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Unexpected Obstacles in Innovation & Process Improvement

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Unexpected obstacles can create major roadblocks for companies working on innovation and process improvement. In this lesson, we'll identify some common obstacles and appropriate solutions for dealing with them.

Expect the Unexpected

Shaun is heading up the continuous process improvement team at Good Tasty Foods. The fictitious company owns 15 different chain restaurants scattered throughout the United States. One of the things his team has been tasked with lately is experimenting with new interior concepts that will create more user-friendly flow and a more inviting atmosphere for guests.

If only it were that simple, right? However, Shaun's team has been met with a series of unexpected obstacles and challenges as they work to make improvements to the restaurants' services and environment.

Barriers to innovation and improvement are all too common in the workplace. They can be tricky to identify and even tougher to disable so you can get on to good work. These obstacles can appear in all types of places, from workplace relationships and attitudes to overly complicated processes and financial setbacks.

Let's take a look at some of the unexpected obstacles that can pop up in innovation and continuous process improvement and identify strategies for responding to these challenges appropriately.

Obstacles and Solutions

1. Lack of employee engagement

Whether it's a company culture that doesn't support the inclusion of all employees or generally poor employee attitudes, lack of employee engagement, where workers buy into the innovation or improvements, can make for a challenging situation. Maybe management has failed to make new processes known to all employees or employees have been excluded from the decision-making process, leading to less receptive attitudes.

Solution: Ensure that communication between management and front-line workers is clear and consistent. Give workers the opportunity to participate in innovation and process improvement. Solicit feedback from workers about the best way to handle new initiatives. Provide written literature where possible. Help workers understand their role in new processes. Host town hall meetings or informal get-togethers to keep everyone on the same page.

2. Ill-suited process management tools

The right software and tools can make innovation and process improvement simpler, or it can make it more challenging. A company may have inadequate technological resources, making innovation or process improvement difficult. Or, the existing tools may be too complicated to be a good fit for the job or the user.

Solution: Survey your employees and ask what type of tools and software would be the best fit for the job. Just because some software is inexpensive or universally available doesn't mean it will be the best fit for your team. On the other hand, if you have good existing tools that are too complex for workers to understand, provide training and education to help them get up to speed. Tools that are just too cumbersome to use should probably be scrapped altogether in favor of products that will be more frequently and more easily used.

3. Financial changes

Financial changes are a scary obstacle for businesses because they can pop up at any time. A budget may be pulled for a project or scaled back due to overarching business concerns. Management may be hesitant to commit vast resources to an unproven idea or may be unwilling to stand behind process improvement teams as they try, fail and succeed.

Solution: Start with projects or ideas that require minimal investment. Once those succeed, and companies start seeing that success, financial backing could open up for more involved projects. Conserve financial resources you're given by reducing waste and making innovation and process improvement streamlined. Know the ins and outs of the projects you're working on so that you can show competence to those in management holding the purse strings.

4. Poor collaboration

Projects involve any number of stakeholders who are involved and have an interest in their outcome. Managing so many individuals and ensuring that everyone is on the same page can be challenging. Poor collaboration can exist between employees, departments, management and employees, and between project teams and project stakeholders.

Solution: Work hard to foster good relationships between everyone involved in a project. Keep stakeholders informed of milestones and challenges. Communicate openly and honestly and encourage others to do the same. Schedule face-to-face updates and meetings where everyone sits at the same table and works together.

5. Lack of prioritization

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