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A study into the reasons for process improvement project failures: results from a pilot survey

Jiju Antony (Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland)
Fabiane Letícia Lizarelli (Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos, São Carlos, Brazil)
Marcelo Machado Fernandes (Federal University of Itajubá, Itajubá, Brazil)
Mary Dempsey (National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland)
Attracta Brennan (National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland)
Julie McFarlane (University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland)

International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management

ISSN: 0265-671X

Article publication date: 1 August 2019

Issue publication date: 9 October 2019




Process improvement initiatives, such as Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, typically have common characteristics that are carried through projects. Whilst a project’s performance is an important determinant of the successful implementation of continuous improvement (CI) initiatives, its failure can undermine the impact of any CI initiative on business performance. As a result, an understanding of the reasons of process improvement project failures is crucial. The purpose of this paper is to present the results of a pilot survey highlighting the most common reasons for process improvement project failures.


This paper presents a pilot survey of 42 Brazilian manufacturing specialists who have been involved in process improvement projects. The participants of this survey were Six Sigma Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts and Six Sigma champions from manufacturing companies in Brazil. The survey questionnaire was piloted with five experts in the field in order to ensure that the questions were valid and technically sound.


The execution of Six Sigma projects in organizations results in a moderate rate of project failures. These failures can cost organizations several millions of dollars especially within the context of larger organizations. The main reasons for project failure, as cited by the specialists include: resistance to change, lack of commitment and support from top management and incompetent teams.

Research limitations/implications

The authors report the findings from a pilot survey having a limited sample size. Moreover, the data have been collected from one country and primarily from large manufacturing companies.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first empirical study looking into the reasons for process improvement project failures. The authors argue that if the top reasons for such failures are understood, a framework can be developed in the future that can mitigate the chance of project failures during project execution. This could potentially lead to significant savings to the bottom-line of many organizations.



Antony, J., Lizarelli, F.L., Fernandes, M.M., Dempsey, M., Brennan, A. and McFarlane, J. (2019), "A study into the reasons for process improvement project failures: results from a pilot survey", International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, Vol. 36 No. 10, pp. 1699-1720.



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