Five barriers blocking continuous business process improvement

29 March 2021 4 min. read

Amid the current uncertain conditions caused by the global pandemic, being innovative and agile has never been more important for businesses. It can be the difference between being a market leader and sliding into irrelevance, writes Chris Ellis, a tech evangelist at Nintex.

To achieve successful agility, businesses need to have in place efficient and effective processes. Guiding every aspect of daily activity, these processes ensure operations are efficient and customer needs are met. It’s also important that these processes are regularly reviewed and improved. What worked in yesterday’s market conditions may not be the best approach today. 

To achieve continuous process improvement, there are a range of factors that can act as barriers. Additionally, while many staff acknowledge the importance of good process, far fewer believe process management is well understood or embraced within their company. 

Five barriers blocking continuous business process improvement

A poor process culture prevents continuous improvement by reducing visibility of both documented procedures and what actually gets done. Leaders find they have only limited understanding of the tools at their disposal and may struggle to embrace the idea of continuous improvement. 

Barriers to improvement

Barriers to understand and overcome include:

1) Static procedures
When they attempt to capture process information, many organisations use methods that are static. The process as it is documented becomes the status quo and cannot evolve as business requirements change. While ‘business as usual’ is comfortable, it is the enemy of positive change.

Failing to recognise and actively pursue continuous process improvement simply creates a new set of procedures that only reflect a point in time, and that become less and less accurate as that time passes. To overcome this situation, recognise that processes are never set in stone and must be constantly reviewed and adjusted to reflect current conditions. 

2) Non-compliant practices
When people become familiar with everyday processes, it can be tempting for them to cut corners and find faster, more convenient ways to complete each task. However, these changes are unlikely to be tied back to the documented procedure because teams have no impetus to do so. 

This is where problems can arise, in the form of repeated process breakdowns, which can often result in much bigger problems in the future. Where business processes are matters of legislative compliance, shortcuts become dangerous deviations from an organisation’s legal obligations. Ensure staff understand the importance of documenting changes to processes and the risks that can arise if they fail to do so.

3) Lost opportunities
A culture of undocumented processes can lead to them evolving without optimal oversight. Besides the inherent risks of unauthorised changes to processes, helpful innovations are also lost. When teams are disengaged from process management, grass-roots improvements can be squandered.

As processes evolve, any failure to capture organic improvements means that similar tasks in other areas of the business can’t benefit from these improvements. For this reason, it’s important to have in place tools and procedures that support the systematic documentation of feedback and innovations across the organisation. This will ensure all innovations are captured and can be put to work in as many ways as possible. 

4) Apathetic leadership
An agile and innovative process culture can only exist within an organisation when it is supported by senior management. Unconvinced or uncommitted leadership will stall continuous improvement by failing to value process management, giving it low strategic priority and postponing or de-emphasising projects.

It might also be the case that insufficient resources are allocated to enabling the line of business to capture and improve their processes. This can result in an inability to effectively respond to changing market conditions. Ensure senior management is supportive of projects from the outset and communicates this commitment to all staff. 

5) Underutilised tools
Most organisations have some degree of process management in place, but without a supportive mindset and culture, the platforms and tools will not be fully effective. While automation initiatives can offer quantifiable improvements, without effective process management underpinning them, their full value will still be untapped.

Take time to ensure that all staff understand the motivation behind continuous process improvement and their individual roles in making it happen.

By addressing these five barriers, an organisation can be best placed to enjoy the significant benefits that flow from effective business processes. The result will be improved agility and an ability to capitalise on new opportunities as they appear.