3 Common Obstacles to Business Process Improvement

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Business process improvement sounds like such an elegant, straightforward concept: You simply identify, analyze, and improve current business processes to strengthen performance, hit best-practice standards, and boost the end-user experience. When you’re done, you’ll enjoy higher productivity and efficiency while cutting down on errors and waste. What could go wrong?


Plenty, it turns out. Perhaps not surprisingly, a process solution that promises such exceptional results comes with a number of challenges. Today, we’ll break down three common obstacles to business process improvement.


Two employees discussing common obstacles to business process improvement on a glass white board.

3. Overcoming Company Resistance to Process Improvement

Like all new systems, policies, or procedures, overcoming company resistance and earning leadership buy-in remains a challenge in process improvement. Often, this resistance stems from three common oversights: Failing to provide context for proposed changes, jumping in to the changes needed without explaining their purpose, and not including all relevant parties in the planning.


Without context for a business change, you have little chance of persuading anyone to update their way of working. Workplace changes often require employees to uproot their entire routine. It’s uncomfortable and scary and frequently filled with painful, steep learning curves. By clearly defining the workplace challenges and then outlining a vision for how these changes will spur incredible company improvements, you help inspire your colleagues and provide the necessary motivation to participate.


Worse still, many individuals make the mistake of not only failing to explain the context behind a change, but then providing the new set of processes and procedures to follow. This is not only a great way to confuse your colleagues, but make enemies, too. Without providing the context and showing everyone the “why” before explaining the “how,” you’re sure to be met with a healthy dose of resentment.


Finally, the entire process often goes much smoother when you involve all or many of the individuals who will be impacted and allow them to help shape the process. This not only signals that you value their input, but it also allows them to identify challenges and solutions that could greatly improve the solution. Too often, those administering the process change are overly focused on their scope of work and bring an insufficient understanding of other roles to the proposed solutions. Including a wide variety of individuals from all teams will help avoid this common pitfall.


2. Failing to Set Goals

Setting goals is usually a key step in getting leadership buy-in. Without clear, specific objectives, leadership will struggle to gain a complete picture of where the company is heading, which will remain a big barrier to approval.


Goal setting is vital to all aspects of the process, not just overcoming leadership resistance. Without clear goals, it is difficult to prioritize your efforts. Business process improvement works because it analyzes all stages of the company’s business model. However, tackling all stages of production is also extremely difficult because of the many moving pieces. Business goals provide that vital focus.


Clear goals will help keep you on track by showing you exactly where to invest the most time and resources. For instance, if you’ve identified a delay in service, one of your goals may be to speed up response times by 10 percent. With that clear goal, you will know you need to focus on efforts that relate to production speed. Without this clear goal, you may waste valuable time and effort on something else that is unrelated.


Finally, clear goals help establish an important level of accountability. Goals should be specific, so you know exactly when you hit or miss them. From there, you can make the crucial adjustments that help you win.


1. Failing to Prioritize Creative Solutions

Due to its systematized approach, many view process improvement as a rigid discipline without space for creativity or unique solutions. That couldn’t be further from the truth. At its best, the process improvement methodology is a vehicle for creative thought that drives undiscovered solutions.


In the DMAIC framework, which most business process improvement practitioners are familiar with, individuals are generally more comfortable with the first three parts, define, measure, and analyze, than they are with the “improvement” part of the acronym. Improvement demands originality and novel solutions that are not readily apparent, unlike the first three parts, which mainly depend on observation and interpretation.


Why does the notion of creativity intimidate so many in the business improvement space? For lots of professionals, the very idea of offering off-the-wall ideas that may fall flat is terrifying. It can cause an uncomfortable sense of vulnerability. However, you can foster a safe environment for creative solutions and make clear that all ideas are welcome, even those that seem whacky or bizarre. Often, that is accomplished by group brainstorming, challenging every assumption, reserving judgment, maintaining positivity in group meetings, and other techniques.


Fortunately for those still struggling with creative thinking, this is a learned skill. The more you practice, the easier it will become. Particularly with divergent thinking, which results in the most unexpected, spontaneous ideas, you should become more and more relaxed as you practice.


Employees researching ways to improve their business process improvement methods by looking at data.

Don’t Let the Challenges of Business Process Improvement Prevent Its Use

There’s no question that using business process improvement principles in your company can be difficult. However, many of those challenges can be overcome by getting out of your own way and avoiding some of the most common, simple mistakes that even process improvement pros make.


Wondering how you can get the toolbox of skills and knowledge that will help you lead process improvement in your company? Learn about USF’s introductory course on continuous improvement, a methodology some of the biggest brands use today.


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