Changing your business process: "Why do process projects fail?" A few answers!

I recently posted a question on Linked-In which asked "Why do so many projects that change processes fail?". This is, of course, connected with the subject of "The Perfect Process Project" and hopefully would unearth additional information for the next edition.

The responses came in thick and fast until - after about 5 days - I closed the question to allow me to review them. Overall I had 20 responses which ranged from "Us and Them thinking gets in the way" right through to a 500 word mini essay which included a copy of a media interview given by the respondent.

All the answers were interesting in their own way, and they all gave me food for thought. However, a number of the respondents didn't specificaly address the issue I was raising (which was probably because I wasn't clear in my original requirement). My question was specifically related to why processes implemented by projects don't work, NOT about why projects per se fail. A lot of answers addressed the second facet.

Of those that answered the first question there did seem to be a common theme. I had comments such as "Successful process change must be rooting [sic] in the real need for change", and "lack of a true commitment from Senior Management", and "Good communication is an essential element".

Other comments included
  • One is that change, in general is difficult for most people. The other is that very often the person suggesting or promoting the change is different to the person who needs to implement the change
  • The people designing the updated process don't take the time to learn the who, what, when, where, and why of the current process
  • It is important for us to remember that key players aren't necessarily those who hold formal power, but also those with informal power. It's great if a VP signs off on my project, but if a key manager from a different organization is not committed to the change the entire project may fail.
  • Lack of accountibility if the new process is not followed
  • The answer is sadly very evident -they're 'done to' projects. The people who do the work today are not seriously involved
  • Last but not the least: None of the managers have an end-to-end process view & they all have a narrow departmental view. So structure of an organization also plays a crucial role in process improvement projects
  • Few processes are isolated. Every process intersects other process. If one does not understand those intersections and their impact, a changes process will be useless
Thanks to everyone who contributed a thought or comment to the discussion.

The top answer I picked, however was from Lisa Matthews, Vice President at GMAC Insurance, who said
"A wise Coach taught me an equation that proves particularly true in this scenario: P (Process) x D (Dissatisfaction or Pain with the Current Process) x V (Clear Vision) > R (Resistance to Change).

It has proved true time and time again. One can always map back the lack of success for process improvement efforts to one of the three components against a company’s or team’s resistance to change. The resistance can show up in a myriad of ways from lack of governance to no buy-in to scope trot."

She then went on to talk about some of the factors that equate to points I raise in the book regarding ownership and measurements of results. In my subsequent e-mail conversations with her she mentioned a further issue which was
". . . the basic A.D.D. of corporations today. It is very difficult for large corporations to FOCUS long enough to see and embrace the positive changes the process may fulfill."

Thanks, Lisa for those insights. I will look at merging these into the next edition of "The Perfect Process Project" and in the meantime a complementary copy is on its way to you.

How do these issues link in with your experience of implementing process change as part of a project?

(Photo courtesy apesara. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution licence)

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