At some point in every continuous improver’s career, they have a moment where they are assigned to a seemingly impossible project and they have no idea where to begin.

Process improvers feel overwhelmed. They feel intimidated. Most of all, they have an ominous, looming fear of failure. Process improvers pride themselves on driving towards results. So when they are put in a situation where they cannot see the path forward, it makes them feel incredibly uncomfortable. The anxiety sets in.

Here are four steps to take to tackle those impossible improvement projects:

It’s Not YOUR Problem

First, the continuous improver must remember that they do not own the problem. Improvers are highly dedicated to their organizations. They want to see their organization succeed. They want to see happy, satisfied customers. They want to see a lasting culture change. As a result, it’s difficult to not take ownership of the problem.

Instead, they must embrace their role as a guide. The role of a process improvement professional is that of an internal consultant. They facilitate the problem solving process, help the business clearly define the problem, asses all of the potential solutions and implement a better way of doing business. It’s not their job to find a solution.

Take a couple of deep breaths and repeat after me, “it’s not my problem….it’s not my problem.” There, doesn’t that feel so much better?

The role of a process improvement professional is to facilitate the problem solving process.

Ask Questions

Imagine the role of a crime scene investigator. They have just been called out to the scene of the crime. They don’t know exactly what happened and they often don’t know who committed the crime or the motive behind the crime. Instead, all they have are clues and witnesses. They start to question the witnesses and gather information.

Take that same mentality towards your challenging continuous improvement opportunities.

Talk to the Subject Matter Experts and start asking questions like:

  •   Tell me about the problem?
  •   How does it impact you and your team?
  •   How does it impact the customer?
  •   How long has the problem been occurring?
  •   Do you have any data about the problem?
  •   Do you have a process that you typically follow?

Ask follow-up questions to dig deep into root causes. This practice will help define the problem and develop a problem statement. Most often, properly defining the problem is the hardest part of making an improvement. But thorough questioning and active listening will make this a breeze.

Ask for Help

Process improvers pride themselves on being able to tackle tough problems, but they should never be afraid to ask for help. It takes a lot of humility for a continuous improver to ask for help. Remember that you want the best solution possible, so it’s important to seek additional perspectives.

Ask for help from a team member, from a trusted coworker, or a peer in a networking group or a professional society. Sometimes just talking through the challenges sparks new ideas and creativity. Often, a colleague has been in a similar situation before, and they can share tips and strategies they used to find a way forward….or simply commisserate.

Process improvers pride themselves on being able to tackle tough problems, but they should never be afraid to ask for help.

Embrace the Uncertainty

It’s okay, and actually a good thing, not to immediately know how to approach a problem. When people are put into challenging situations, it pushes them to be work harder to find more creative problem-solving approaches. It will push professionals to grow in their own personal development.

So, embrace these times when you don’t know what you are doing and change your perspective. Turn this into an opportunity for personal growth.

These impossible projects will soon become a source of pride and accomplishment when the business sees a major improvement. The effort and creativity invested will reap tremendous rewards in the end.

When you feel stuck, overwhelmed or fearing failure, come back to these four things and you will find a path forward where you DO know what you are doing.

Author: Allison Greco

Author: Allison Greco

Founder, CII

I created my foundation with a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and MBA from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past decade, I have held Continuous and Process Improvement roles for Black Hills Energy, Williams, the US Air Force and BNSF Railway. I’ve started new CI programs and reinvigorated stale ones. Along the way I earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and became a licensed Professional Engineer.