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7 Guidelines for Achieving Business Process Improvement Project Success


I like to focus on the positive. I’m the person who skips right over the headlines about attacks and shootings to get to the stories that make me feel good. I figured out a few years ago that if something was really important and world altering, somebody in my family would tell me about it at the dinner table. So, articles about death and destruction? Nope. Stories highlighting reunited families and local heroes? Count me in.

If you search online, you’ll see lots of negative statistics about project success.  Numerous sites claim that 70% of change initiatives fail. That’s pretty scary, and certainly a statistic that most of us would like to change.

As I thought about the number, I decided to follow my typical positive take on things. I asked myself, what about the 30%? What are they doing right? What key things contribute to their success?  I looked back at some of the projects I’ve worked on over my career and talked to my colleagues about their experiences as well.

In our Business Process Analysis class, we use a framework for process improvement.  We go on a journey with Kamryn, the B2T Backpacker, as she navigates through a process improvement project.

Set Your Sights

Start Where You Are

(Un)Pack Your Bag

Map a Route

Blaze the Trail

I think most project teams succeed in a number of these steps. Specifically, we do a good job laying out the current process (the “Start Where You Are” step) and identifying what’s wrong with it (the “(Un)pack Your Bag” step).  We’re also typically pretty good at constructing and deploying solutions (the “Blaze the Trail” step). But to be in the 30%, teams must also successfully navigate the “Set Your Sights” and “Map a Route” steps.

My colleagues and I identified 7 key things that the 30% do in these two steps to help ensure the success of their business process improvement projects.  Let’s take a look at them. 


The 30% knows what success looks like.

My (least) favorite project charter is the one that simply says, “Go improve this process”. I’ve even had this phrased as a compliment – “We’re empowering you and the team to create the best process you can. We don’t want to impose any limits on you – shoot for the stars!”

Okay….but what does the customer really want? What does success look like to them? Let me give you an example of the dilemma this can create for an analyst.

I recently talked to a group of BAs who were working on a process. It had two basic flaws. First of all, there were lots of errors being made and corrected. Second, it was taking too long. So, which problem should the team fix?  Making the process error-proof would cause it to take even longer. Shortening the cycle time would not reduce any of the errors being created. Unless you know what is most important to your stakeholders, you may propose process improvements that don’t meet their (often unspoken) goals.

Beyond that, it’s important to have specific measures. “Make it as efficient as you can” does not count as a measure.   Is a 20% error rate acceptable? 10%? Something else? You have to know this in order to propose improvements that will get you to that goal.

The 30% works with their stakeholders to develop measurable objectives, KPIs and/or metrics for their projects so that everyone knows what success looks like.


The 30% identifies its stakeholders.

Speaking of working with your stakeholders, to be in the 30%, you need to identify and engage all affected stakeholders. Remember to look for:

  • Upstream customers/processes
  • Downstream customers/processes
  • Regulatory, compliance and oversight teams
  • Implementation stakeholders

I’ve been on a project that missed a stakeholder – and it wasn’t pretty.


The 30% never stops asking “why?”.

Capturing the “why” for a project is not a “one and done” step. Organizations change, and our projects may need to change as well. The 30% regularly reviews and reaffirms its goals to ensure they’re on the right track.


The 30% considers multiple solutions.

My husband and I used to camp a lot with our Venturing Crew.  The Crew members, who are aged 14 – 20, are responsible for packing all the common camping gear, the kitchen gear, and the food.  As you can probably imagine, we would occasionally wind up at our campsite missing a thing or two that we’d expected to have.  That’s when you learn that there’s always – always! – more than one way to do something.

No bleach to sterilize dishes?  Boil the dishes instead.

No rain poncho?  Use a large garbage bag.

Bacon and eggs, but no frying pan?  Make a frittata in a Dutch oven instead.

No Dutch oven?  Make tin foil pouches.

No tin foil?  Cook the eggs directly in coals (yes, you can) and the bacon on wood skewers.

When I work with a team that has identified a solution, I like to ask them, “What other solutions did you consider?”  The 30% can always list at least one or two other options that were proposed.


The 30% evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each solution.

While it’s true that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem, some solutions are typically better than others.  What’s tricky is defining “better”.  Better for whom?  Under what circumstances?  And what are the tradeoffs?

As an example, our Crew generally sterilized dishes with a bleach solution.  Why?  Because it’s cheap, effective, and quick.  So why would you ever do anything else?  Well, if you’re backpacking, bleach becomes just one more thing you have to carry, and every ounce counts.  Bleach also isn’t very environmentally friendly.  In a wilderness area, we really don’t want to dump chemicals onto the ground.  Under those circumstances, bleach becomes a less attractive solution.

It’s important to objectively evaluate potential solutions.  Teams in the 30% ensure that their stakeholders have considered each potential solution from a variety of perspectives.  Sometimes strengths and weaknesses aren’t obvious.  Better to identify them before the solution is developed and implemented than after!


The 30% ensures that the solution addresses improvement goals.

I mentioned earlier that it’s important to continually revisit the “why”.    As you’re evaluating potential solutions, go back and revisit the improvement goals.  To be in the 30%, you must be sure that the solution will deliver what the customer is looking for.


The 30% never forgets the human factor.

The 30% never loses sight of the fact that real people under real-life circumstances must perform this process. I recently wrote a blog about my mom’s experience while trying to get roadside assistance.  Whoever designed their solution certainly didn’t have my mom in mind.  Consider developing a persona to help you identify with your target audience.

B2T offers a Business Process Analysis class designed to help you be part of the 30%. This class teaches the entire framework for process improvement and is full of job aids to help you on your journey to a successful change.  Here’s one of the job aids that’s available for download:  our Business Process Definition Checklist.  It’s loaded with great questions to help you start your business process analysis journey.

Happy Improving!


Editor’s Note: This blog post was has been previously published by B2T on our previous website. Due to its popularity, Kathy has updated its content to be more comprehensive and accurate for the state of today’s environment.

Kathy Claycomb

Managing Partner, Lead Expert

Kathy Claycomb brings over 35 years of experience to the classroom. She has participated in all phases of solution development using everything from agile to waterfall methodologies (and quite a few in between). Before joining B2T, her career spanned roles from application developer to Senior Director of Services at various organizations. Kathy has broad industry background including transportation, manufacturing, insurance, energy, healthcare, and banking.

Kathy’s first love is teaching, and throughout her career she has always managed to spend a portion of her time instructing. She has an engaging, highly interactive teaching style that ensures students leave the course with a thorough grasp of the material. Her students consistently praise her teaching abilities and her talent for drawing on her personal experience to enhance their learning.

Kathy served as the Technical Editor for Business Analysis for Dummies, 2nd Edition.