Process Improvement is Trickier Than You Think - Commoncog

Most companies skimp on process improvement. But the surprising thing is that they do so not because they're bad or lazy — but because there are system dynamics that prevent them from doing so. We take a look at what those are.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

It strikes me that many of the organisational dynamics in this piece overlap pretty well with the Commoncog Guide to Burnout.

Management blames people, so they force them to work harder, and then at some point in the vicious downward ‘work harder’ cycle, job demands outstrip job resources, and everyone burns out massively.

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I enjoyed reading this and agree with your conclusions. As I thought about it, I realized one issue is learning to apply process improvement to yourself before applying it to other things.

It is just as “tricky” to implement process improvement in yourself due to time constraints and making excuses.


Glad to see you exploring this space! This is at the core of what I have been doing for a living for a long time. Your observations definitely match up with my experiences trying to improve processes within large organizations.

One thing I’ve learned trying to do this is the importance of making the size of the improvement smaller. A lot of the history of productivity improvement can be viewed as ways to reduce the time between action taken and result observed. This yields many benefits:

  • We get value from the effort faster
  • We reduce the amount of “noise” in the results that are driven by other factors
  • We reduce the number of people whose behavior has to change in order to get better results
  • We reduce the amount of resources at risk of being applied to something that will not yield better results
  • We can more quickly apply the lessons learned to the next improvement effort
  • When high-priority items come up after we have started, smaller efforts allow us to face less painful choices on whether to abandon the current effort or wait to start the new one
  • Smaller efforts are at less risk of triggering the organization’s immune system regarding changes
  • Smaller efforts are often more easily replicable if they turn out to be even more successful than we thought they would be

I look forward to seeing more on this topic!