It was Christine’s dream job: project manager for a large digitization project at an established, economically strong medium-sized company. She had the opportunity to fully contribute her experience, the pay and working conditions were attractive, the company offered perspectives beyond the project, and the position itself was a significant career advancement for her.

The first few months were unexpectedly tough. Even though the entire management officially supported the project and its goals, no one wanted to engage in the associated changes. But with her persistent nature and her skills as a change manager, she was eventually able to anchor the necessity of change and form a leadership team that truly supported the project. Christine’s second challenge now was to successfully implement the project.

The power of status quo

The first part of this mini-series showed what obstacles make the preparation of change processes difficult and how important decisions are made in the planning of changes that significantly influence later success. But even if “planning is half the battle,” implementation remains the second half that contributes just as much to the success – or failure – of a project.

When implementing changes, it is also about overcoming the power of the status quo and the inhibiting forces described in the first part of this series. Four elements can help you successfully master this challenge.

Preconditions for successful change

If you want to reap the fruits of success after a good preparation of your change project, you should show your stakeholders that your initiative is successful. At first glance, this may sound like a catch-22 situation, but it can be achieved through four simple elements.

Enable employees

First and foremost, you need to ensure that your employees can act in line with your change project. In established companies, there are a multitude of defined processes and (partially unwritten) rules. These more or less fixed guidelines significantly determine how the company operates and functions.

Changes always mean that certain areas should be handled differently than before. This means that some of the existing guidelines need to be disregarded. However, this only works if you enable and encourage your employees to override existing norms and standards where necessary.

Generate quick wins

In most cases, a change project will not consist of a single measure, but rather a multitude of smaller steps. It is important to take the first relevant steps as quickly as possible.

This can demonstrate, on the one hand, that you are proactive and driving your initiative forward, and on the other hand, that you are heading in the right direction and your project is successful (despite any naysayers). If you can communicate early successes quickly, you solidify your position in the company and gain additional supporters who were initially skeptical of your project. This gives your project new momentum, which is essential for its further implementation.

Consolidate success and initiate further change

In addition to achieving early successes, it is critical to anchor the changes achieved sustainably in the organization. As just shown, achieving milestones leads to even hesitant employees supporting the project. However, if your organization quickly falls back into old habits, this is grist to the mill for those who would like to see the project fail.

At the same time, it is important not to rest on what has already been achieved, but to continue at the same pace and take further steps towards the stated goal.

Anchoring new behaviour

While at the beginning of a change project existing processes and rules need to be broken in order to enable change in the first place, at the end of the initiative it is necessary to establish and anchor new behaviors. Only in this way will the participants in the company also adhere to the new ways of working in the long term, and not fall back into previous patterns out of old habits.

If a company fulfills all four points in the implementation of change measures, it has a good chance of successfully completing the change project.

If you want to be successful in your next change project, contact us.

Management tools are a dime a dozen. And yet, contrary to popular belief, most of them are good and helpful if used correctly and in an adequately defined context.

In “Tool Box Talks” we introduce you to common and less well-known tools and show you how you can exploit their potential for your enterprise, with today’s focus on a portfolio matrix.

What is a portfolio matrix and when should it be used?

A portfolio matrix is a portfolio management tool that assists its user in keeping track of several projects within the project portfolio. By visualizing process adherence it enables the portfolio manager to identify critical projects at a glance.

This tool is particularly useful when it comes to coordinating a greater set of projects, where the portfolio manager is not identical with the project manager. It helps to gain an overarching view of the project portfolio and to focus resources on those projects whose success is currently under threat.

How is a portfolio matrix used?

A portfolio matrix shows all portfolio projects’ target performances on process adherence, considering two dimensions for each project:

1.) How much does work progress deviate from original time schedules? (x-axis)

2.) How well is current spending within the frame of the pre-arranged budget? (y-axis)

If project portfolios are relatively small, these two dimensions can be visualised by means of a three-step scale (below plan – on plan – ahead of plan), if a portfolio comprises a greater number of projects, it makes sense to use a five-step scale (far below / well ahead of plan – slightly below / ahead of plan – on plan). Here standardized project reports should be used to update regularly the data input.

After each data update the respective project’s process adherence is plotted on the matrix. A project which is located in the middle of the matrix is exactly on schedule in terms of time and costs. The more a project diverges from the middle axis, the greater are the deviations from plan.

If this is the case, the responsible portfolio manager should take necessary measures to ensure process success.

Beware of pitfall!

A portfolio matrix is designed to show deviations from a project’s targets. However, a deviation is not necessarily to be seen as negative. For while it may sound so when a project exceeds the current target budget, there will probably be no reason for the portfolio manager to intervene if the project is ahead of schedule and the costs are in line with the reached project status. So before measures are taken, the deviations in the portfolio matrix should always be discussed in detail with the project manager.


Another trap is lacking awareness of priorities of projects. While the portfolio matrix informs about deviations from set targets, it does not make any statement about how relevant projects are within the portfolio. If you wish to make prioritization visible, a weighting factor can be introduced, which is reprresented by a colour code or the physical size of the projects within the matrix.

What are the benefits of using a portfolio matrix?

A portfolio matrix shows portfolio mangers at once what projects within the portfolio work out according to plan and where there are deviations from schedule. This will enable them to focus their attention on projects about to fail.


In this way, a portfolio matrix helps companies to use management resources effectively and to direct their focus on activities requiring extra attention.

Follow us on LinkedIn to learn on a regular basis how you can make the most of management tools, so that you will stay one step ahead of your competitors.

It was Christine’s dream job: project manager for a big digitalization project in an established, thriving medium-sized company. She had the opportunity to make full use of her experience, the job was well-paid while she had attractive working conditions, the company offered career advancement opportunities beyond this project and by accepting the position she had made a great career move.

But after only a few weeks she became disillusioned with her new job. No matter who Christine talked to within the executive or management board, everybody supported the digitalization project – but as soon as there was talk about necessary changes to be made, she met with resistance from all sides. “This won’t work”, „It’s too risky“, „Let’s wait and see …“, “Yes, but …” – those were the usual reactions.

The power of the status quo

Cases like Christine’s, in which she met resistance to change is nothing new. As long as you only talk about goals to be achieved, it will be relatively easy to find approval. However, once you start listing the changes required to reach these goals, you’ll suddenly be confronted with a wave of doubts and rejection.

By the way, what is it that makes the status quo so much more attractive compared to change? One reason is sheer force of habit. Humankind gets used to things and processes in less than no time. Once committed to memory, operations are carried out automatically, hence requiring less attention and concentration. To change a routine habit, you need a great deal of energy as you have to focus on the new way of handling things plus put a lot of energy into resisting well-established processes.

Another obstructive force against change is fear. With the status quo, people have the feeling that they know the processes, the way things are connected and their consequences and they tend to think they can control all these things. When you tread new paths, this alleged security is gone because the take-off into the unknown undoubtedly has its risks.

There are many more factors, such as “one’s personal experience” or “personal pride”. The list could be endless; but it all boils down to one truth: To bring about real change, you need to overcome the attraction of established customs.

How change can be successfully put into practice

Seeing this, it is hardly surprising that about three quarters of all change initiatives in companies are doomed to failure. At the same time, at least every fourth initiative is successful. The good news is that chances of success are significantly higher if several aspects are taken into account when it comes to preparing the implementation of change. In the first part of our mini series “Successfully implementing change” we start with taking a closer look at the preparation process necessary for a change initiative to go as planned.

Creating awareness

“We’ve always done it like that.” is often seen as one of the most dangerous statements – and at least in terms of change this is only too true. If efforts to bring about change are to be successful, the mindset behind this declaration has to be overcome.

To do so, all involved persons have to made aware that the changes in question are not only important but absolutely necessary to ensure the success or even the survival of the respective company. Unless it is clear to everybody that carrying on is no alternative; no-one will accept the necessity for change.

Forming a coalition of leadership

While this is being done, you should draw up a competent leadership team. When assembling these change agents you should consider the following aspects:

  1. The team should have sufficient power and authority to put the intended changes into practice.
  2. The change agents should play a key role within the existing organization and ideally be representative of it.
  3. Each change agent should be completely committed to the cause.

It is especially the last point that is vital for successfully implementing change: Those who doubt that change makes sense or will prove advantageous, have no business to be part of the change agent team.

A useful tool to identify suitables candidates for this squad is the stakeholder matrix. A good point of departure is the dimension “interest” as it shows how strongly a person supports the change about to be reached. The dimension “power” must in no way be reduced to questions of rank and hierarchy but should describe how well someone is capable of encouraging others to participate in the process and of winning them over.

Developing a vision and a strategy

The first and foremost job of the change agents is to develop a vision for the change initiative. This vision depicts how the company will look like after the project has been completed: What will have changed, what will remain the same and why will this future situation be better than the present state of affairs? The vision serves as a compass for all activities connected with the project.

Once the goal has been defined, the team can begin to design a strategy that spells out how the organization can develop from the current situation to the company described in the vision. In a way, this guiding vision is like the book of rules for the change process and defines the most important steps on the way to realizing the vision.

Communicating the vision

Communicating this vision is the last key element in preparing change. Usually, staff members are keen on participating in improvement processes of their company. However, this can only be effective if you know where it is that your organization is going.

Here good timing is essential. Without a general awareness that change is strictly necessary, it will be difficult to earn wholehearted approval for the developed vision. Some people will utterly refuse the idea that things have to be changed at all.

If, on the other hand, those in charge one-sidedly emphasize that change is necessary without drawing a clear picture of where the relevant changes are leading, this will cause enormous internal upheaval and make it difficult for people to have trust in the management team, severely hampering the change initiative’s progress.

If a company follows all four pieces of advice when planning to introduce a change initiative, it will be ready for successful implementation. Those aspects and factors that need to be considered to finally reach the set targets, will be the subject of the second part of our blog series.

Should you wish to lead your next project of change to successful completion and are seeking support, do contact us – for free and without any further obligations.

Management tools are a dime a dozen. And yet, contrary to popular belief, most of them are good and helpful if used correctly and in an adequately defined context.
In “Tool Box Talks” we introduce you to common and less well-known tools and show you how you can exploit their potential for your enterprise, with today’s focus on 5 why.

What is 5 whys and when should it be used?

5 whys is a quality management tool developed by Toyoda Sakichi. It helps to reveal causal links and to understand complex cause-and-effect relationships. This method is mostly used in root-cause analyses in the context of failure analyses or optimising processes. Apart from this, it is suitable for any kind of cause-and-effect relationship, particularly for linear ones with no or only few ramifications.

How is 5 whys used?

The starting point of a 5 why analysis is an observed deviation from the norm, i.e. the “effect”. This is where the first “Why?” is asked: “Why has the problem occurred?”
The answer to this question is the cause of the observed effect. This cause can again be understood as another effect of another cause, which is explored by means of a second “Why?”. This process is repeated five times until the cause of the cause of the cause of the cause of the observed deviation is discovered and its origin – its root cause – is detected.

Beware of pitfall

Make sure that, when using the 5 whys technique, that you do not only identify a possible cause-and-effect relationship, but also verify it, in a way that each of the “Why?” questions undergoes a process of examination checking if

  1. the shown causal link is possisble and plausible, and
  2. if under the present conditions the alleged cause is really responsible for the effect

Only if both requirements are fulfilled, the next “Why?” should be asked.
Besides, do not be a stickler with the number “5”. As a rule of thumb it is usually appropriate to ask for the cause five times to identify the actual source of a problem; still, you should check individually and flexibly if a sixth of seventh level might give you valuable information after all, or if you can end the process after the fourth question.

What is the use of the 5 why method?

A 5 why analysis brings to light the details of the cause-and-effect chain having led to the (mostly undesired) incident. This will help you to prevent this problem from occurring again.

Here a distinction is made between corrective and preventive measures. The latter are applied in the upper layer of the causal chain, thus addressing one specific issue, whereas preventive measures are used in the deeper levels of the cause-and-effect relationship – tackling the root cause. They usually have a greater, further-reaching impact, also making it possible to avoid other negative results originating from the same weakness.

Follow us on LinkedIn to learn on a regular basis how you can make the most of management tools, so that you will stay one step ahead of your competitors.

It can’t have been the team responsible for the preparation. They had found a suitable place for the event, had given a thorough thought to its structure and prepared a well-structured agenda. Still, after only two hours, the department workshop got off track and at the end of the day they had failed to come up with any reasonable outcome. How could this have happened? Despite the effort put up by the team in charge, the answer is: it’s the planning, stupid.

The easiest way of using time and resources is, more often than not, planning things well. This rule holds particularly true for designing workshops and similar business events. Three simple steps help prepare them by ensuring that eventually the desired result is being reached.

Balancing expectations

In the first stage in terms of planning business-related events, you should match the participant’s expectations with what will actually happen in the workshop. This will guarantee that all participants have the same idea of what the event is to achieve.

Identifying relevant stakeholders

However, before you deal with actual expectations and demands, you have to identify relevant stakeholders. In this context, this is anyone interested in the results delivered by the workshop. Stakeholders for the project described in the initial example will be, for instance, the project management and their superiors, maybe also including further persons like interface partners or key team members within the relevant department.

The following questions can help you to identify major stakeholders:

  • Who has a rightful interest in the results?
  • Who has enough power to influence the results?

Dealing with assumptions

Once you found out who your stakeholders are, you have to check out their expectations to the workshop. To match your planning to their needs as best as possible, you should make the interview questions you ask them in advance as specific as possible. This means that a hesitant inquiry like “What do you expect …?” will in most cases not do the trick.

A good question targeting the expectations of the customers can be, for example: “What results do you expect the workshop to come up with?” Or: “What do you intend to do with the workshop’s results?” While the first question aims at the expected output of the event, the second focuses on its intended use.
When it comes to interface partners or participants, it is usually questions about the workshop’s content that will be helpful. Their expectations can be pinned down by questions like: “What aspects do you wish to be addressed?” Or: “What issues should be tackled in the workshop?”

Managing expectations

Queries about expectations have two functions when it comes to planning an event. First, the scope of the project can be better described in terms of objectives, results and its use. Second, with a view to preparing the workshop’s details, this information can be used to respond adequately to existing expectations.
As soon as the event’s objectives have been finally established, it is clear which stakeholder expectations will be likely to be met and which won’t. To make sure that, right from the start, the workshop will be greeted by a mood of widespread acceptance, participants and others involved should be proactively be prepared for what to expect (and what not to expect).

Defining results and input

The second important step in successfully planning an event comprises defining the results and the necessary input.

Outlining the results

Having identified both stakeholder expectations to your workshop and the results your workshop is expected to deliver, you should now specify the exact nature of the desired output:

  • What exactly is to be the event’s result?
  • In what form is the result to be available?
  • Who is the result intended for?

As describing the result is the basis for the whole further planning process, it should be as precise as possible.

Deducing the necessary input

The result having been written down, now you have to ask what input the participants need to achieve the desire result. When answering this question, you should go beyond the usual categories of reports, numbers and other data, and explore alternative ways of working your participants’ minds. Here are some examples of what this could imply:

  • Bring to the surface diverging views on one and the same issue to create awareness of exisiting diversities and, by doing so, make it possible to negotiate common ground.
  • Use creative approaches to go against ingrained ways of thinking and communicating. Or:
  • Set team tasks to create a sense of community.

Structuring the event

Having defined input and output, now the actual process of planning the event is ready to begin.

Determining key elements of the event

Here you should concentrate on the content-based issues to be dealt with in the workshop. The two basic questions you have to answer in this phase of planning are:

  • What do the participants in the workshop have to do to reach the desired results with the given input?
  • What elements – and in what order – can help them do this?

Once you have answered these two questions for yourself, you will have decided about the key elements of the workshop and their sequential order.

Planning the form of the event

Planning the way a business event is carried out is crucial in that it supports the participants in their effort to reach the event’s ultimate goal. To do so, three dimensions need to be addressed:

  • First, there is the physical working material (flipcharts, beamer, desks, breakout rooms etc.) necessary for the workshop.
  • Second, the structural sequence of the workshop runs through the event like a common thread, connecting its different key elements in a way that makes sense and is logical.
  • Third, the workshop’s emotional dimension affects its perception by and the subjective well-being of the participants, as does, for instance, the choice of setting, the type of catering and maybe also an entertainment programme.

Here, as elsewhere, form should support content and, if possible, not be a mere end in itself.

Planning facilitation

The final step in planning a workshop or a similar event is preparing its facilitation. The facilitator should know the event’s aims and structure really well and be well aware of what points are essential and where it will be possible to digress from the original setup when necessary. By the same token, this role requires foresight as to the participants’ personalities and a possible potential for conflict, which should be duly considered in advance.
If you follow these guidelines for planning your next business event, you can be sure that your efforts will be well spent and that, at the end of the day, you will have reached your goals. If we can support you here, do not hesitate to contact us – free of char

e and without obligation.

Management tools are a dime a dozen. And yet, contrary to popular belief, most of them are good and helpful if used correctly and in an adequately defined context.
In “Tool Box Talks” we introduce you to common and less well-known tools and show you how you can exploit their potential for your enterprise, with today’s focus on the PDCA-Cycle.

What is the PDCA Cycle and when should it be used?

The PDCA Cycle, also called Deming Cycle or, after his inventor Walter A. Shewhart, Shewhart Cycle, is a process and quality improvement tool. It helps to systematically enhance internal procedures and practices by constantly checking in what way an adaptation of processes leads to different results.

The PDCA Cycle starts with the initial state of affairs, which is to be improved in a first step of improvement, with more to follow. This approach implies that processes are gradually improved and it unsuitable for designing processes from scratch or fundamentally changing them. What is more, the PDCA Cycle presupposes a cause-and-effect relationship between adapting processes and measurable changes of results. So before you apply this method, you should know well what the causal connections of the process in question are.

How is the PDCA Cycle used?

To reach a certain aim when using the PDCA Cycle to improve processes, you do this in four steps (cf. “How continuous improvement may succeed“):

  1. Plan
  2. Do
  3. Check
  4. Act

The first stage (“Plan”) defines what modification the process is to undergo and what will be the result expected from this adaption. The consequent implementation (“Do”) puts the planned measures into effect. If you use a special testing environment because, say, you want to protect running internal processes from unforeseen side-effects of your measure, you make sure that your testing environment diplays the real conditions in your company, so that you will be able to apply your insights to running processes.
In the third phase (“Check”) you compare the observed results of process adaptation with your expectations. Especially if the results do not match your predictions, you’ll have to find out why the measure diverges from your assumptions. Finally (“Act”) you update your knowledge about the relevant process and its documentation.

To reach the initially defined objective of optimisation, the PDCA Cycle is applied not once but several times until the final aim is reached, with each iteration gradually improving the process or the knowledge about it.

Avoiding the pitfall

Most customers find it easy to plan and implement an optimising measure. However, instead of checking the result (C), adapting the knowledge of the process (A) and planning a new strategy for improvement on this basis (P), in many cases the only response is a new set of activities – downgrading PDCA to PDR (plan-do-react).

The reasons for this behaviour range from a lack of measurable exptations to a loose work ethic. The result is always the same: The well-thought-out methodology of the PDCA Cycle is interrupted and rather than gradually improving processes, they fall victim to a blind testing of random measures. If processes should be improved despite the odds, they are so by mere accident, not by a systematic approach that follows clear guidelines. What you want to achieve, however, is a predictable and sustainable improvement.

What use does the PDCA Cycle have?

If used consistently, the PDCA Cycle will have a double benefit: for one thing, it ensures permanent gradual improvement of processes to which it is applied; for another, it leads to a precise understanding of the process and the way it relates to other internal processes as the current knowledge about the process is constantly reviewed and adapted if need be.

Follow us on Xing and LinkedIn to learn on a regular basis how you can make the most of management tools, so that you will stay one step ahead of your competitors.

Especially in smaller companies, processes tend to become closely linked to those employees who are responsible for their execution. Over time, these employees have created their workflows according to their needs. The tasks along the process fit seamlessly into the daily workload, they exactly know what to do and the results are fine.

But when these employees quit their job, the new process owner faces the challenge to manage a grown and often not well documented process. Keeping the process functional is a tough task, and if external partners are involved in the workflow, complexity raises exponentially.

In such a situation, three steps help to ensure continuity and support optimisation of the process passed on to the new process owner.

1. Understand the Current Process Setup

First, the new process owner should understand how the process is actually working. In this step it is helpful to visualise the flow of information and products with the support of all internal partners, e.g. in a value chain analysis.

It is helpful to include the former process owner in such an exercise as he has both the relevant process knowledge and the necessary experience. However, to avoid conflict, focus on recording the status quo and do not question the way things are as this will be taken as criticism by your predecessor. Rather, ask questions on how the process actually works and how the former process owner has contributed to its success. In this way you will pay tribute to the leaving employee and get an accurate picture of the process.

2. Internal Process Optimisation

While you avoided questioning the status quo in the beginning, you should do exactly that in the next step, of course without the former process owner. The internal process optimisation is a task for the new process owner and should be supported by all internal process partners.

The optimisation should follow the procedure described in How to optimise internal business processes: Set the objectives, get to know the status quo (see Step 1), choose a suitable method, get the optimisation project done and integrate the improvements into existing structures. Besides, common pitfalls which unneccisarily slow down the process should be removed (see Three factors that slow down business processes)

3. Optimise External Interfaces

Finally, the interfaces with external partners should be improved. This step should be done as early as possible to avoid issues at the interfaces in the transition from the old to the new process owner. However, the internal processes should already be re-aligned before reaching out to externals.

The optimisation of external interfaces is best done in a workshop – either face-to-face or virtually. Within the workshop, a shared process understanding is established, interfaces are analysed, and weak spots are identified. An external facilitator with an unbiased view may support the process and mediate between partners if necessary.

It is important to create a positive atmosphere for the workshop where people feel appreciated to enable open and constructive feedback from all participants. Group dynamics need to be cared for from the beginning to avoid conflicts between individuals or groups. Here, different tools like a group exercise may be used to relax the atmosphere and create awareness for potential issues. Working with breakout groups, for example, allows for deep dives on selected interfaces.

The output of the external process optimisation should be an action list including all measures defined by all internal and external partners. Once implemented, these measures will help the partners involved in the process to contribute more efficiently and effectively to the process.

If you wish to know more about or need support with improving processes in a transition from one process owner to another, please get in touch with us and learn how we may support you.

In the past few months your company spent a lot of time and effort into optimising their internal processes. Jobs and the separate process steps were scanned closely for potential weaknesses, and improved where possible. In the end all identified weak spots were addressed – and yet, the actual lead time was way behind the set target.

We have already described options for process optimization and continuous improvement in previous releases and know that if individual process steps are analysed and enhanced, the overall processes can be accelerated considerably. But often the real reasons why they are too slow go unnoticed as they are hidden in the interfaces between process steps.

Factor 1: Loops

In most cases delay is caused by the necessity to do rework whenever you have to loop back to a previous process step already completed. Just as there are different root causes for such rework, there are different approaches to identify and remove it.

Whenever rework is necessary to correct a mistake, this creates an unnecessary process loop. Process analysis, statistical data about errors or faulty products are useful tools to find out what flaws trigger the loop. The best way to address this problem is, obviously, to improve the workflow in a way that it runs smoothly. Alternatively, recognising errors as soon as possible minimises the waste of time due to rework.

Often, particularly in administrative processes, loops are the result of missing bits of information. Any query about earlier stages of a process costs time, especially so if the person responsible for the issue is not available. A systematic record of queries or direct interviews with relevant process participants can help identify possible weaknesses. Once the problem has been pinpointed, the interfaces between the respective process steps have to be adjusted I a way that all relevant information is being passed on, thus making further inquiries unnecessary.

Factor 2: Missing input

Just as loops caused by further inquiries waste time, so does information not gathered in time slow down business processes. The timing of when this specific input is being provided is particularly relevant in complex processes with two (or more) sub-processes.

In principle, there are two approaches to remedy such problems concerning interfaces. One straightforward fix is a Kanban system, so that the entire and complete input necessary for a certain process step is available when needed. Whenever the flow of goods and information has to be actively regulated, this method should be chosen. If, however, active input management is difficult to realise, it is advisable to work with a check list. In this way you can make sure in advance if all necessary input parameters are at hand before you start a process.

Factor 3: Idle time

In most cases it is idle time in the form of waiting that slows down processes. Whenever you do not directly move on to the next process step but keep your goods or data on hold, you are stuck in idle time.
To identify such periods of unproductive waiting, you have to scan critically the flow of goods and data within a process. Once you have found in the process chain the bottlenecks responsible for regularly creating idle time lost with waiting, you need to adjust the respective interfaces, either by a Kanban system or by implementing an early warning system preparing for the next process step.

As has been shown in these three instances slackening the processing pace, the process lead time is not only determined by single process steps, but, to a considerable degree, by their different interfaces and the flow of goods and information. This means that, in terms of process optimisation, these issues should be examined just as closely as the process activities themselves.

The production lines operate at maximum capacity, order books are full, and the next delivery date is at hand. The last batch is just leaving the coating line when the red light flashes: there are uncoated spots clearly visible on several parts.
Happily, this is not a major issue. The affected parts are stripped, cleaned and sent back to the coating line. Half a day later, the lot is ready for shipment.

Quick fix versus sustainable solution

You probably know similar situations, not only from a production context, but also from other parts of an organisation. A deviation is observed and almost instantaneously someone puts forth a solution – and often this solution remedies the deviation.
Unfortunately, most of these solutions are mere quick fixes, which only address the symptoms. They correct the observed deviation but not the underlying problem which caused the deviation in the first place. Thus the deviation is likely to re-occur later.
In contrast, a sustainable solution does not address the symptoms but the root cause. To address the cause generally requires a bit more time and effort compared to a quick fix. However, it also prevents the same mistake from happening again.

Reasons for a deviation

A deviation in this context means that the actual result does not line up with the expected result. This may happen due to two reasons: either the assumptions on which expectations are based are incorrect or there are flaws in the implementation.

Incorrect assumptions

If you are implementing something new, deviations are often caused by incorrect assumptions. Whether it comes to product development, process optimisation, or the implementation of new tools or methods – you always step out of your experience and explore a new terrain.
In a new environment with only partial information, expectations are mostly based on assumptions, either about the environment, functionalities or causal links. It is important to be aware of these assumptions.

Implementation flaws

If the expected results are not based on assumptions but are derived from a sound understanding of how various factors are correlated and interconnected, deviations often result from flaws in the implementation. It is well-known how to achieve the targeted results, but once or twice this best practice approach was abandoned.
This type of deviation is often observed in areas with clear and stable processes in place like large series production or other frequently repeated processes with low variance.

How to address deviations with long-term success?

If you want to get rid of a deviation once and for all, you should follow a three-step approach:

Analyse the deviation

First of all, you need to understand the type of deviation you are dealing with. Ask yourself whether your expectations are based on an extensive process knowledge or on mere assumptions. If the latter is the case, try to understand which assumptions you have made.

Analyse the root cause

Next, you need to understand the root cause of the deviation. You need to understand which assumptions were incorrect or where the way you implemented certain steps had flaws. Tools like 5-why or Ishikawa are quite useful.

Derive and implement measures

Once you understand the root cause you need to address it. If the cause is a flaw in the implementation, you need to ask: How can I prevent the process from slipping again? The answer usually is to be found in the design of the process or the control mechanism. In this article, we have summarized how you can optimize internal processes.
In the case of incorrect assumptions, you first of all need to replace faulty assumption. Afterwards, you need to assess how, based on your updated knowledge, you ought to proceed.

If you adhere to this procedure and keep in mind our recommendations for optimising processes, you can not only correct deviations and errors, but also fix them sustainably and thus achieve real quality and process improvement. Contact us and we will find a tailored solution for your needs.

On hearing “continuous improvement”, many people thing of the Deming circle or PDCA: plan an improvement, implement it (do), check the results and act upon the them. Once the cycle is completed, it starts anew and thus realises continuous improvement. The second thought, however, may probably be something like “But it’s not that easy!” or “The theory is fine – but it never works that way in real life!” – and considering all the failed initiatives to implement continuous improvement, these thoughts are understandable.

Nevertheless, PDCA is an effective tool to implement continuous improvement. As in many cases, the problem is that this instrument is applied in the wrong way: surveying failed process improvement projects, one comes to the conclusion that mostly the use of tools is responsible for their failure – and not the tools themselves.

Process optimisation as cause-and-effect chain

Process optimisation along the lines of PDCA basically follows the logic of a cause-and-effect chain. An existing process is deliberately modified (= cause) and as a result the efficiency or effectiveness of the process improves (= effect). This sounds trivial but, far from it, actually significantly impacts the approach to process optimisation.

Causal relationship between cause and effect

If process optimisation follows the logic of cause-and-effect chains, then there is a causal relationship between cause and effect. This relationship is created by the process which is to be improved and the interfaces with other processes.

Generally, these causal relationships are not just linear dependencies but form complex networks. These networks are normally not limited to the process to be improved but linked to other processes and activities by interfaces.

Explicability of the effect

Another consequence of process improvement as a cause-and-effect chain is that you can explain the effect of any process modification. Causal relationship provides a rational explanation why a certain effect results from a given cause.

The rational explanation may be used in two ways. If the causal network is known, the effect of any modification can be predicted. Likewise, if both cause and effect are known, the causal network can be reconstructed.

Optimising causal networks based on PDCA

Given the implications of process optimization as a cause-and-effect chain, PDCA is ideal for continuous improvement. In this context, the respective steps are:


Before first applying PDCA, the optimization target needs to be defined (see „How to optimise internal business processes“ [Link:]). The target should be clearly defined and quantified whenever possible.


Based on the current understanding of the process, i.e. its causal network, an optimisation step is worked out which modifies to process depending on the defined target. Having done so, both the necessary measure (= cause) and the expected outcome (= effect) have to be described.


The described step is implemented, with a constant monitoring of the resulting effects on the process.


Once the optimisation step is implemented, the actual effects are compared with the expected ones. If the observed results match those expected in the plan-step, the PDCA iteration is completed. In case the overall target is met, the optimisation cycle is completed, otherwise another iteration begins (i.e. plan).

If the observed results were not expected, the current process knowledge needs to be adjusted. To allow for such an adjustment, it is essential to understand why the implemented change resulted in the observed effect.


Once the causal relationship between the implemented measure and the observed effect is established, the knowledge about the process needs to be updated accordingly. The updated knowledge will then serve as a basis for another PDCA iteration.

Benefits from PDCA process optimisation

Using PDCA for process optimisation requires thorough application, which may prove difficult in busy day-to-day operations. Most of all, the analysis of unexpected effects is readily skipped in favour of quickly implemented fixes.

However, by sticking to the steps described above, you will win twice: First, you will achieve the set targets for process improvements. Second, your knowledge about relevant processes will increase.