Five Mistake Proofing Strategies for Error Free Work
By Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems
How mistake proof can you be? How many days can you go without making a mistake? Is it realistic to expect yourself, let alone anyone else, to make it through even one day without at least one error? In short, the answer is a resounding ‘No!’ In this post, I want to give you five mistake proofing strategies that will help you achieve more consistent, error-free work each day.
We logically realize how tough it is to go just a few hours without an error. However, we still expect our people to perform their work in a mistake-free manner. Near perfect process execution and defect-free service make sense, but what does it take to actually achieve, let alone sustain, such performance goals?
Fortunately, I have been exploring this question for several years now. I continue to experiment with my own processes and practices, and I observe the errors of others. I am convinced that these five strategies for near perfection will make a difference in both your work and personal life. The only question is … will you commit to their use?
Mistake Proofing Strategy #1 – Don’t count on memory
The largest collective mistake we as leaders make each day is to expect error free work from people who work essentially from memory 100% of the time. Think about it. How often do you see people use any form of instructive job aid to help them do their job?
The human memory is mistake-prone to begin with. Add in the effects of poor sleep, dehydration, stress and overwhelm, excessive work demands, and an out of balance diet, and you have a perfect recipe for daily mistakes. Humans may be able to sustain error rates around 1-2% when they rely solely on their memory, but for many types of work, that rate is too high.
Not all jobs should require instructions-in-hand for effective task execution. However, a greater percentage of these jobs would benefit from the use of well-designed job aids that are close to the work.
Risk level should serve as a primary trigger for potential instructions-in-hand use. As stakeholder risk from potential process errors goes up, work instructions should (1) use a more effective design and (2) move closer to the job.
Mistake Proofing Strategy #2 – Don’t shoot from the hip
I admit my bias in this area due to my lifetime Scouting involvement. ‘Be Prepared’ is the Boy Scout motto. So, I was taught from an early age to plan ahead. However, too many people live life more on a day to day basis. They take things as they come and ‘shoot from hip’ as necessary.
The best work teams, such as the Blue Angels and Snowbirds flight teams, perform extensive flight pre-planning. They do this to avoid errors during actual task execution. The same can be said for people who climb rock faces like El Capitan, sail around the world, or provide emergency response services.
When the potential risk of harm is high, the daily preparation process becomes key. We don’t all need to prepare every day like the Blue Angels do. However, we should match our daily preparation efforts to the potential risk level associated with the work we will do that day.
If our work for the day is simple and low-risk in nature, we might be able to shoot from the hip. As task performance risk levels rise, our daily planning efforts need to increase in rigor as well.
Mistake Proofing Strategy #3 – Appreciate our cognitive ergonomic challenges
Too many people miss out on opportunities to improve simply because they don’t understand the power of simple human factors changes in the workplace. For example, it does not cost a lot of money or time to effectively use color or shape coding to cue behaviors and help people make choices. How do you utilize human factors engineering best practices?
External to work, we do more things each day that challenge our cognitive abilities versus fewer. We don’t eat or sleep well. We often fail to hydrate as we should, and our stress levels at times rise too high. All of these factors, and others, affect our cognitive abilities to perform.
If we can appreciate and anticipate these cognitive challenges, we are in a better position to make simple, but effective, workplace design changes to help guide human behavior in the right direction. If we fail to appreciate such differences, we will continue to experience error rates that exceed what we desire. We will struggle to understand why people goof.
Mistake Proofing Strategy #4 – Use the power of perfect practice
Computer-based training helps us make sure we stay in compliance from a staff training perspective, but how often does it actually result in effective skill transfer and development? Similarly, it is important to review and update key work procedures each year. However, we should not expect such activities to contribute much in terms of personal skill development.
High risk tasks require repeated, meaningful practice to effectively learn and retain key task performance skills. The risk that comes with high risk work errors eliminates the option to learn by ‘trial and error.’ Instead, walk-throughs, simulations, and meaningful repetition become key vehicles for skill development. The skills of your coaches are key as well.
As with other safeguard types, training content and delivery must be flexed to match the potential risk associated with a given type of work. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to training content development and delivery simply will not get us close enough to perfection each day.
Mistake Proofing Strategy #5 – Turn waste time into change time
Time is the fuel for process improvement. Unfortunately, few of us can increase headcount or overtime rates to obtain such time. Instead, we have to make better use of our reactive analysis time investments. Additionally, we have to optimize the amount of time we spend daily on safeguard use for the purpose of error prevention. How often do you get what you pay for from a safeguard protection perspective?
Since we can’t ask people to work excessive hours or hire more people, we have to eliminate the sources of current time waste to find additional time for improvement. Two great areas to target for such gains are your corrective action development and root cause analysis processes. How much waste might these two processes currently contain?
Another possible time source for improvement exists in the form of existing safeguard enhancement. For example, you may spend five crew hours a week on work preparation, performance review, and on-the-job training on-the-job. How effectively do you spend this time? Is it possible to improve these safeguard processes? Could you possibly spend less time and obtain better outcomes relative to daily error reduction?
Would you like to learn some more best practices to error-proof your work processes, or even your life, for that matter? If so, join me for two days of virtual learning, practice, and planning in my ‘Best Practices in Mistake Proofing and Corrective Writing’ workshop.
This highly interactive event will help you learn more about what it truly takes to do error-free work. It will also help you develop, and put in place, more effective corrective and preventive actions. It is tough to escape reactive world when your fixes continue to fail.
You will leave the 2-day virtual workshop with a concrete action plan to minimize your daily error and risk levels. Follow the link to learn more about, and sign up for, this virtual mistake-proofing experience!
How Error Free Do You Need to Be?
Some of the most effective teams in the world count on the use of these strategies every day to produce error-free work. Failure to use one or more of them will increase your daily error rates to some degree. This degree of impact is also affected by task complexity, user competency relative to the task, and the work environment where the task is performed.