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When you are looking at improving a process, we naturally look at all the benefits that the process improvement will deliver. It’s often necessary for a business case and to get buy-in/approval.

But the one thing we tend to neglect is looking at all the possible reasons why the process improvement shouldn’t be approved.

This is not a new concept – Edward De Bono, one of the world pre-eminent leaders around ‘thinking and creativity’ developed this concept much more fully in his 6 Thinking Hats method. You can find out more about this great tool here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Thinking_Hats)

The Yellow Hat thinking and Green Hat thinking are almost always what we think about when completing process improvement. The Yellow Hat is all about brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit. The Green Hat focuses on creativity, the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.

We’re really good at thinking of the positive benefits of a process improvement. It would be rare to find a process improvement where this doesn’t naturally happen (probably could happen better though!).

Red Hat thinking and Black Hat thinking are almost the opposites of the Yellow and Green. The Red Hat is where we can consider emotional responses like fears, dislikes and hates. Black Hat thinking is about looking at all the thing that could go wrong – all the negative stuff.

When I’m preparing to talk to key stakeholders about a potential process improvement, I start to think about all the barriers that could possibly come up. For example, if I’m looking to change the way we handle customer service I start thinking about:

  • What might compliance have a problem with? Why would they be resistant? What arguments might they present to me to be opposed to the change?
  • What might the call centre object too? Are they worried it will drive call handling times up? Or drive more calls into the centre? Or maybe it will reduce calls and make the call centre smaller – thus reducing the perceived importance of the Call Centre Manager?
  • What might IT object too? Will it mean a new technology being implemented? Would their nose be out of joint because it wasn’t a technology that they suggested? Or maybe they don’t want to allocate resources? Perhaps it’s a reduction in control for them, reducing the operational dependence on them?

This is not an exhaustive list – but you get the idea. I try not to only focus on technical aspects – I also try to consider the emotional response they might have. Sometimes, the technical reasons why something won’t work is masking the truth, which is an emotional response.

Pretend reason – “I am really worried about the impact on the customer”

Emotional (real) reason – “I am worried that I will look stupid because it was my idea to handle customer service the way we currently do it”

Knowing the reason why someone may be opposed to an improvement does a few things:

  • It helps you think about what your response might be – rather than having to come up with a counter-argument right on the spot
  • It might change the way you engage with a person about an improvement

It goes without saying that a collaborative, inclusive approach to change also helps bring some of these barriers down. But even in that environment, you can get people who are negative or opposed to changing things. Understanding why is hugely important to the success of any change initiative.

It’s great that we’re thinking about all the positives that our process improvements can bring to bear.

It’s equally important that we start thinking about all the negative reasons too. If you spend just a little time thinking about this before meeting with stakeholders it may help reduce the barriers to change and improve your project delivery.

Next time you’re prepping for a meeting, pop on your red and black hats beforehand J

-Lean Consulting