Process Discipline Happens at the Coalface
Whenever a catastrophic event occurs as a result of human error, the issue of process discipline comes into sharp focus. How often do we hear about how things go dramatically wrong because a procedure that should have been followed; wasnâ€™t?
Everyoneâ€™s attention is riveted when lives are lostâ€”and for obvious reason. Unfortunately at this point, the bulk of the energy (visible energy at least) is spent on public relations. If something really does change at the process-level, there is hope that it will have a halo effect and address other existingâ€•or soon to be discoveredâ€”problems of non-adherence to documented â€śstandardâ€ť processes. Time goes on and after awhile, itâ€™s easy to slump back into business as usual.
Catastrophic failures illuminate the outcomes and perhaps even the underlying issues, but really do little to solve the ongoing problems related to process discipline. In the same way that the cost of large failures are so immediately visible, longer term costs of everyday process non-compliance can add up to just as much, bit-by-bit.
Defining Real Process Discipline | Real work gets done at the coalface, where, until something fundamentally changes, nothing has changed. Businesses go to great lengths to compute the cost of failure, cost of â€śright first time,â€ť and cost of quality in different ways. It often boils down to things like rework, lower productivity, lost revenue, lost customers, non-productive time, and diminished competitiveness. No matter how you measure it, itâ€™s all waste. Achieving real process discipline with best demonstrated practices is the key to improving outcomes.
There are two major hurdles associated with process discipline:
- Define the process = easy
- Follow the process = hard
Itâ€™s a fact that the most accurate process definition (also known as Standard Work) is derived from those who work inside the process. For large organizations, itâ€™s not feasible for everyone to re-invent every procedure at every location. So letâ€™s assume that organizations have a process for propagating best known procedures and a process for updating and improving them. That leaves us with the issue of following the process (process discipline).
Many attempt to ensure process discipline through a series of audit procedures. An audit focuses on recorded information logs and data, and sometimes actual work product.Â The problem is that most of these are lagging indicators. If the audit looks at activities and results in real time, there is a good chance outcomes are skewed because of the immediacy of the attention. This is known as the Hawthorn Effect. Â In this case, little is accomplished toward true, ongoing process discipline.
Enforcing Workgroup EngagementÂ | The only way to accomplish effective adherence to procedures is to have the workgroup monitor itself. The timeframe for self-audit is that which is relevant to the workgroupâ€”perhaps hourly, daily or event-based as in:
“We only do this maintenance job once a month, but we always do it this way. Hereâ€™s how we validate ourselves against the standard.â€ť
â€śWe only do month-end close 12 times a year, but each time we do we always do it this way. Hereâ€™s how we validate ourselves against the standard.â€ť
Because the frequency is significant and meaningful to the tasks at hand and because we want to promote peer performance, the information needs to be visible. When the measure of process discipline is visible, the organization “at the coalface” places greater significance on it and adherence to standards. This is where true change begins.
With greater self awareness the broader organization can begin to think about whether or not workgroups are, in fact, monitoring themselves effectively. The questions (and audits) for management start to turn toward workgroup engagement, where a whole different set of questions become important and powerful:
- Are your work procedures easy to find and follow? Can I see them?
- How do you know when something isnâ€™t working?
- When you find a problem, what do you do?
- How do you communicate when things are or are not working?
- What does â€śgoodâ€ť look like in your process?
Monitoring Success | To be successful, our Â thinking must shift away from the idea that process discipline is even remotely related to top down control and externally propagated oversight. This is about bottom-up engagement and control that is bounded, directed, required, coached, measured, andâ€•most of allâ€•valued, from the top.
If you are now thinking: â€śThis would require us to completely shift how we think about and operate our business.â€ť Youâ€™re right.