Exploring Tampering : Towards an Understanding of Why Improvement Efforts Sometimes Fail

Abstract: Ever-increasing competition together with increasing and changing customer demands place high demands on organisations to maintain and improve their current products and services while also developing and renewing their offerings. However, research claims that many improvement efforts carried out in organisations fail. A line of research in quality management focusing on process improvement proposes that tampering, i.e. attempts to solve problems without targeting the fundamental causes of the problem, may be one reason why some attempts to improve fail. This dissertation focuses on faulty identification of causes of problems, as well as responses to such problems made by individual employees in their day-today work.The purpose of this dissertation is to enhance knowledge on tampering as a means to understand why attempts to improve sometimes do not lead to the desired results. This dissertation also answers the research questions How is tampering manifested in various types of approaches to identifying and responding to problems? and How can customers cause employees to take tampering actions? Studying how tampering is manifested in different ways depending on how a problem is interpreted and consequently the approach taken to respond to the problem can enhance knowledge about which interpretations and actions may lead to tampering. In this dissertation, approaches are viewed as alternative courses of actions available to employees when responding to problems. Four different types of approaches are studied: inaction, workaround, local improvement and system change. In addition, possible connections between customers and tampering are discussed and in this dissertation, it is proposed that the customer may have a negative impact on employees’ improvement efforts. In addition to answering the two research questions, a contemporary understanding of the tampering concept is proposed.Three studies have been conducted: a narrative literature review, a qualitative interview study and a case study with data collection through interviews, observations and a document study. This dissertation includes five appended papers. To answer the first research question, the main findings from the papers have been analysed by applying flexible pattern matching. The flexible pattern matching process was conducted by developing a theoretical framework of approaches, summarising the findings from the papers, and then comparing the findings to the theoretical framework to identify similarities and differences. To answer the second research question, examples of tampering were studied where the customer affected which problem was to be remedied or how.The analysis in the first research question results in five manifestations of tampering in various approaches to identifying and responding to problems. Actions proposed to cause tampering are passivity/wait-and-see, symptomatic response, locally focused response, disproportionate vision and vicious spiral of firefighting. The analysis in the second research question shows multiple examples of customer-induced tampering. Customers do not tamper with an organisation’s processes, but may express demands or concerns about perceived problems or how to execute a process that the organisation complies with. The saying ‘the customer is always right’ seems to be applied especially when the demand is placed by customers who are considered particularly important for relational or economic reasons.This dissertation contributes to research on quality management in general and improvement efforts through employees approaches as well as the customers role in identifying and responding to problems in particular. This dissertation and the appended papers explore the concept of tampering, and suggest that there is a need for a revitalisation and a broader understanding of the concept in order to increase its applicability in contemporary contexts. This dissertation also explores the previously under-exploredperspective on how customers can cause organisations to take measures that – from a process perspective – create process deterioration.

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