A co-worker, Jane, walked into my office and told me that we had a problem with one of our processes. After I took a moment to think to myself, “we had that process operating well last year and it has been running smoothly so far this year” – I began asking why.
In Lean, the goal is to get to the root cause of a problem as quickly and effectively as possible. A great way to do so is by asking some simple “why” questions. In this case, Jane was able to quickly discover that we had several new people in the process. Even though they had basic training and handled the process well the first few times, they suddenly ran into a few snags and exceptions.
It was one of these exceptions that caused the problem. You see, they adapted the process for one exception and didn’t change it back. They also didn’t understand how to identify a defect in the process. However, it became very noticeable in the process after only a few days.
To have effective process compliance and flow, you have to be able to see inconsistencies. Another key component is providing quick and effective feedback as soon as you discover inconsistencies.
In our industry, we pride ourselves on complying with external requirements. However, we are not as good at complying with processes and procedures within our own firms. Why? It boils down to two reasons.
Your way is better. You don’t believe the firm’s process is the most efficient and effective way to get your work done.
If this describes you or your firm, the Lean Six Sigma methodology can help you reengineer your process to focus on value and eliminate waste and inefficiencies.
Losing sight of the big picture. While you believe in the process, you sometimes forget what the true requirements are to better serve your internal customers and provide excellent client service. You forget that quality is built into the process from the first step.
If this sounds familiar, you need to come back to visibility and feedback. You need to have a process and a culture within your firm to identify problems and correct them quickly with timely feedback.
Start by assuming that all employees want to impress you by doing their jobs right – and they buy into the process. Most mistakes, including not following the agreed upon process, are usually not intentional.
So with that foundation, how do you get your team members to better comply with firm processes? Follow these four steps:
Verify acceptance. Confirm that everyone agrees with and has bought into the process.
Make it visible. You need to be alert to instances of non-compliance. Your visibility may come from your workflow program that effectively and quickly points out anomalies or a workflow coordinator that has their pulse on throughput and individual compliance.
Provide timely feedback. Once you identify non-compliance, you need to provide feedback to the individual(s). Not doing so can be your biggest efficiency mistake, especially since it often leads to lower customer service, too. Send a quick email or instant message, or discuss the issue in a team meeting. Be sure to empower everyone in your firm to provide feedback – it has to flow both top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top. Communication is essential. And since inconsistencies are not intentional, usually a little reminder or education is all that’s needed.
Keep score. Businesses in other industries keep track of their defects, and you should do the same. How many times has someone in your office, group or firm skipped routing a tax return in your workflow program? Misrouted it? How often has a reviewer showed up in the field to review an audit that is not completed? Remember, you get what you measure.
Consider a fun way to promote compliance, too. Even something as simple as putting a charity jar in your office can help. Every time you forget a step or make a “non-lean” decision and your co-worker catches it, put some change in the jar.
I was impressed when Jane approached me with a defect. It was great that she was able to verify that no one was intentionally working around the process. As soon as Jane saw the problem, she got the team together for a floor meeting where she provided feedback on what was going wrong in the process and how it should be corrected. In Jane’s case, she knew what the root cause of the problem was ahead of time. If she hadn’t, she could have asked the group for feedback during that floor meeting.
The whole process took 10 to 15 minutes of time before the team was back on track. There were no hurt feelings, no weeks and weeks of wasted time and continued defects and no built up tension. And, this defect is now a part of regular metrics to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
It is not a bad thing when problems in the process are discovered. When and how you react is crucial. You and your team are in this together. Don’t be afraid to communicate with one another to keep your processes running smoothly.