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Avoid common points of failure for process improvement rollout

Image by Hiroshi Kimura

Have you been part of a successful value stream transformation or process redesign workshop where the right solutions were reached - but somehow, the team still failed to successfully roll out the new value stream or process across the enitre organization?

It is quite common to find work teams design new processes, but fail at successfully rolling out the new process across a large organization due to bad planning and execution.

Here are some of the common pitfalls to avoid

Unclear Purpose

When leading improvements, it is a common mistake to assume that everyone understands why a process needs to change. Often, leaders and people doing the work are not clear as to what is causing the change. Why is improvement needed in the first place?

It is critical to start by clearly defining the problem. What is the gap and why does it need to be fixed?

Getting clear about the gap and defining it in terms of numbers (KPIs, metrics) helps people understand why the improvement is needed in the first place.

Make a compelling business case “we need to reduce/increase <measurement> from X to Y because…” to help people understand what’s the driver for change. Is it customer experience, financial, morale, market share, or something else?

Create a process improvement charter that clearly lists what, why, who, and when of making the change. Before commencing the project, socialize the project charter with key stakeholders, so they clearly understand and support the purpose, goals, and measurable target conditions of the improvement you are trying to achieve.


Poor Engagement 

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) across all functional areas impacting, or being impacted by, the process should be actively engaged in the improvement initiative. Otherwise, the new process roll out will fail as the SMEs will view the new changes/improvement as being invalid.

Cast your net broadly to get a cross-functional holistic view of the process or value stream. Include all upstream suppliers and downstream customers of the process. Don’t miss out on any function or role that impacts, or is impacted by, the process being improved.

The process improvement charter lists the SMEs who will be engaged in the improvement initiative. Socializing project charter with the leadership team ensures that all relevant functional areas are represented in understanding the current state and designing the future improved state of the process.


Poor Documentation

After you’ve got all the hard work done in socializing a clear purpose, getting the right SMEs involved, using the right problem-solving tools and techniques to have the new improvement in place for roll out – now what do you do?

This is where good process documentation becomes critical. It is quite common to see the teams going through all the hard work of designing a new process that is either:

  • Not properly documented, 

  • Not easily accessible to users, 

  • Not used effectively for onboarding new hires, or

  • Not updated and maintained as a living document for future improvements to be made. 


When starting with a new client, it is very common to see that they have either:

  • Zero processes documented, 

  • All processes documented and only 10% - 20% are kept current, or

  • A few processes are documented in functional silos that seem to be doing better than others. 


It is unrealistic to expect people to do high-performing work without having clearly documented processes that show them how to do the work well.

We recommend having a standard documentation format across the entire company – or start with one division which then mushrooms across the enterprise.


Poor Communication & Training

Some people believe that if they just tell someone to do something differently, it will stick. It doesn’t work that way – that’s not how the human brain works.

Lack of clear understanding is a common point of failure in rolling out a new process – in which training and communication are linked.

To follow a new process, people need to be clear why it's needed, who was involved to get the new process right, is it really an improvement or just a change. It must be documented effectively, concisely, and visually for them to learn the new process steps – especially when a process is not performed frequently, or the organization has high turnover or excessive temporary staff. 

Communicating verbally at a town hall, or a department meeting, followed by communicating the changes via email is a good idea. But, simply telling and emailing is a common point of failure when rolling out new standard work, as people have poor retention skills, and some don’t bother to open their emails.

In addition to communicating, training is a must – and this is again where some organizations fail. 

Training in a classroom environment, where the trainer simply presents the new process on a PowerPoint slideshow is an act of “telling” the people how to perform the new work without “interactively engaging” them to think, ask questions, and practice it hands-on so they can thoroughly absorb the new way of operating. 

Process Rollout: Learning Requirements
When training for a new process rollout make sure you have:

  • Properly documented process

  • Interactive Q&A sessions addressing the why, when, how

  • Demonstration of the new process

  • Practice sessions


This is applicable in knowledge, information, and service environments – as much as it is required in manufacturing, healthcare, or work environments with a physical element to it.


When planning for process rollouts, we recommend you keep the following questions in mind:

  • What’s the objective? What do you want people to know or do differently?

  • Who needs to know? Why?

  • What specifically do they need to know? 

  • When do they need to know it?

  • What’s the best way to deliver the information to assure it meets the objectives of communication and learning?

  • How will you assess the effectiveness of your communication and learning activities?


Also, keep in mind that everyone does not need to know the same information or details. Hence, you will need to be creative in designing your training material and delivery mechanism for people who work on the shop floor vs. C-suite, upstream suppliers, and downstream customers of the process. 


We also recommend designating a source for addressing post rollout questions, which can be the process owner, or a superuser group, who are ideally located close to where the work is done.


Missing or Weak Ownership

Mostly, we have functional organizations with org charts, reporting lines, and departments operating in silos being rewarded for their performance. Whereas, a process or value stream, like order-to-cash, spans multiple functions like sales, operations, logistics, finance, etc. 

In functional organizations, assigning each functional area to be responsible for their respective function in the process is a recipe for disaster and sets up the organization for failure – as the individual functional areas can never get a holistic improvement in place across the entire process or value stream. 

In our experience with clients, it is common to find that no single person is accountable for the entire process that spans across a few functional groups. This leads to a lack of ownership, accountability, and capability to make the necessary changes required to meet the target objectives or KPIs of the process.

Based on best practice, we recommend the following guidelines for process ownership:

  • A single process owner is accountable to make any changes to the standard work documentation. 

  • The process owner should be a line manager where the actual work is being done, who is senior enough to actively influence or make decisions

  • The process owner constantly monitors the process metrics/KPIs and considers improvements when the metrics are not meeting their expected targets. 

  • The process owner should be clearly documented so people know whom to go to if they have a problem or suggestion for improvement.


Poor Measurement & Monitoring

A critical element of having a good process management structure in place is to have 2 – 5 relevant KPIs for each process, which are:

  • Visually displayed

  • Consistently measured

  • Consistently improved

For best practices in establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) refer here.


Poor Continuous Improvement

Rolling out a new improved process brilliantly that’s never improved doesn’t make it right. 

The process owner should constantly watch the metrics and constantly go through the Plan-Do-Study-Adjust (PDSA) cycles to improve the process and not wait for the annual process check to see if the process is performing well. 

Continuous improvement is not a separate initiative or project, it should be part of everyone’s day-to-day work.

Companies that focus on teaching process improvement tools and techniques to their employees and establish a mindset of continuous improvement across the enterprise are far more successful over the long run as they develop a culture of mutual trust, respect, humility, innovation, and collaboration that is engrained in the organization’s DNA.

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