If we don't get health care right, it could bankrupt us. But if Lean thinking and methods take root here, we’ll greatly improve people’s lives.

Given Tom and Andy’s background in manufacturing, how can they function in a major hospital?

Every industry entails a series of processes. Health care value streams, for example, typically begin with Registration and conclude with Discharge with various process flows in between. 

Flow depends on standards, connections and pathways – which Tom and Andy are adept at seeing. Their challenge is to learn the language, technology and culture of healthcare, and to translate Lean thinking and methods in a way that’s understandable and motivating for hospital leaders and team members. Translation is a central theme. What does Flow mean for an Emergency Department? What does Quality in the Process mean for an Operating Room or a Pharmacy? What does Strategy Deployment mean for a major hospital?

Why this book in particular?

I want to answer some basic questions. What does a Lean transformation in a hospital feel like? What overall approach should we take? What kind of leadership and behavior change is needed? How do we develop and engage people? How do we improve processes? How do we build a management system? How do we translate what Deming called the "profound system of knowledge"? 

At the same time, I want to provide a clear and simple guide to Toyota thinking and methods, how they fit together, and the spirit that animates them.

Why a sequel to Andy & Me?

Readers seem to connect with Tom and Andy. For me, they’re real people with problems, doubts and weaknesses. Transformation is hard, life is hard. Tom and Andy struggle with difficult problems and they only partially succeed. But that makes all the difference. Another of the book’s core themes is that the sensei has to grow and change, just as much as the deshi. Tom and Andy’s journey and relationship are hopefully a useful metaphor. 

For those who have read Andy & Me and the Hospital: Further Adventures on the Lean Journey: Feel free to post your comments.


Why Process-Improvement Initiatives Can Fail

An insightful new book titled The Basics of Process Improvement by Tristan Boutros and Jennifer Cardella just recently hit the streets. Process improvement, as most know, can be quite a complex topic, but this book shows organizations how to achieve success by fixing basic operational issues and problems using a broad and wide-sweeping process-based toolkit. 

I recently had an enlightening talk with Tristan, and I asked him: What causes many process-improvement initiative to fail? Here is his response:  

In the current economy, many process and quality organizations are looking for opportunities to elevate their departments to become true business enablers. Unfortunately, even the most sought-after business process improvement projects can fail. Here are four common reasons that these efforts fail: 

1. Lack of Management Support - Regardless of organizational size, attempting to initiate a process improvement effort without clear and publicized support from management can make improvement efforts challenging. As process improvement projects are often difficult, reinforcement from management that improvements are necessary and appreciated is critical to any team's success. 

2. Organizational Resistance – In many organizations, corporate culture can also make process improvement efforts difficult. Given the fact that process improvement efforts have the potential to uncover individual or system weakness, or even departmental challenges, it’s common to find resistance when improvement efforts are undertaken. 

3. Lack of Involvement or Representation – Improving a process without ensuring that all of those with a vested interest are represented during the effort is sure to bring hurdles. All stakeholders from each part of the process should be invited to participate, as end-to-end understanding is needed to properly make recommendations for improvement. 

4. Overemphasis on Technology - Although technology is playing a larger and larger role in process improvement efforts, the outcomes need not be about technology at all. In many cases, simple training, activity, or culture improvements are all that is required. Properly leveraging technology in ways that optimize a process is key towards true improvement. 

In any environment, taking slow and deliberate steps towards improvement can help ensure your project is a success. Ensuring leadership endorsement in place, being inclusive, ensuring your projects consider all areas of improvement, not just technology, while also ensuring the importance of your project is communicated throughout the organization can make all of the difference.  

I'd surely like to hear from those who have lead or participated in a process-improvement initiative and have stalled because of particular problems. Were they like those that Tristan described?