Re-Engineering the Process Improvement Learning Process in Companies | Part 2

What are the Main Obstacles to Learning?

When considering the substance related to process improvement we first need to understand what components it contains. These components should be carefully defined as it is very crucial to grasp the most relevant substance issues, in the right amount. The core of the substance can be divided into three wholes: the improvement philosophy, the improvement approaches (systems) and the improvement tools. Besides these wholes, you also need to master another whole namely the management of organizational change. These four wholes contain on a heading level all the components needed to run your improvement efforts at the adequate ambition level. The obstacle here is to understand what contents should be learned and implemented in any given situation. Analyzing this consideration brings an interesting challenge that the synthesis should consider: how do you select the right contents (correct and relevant contents) that should be understood and implemented (what actually shows as improved behavior and a real-life process improvement [measured regarding time, quality, costs]) in the light of what is actually needed (not too much, not too little)? Not addressing these considerations properly brings a lot off ineffectiveness (“learning the wrong [unnecessary] things”) into the learning process, even if the learning itself would be efficient (“learning the right way”). If you think about this, it is clear that a “one size fits all” solution is not optimal as the learning chain from the improvement philosophy to improved time, quality and/or costs in the process is likely broken before any results will show. In such a setting it is many times advisable not to engage in any process improvement education and training effort at all, as the resources allocated to this cannot be recovered by process improvements. Having a process improvement yield close to zero, or just some percentage points, despite education and training efforts, is a serious sign that cannot be overlooked by the management. Something’s got to change. Fundamentally.

The Average Individual Dilemma

Most process improvement education and training efforts cannot deal with the obstacles discussed above as these obstacles have to be solved properly at the individual level. This means that any given process improvement education and training effort is based on an “average individual” that the person or group represents. For numbers, we all know that an average does not tell the whole story as it does not consider the variance and standard deviation. The same goes with learning.

In theory, the “average individual dilemma” could be managed by providing a focused education and training effort to a small group of people close to the defined average individual. This is how many companies “solve” the dilemma. “Know your audience” is a common concept that you already learn from elementary school. It is applied both when applying traditional education approaches (seminars, lectures, etc.) and in many e-learning solutions (apps, web-based solutions). The truth is you cannot really know your audience, as this would require a high-class analysis and synthesis of each individual and the proposed learning group. In practice the “know your audience” concept translates into the “average individual dilemma” despite measures to avoid it. Such a top-down approach is not sustainable regarding process improvement education and training in the long run due to two main reasons:

  1. learning and progress happen individually, and the group should be redefined constantly to avoid the “average individual dilemma” (eventually each group would only have one individual).
  2. it costs a lot as it requires much planning time (these resources make better use elsewhere).

To re-engineer the process improvement learning process it is crucial to understand how to satisfy the evolving learning needs of the individual and the related process improvement needs of the company. Instead of a top-down approach, would a bottom-up approach be possible? What performance benefits would such a solution contain?

Part 3 of this writing will consider the solution how to overcome the obstacles discussed in Part 2.