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Tips for Mistake Proofing in IT

Poke-yoke or mistake-proofing is the idea of designing something so that it cannot be manufactured or used incorrectly. What can you do to implement mistake proofing in IT processes or your user interface?

  • Avoid using modes. If you do use them, make it utterly obvious what mode the item is in at all times.
  • Provide graphical, easy to understand status reports. Ensure that they notify users of the ongoing status and flag unique, novel or out of spec statuses.
  • When someone runs into a rule preventing an action like an access control limit, give clear guidance through the user interface on how to get permission, the proper process and/or how to contact an expert for guidance.
  • When someone repeatedly commits the same error, train but don’t shame.
  • If many users are making the same error, collectively train everyone because those making the error are not the only ones who don’t know how to do it right.
  • Design processes to be as simple as possible but no simpler. Simplify existing flows as much as possible.
  • When designing a new process for something different from a common process, use different starting steps so that people don’t accidentally follow the common process out of habit when.
  • Wherever possible, give people the ability to go back in the process if they accidentally start the wrong one.
  • The default solution for workflows should not be to add a new spaghetti line on the flow charge for every situation or exception.
  • Review your process flows to make sure they closely fit business processes instead of becoming a hindrance to them.
  • Demand as little data as possible from users, but make essential fields mandatory to progress.
  • Design unique controls and interfaces to minimize accidental selections of the wrong thing.
  • Have a clean, uncluttered user interface and reports so people can quickly find what they want.
  • Have clear indicators when something is wrong. Think of the example of statistical process control charts or green/red indicators on system health dashboards.
  • If an automated system is giving advice, have an obvious method for reporting the exceptions and problems.
  • Have subject matter experts with the authority and knowledge to handle the rare exceptions or ability to over-ride processes, as well as oversight so they don’t abuse it to improve productivity.
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Questions You Need to Ask to Achieve Leaner Operations in Your Business

Lean engineering refers to the concept of eliminating waste in all its forms from your organization. Before you start value stream mapping, hiring Lean Six Sigma experts and trying to figure out which management fads to jump into, there are questions you can ask your staff to start eliminating workplace waste immediately.

More importantly, asking these questions can help your business achieve leaner, more effective operations without spending more money or completely reorganizing your business.


  • What is your core mission and purpose?
  • What are you doing that isn’t part of that mission that can and should be dropped? (This is where new products and services or old ones that linger can be identified for termination.)
  • What can you do to use up what you have before you order more?
  • Who is most efficient with the standard set of tools or software your team has? Find out so that they can share this knowledge with everyone else.
  • What small, low cost steps can you take to dramatically improve your customers’ satisfaction? For example, would emailing them when their product is shipped or emailing assembly instructions when the product arrives help them?
  • What individuals are considered subject matter experts and consistently called for questions, hurting their productivity? (And who can be trained as a backup for critical processes, so we don’t grind to a halt because Joe had a heart attack?)
  • Who isn’t used to their fullest potential and how can you put them to better use?
  • What projects have sat on the back burner for ages that should be finally put out?
  • What projects do we have in development that never come to fruition? Compare these to your mission, kill those that don’t fit the core of your business, identify efficient ways to make them reality if they are.
  • Which small changes in your current processes would yield significant ROI? (And don’t forget to measure this ROI as the cost of implementing it versus the benefits it yields, not compared to the whole operation.)
  • What can you do to improve communications within the group? And what reports, events and sessions can you eliminate to clear the overflow of information?
  • What meetings can you eliminate to save everyone time?
  • What stakeholders should be added to current meetings so that you do not have to wait for authorization to act? Who can be dropped from current meetings without affecting the team’s productivity?
  • Who wants to join a quality circle?
  • What services, contracts or licenses are you paying for that are not fully utilized? Determine what can be cut back or dropped to save money.
  • What metrics are no longer useful and can be dropped, saving time and money?
  • What regular training classes can be shortened or dropped?
  • What credentials do your employees actually need, such as food safety certifications, information security credentials or annual legal reviews? Which ones are no longer value added and can be dropped from company job descriptions and professional requirements, saving employees time and money while allowing more people to be considered qualified for job positions?
  • How can you better utilize current suppliers and contractors, shifting work or value added services to them for little additional cost?
  • What work have you outsourced and seen quality decline? What should you bring back in house?
  • What are you throwing away that could be recycled, sold or donated? And how can you set up a single step process to do exactly that so you don’t have to worry about it anymore?
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The Data You Really Need

Peter Drucker said, “In a data-rich world, first hand emotional intelligence matters.” In fact, he considered it one of the important types of data. But what is first hand emotional intelligence, and how do you get it?

The emotional intelligence Drucker described is what the customer needs and/or wants and their definition of having that need met. An organization must deliver the product or service based on the customer’s requirements or expectations, not their own internal metrics and preferences.

How do you get this first hand emotional intelligence? One of the advantages of the internet is the ease with which you can get this information. One example cited in Drucker’s final writings was Apple reviewing customer forums for unmet needs and seeing that one person wished there was a car charger for the iPhone and how many others echoed that need. Customer forums continue to provide this information, and it is one reason why many companies create customer forums under their own control. Another benefit of these forums is the ease of monitoring them and providing low cost support by staff sharing links to support documentation and customers helping each other solve problems. Companies can learn what problems customers are having by reading the forums, and sometimes they see novel uses of their product discussed in the forums that are a potential new avenue to exploit.

Another source of emotional intelligence on customers’ opinions and expectations are product and service reviews. What are people complaining about? Remember that complaints about deliveries and service are things your organization should address, whether it is changing your distributor or working with service centers to do a better job.

The internet has made it easy to send out anonymous surveys to customers via your customer relationship management system instead of your latest coupons and newsletters. Just make certain you give them free form fields to tell you how they really feel and what they wish you knew, not just a rating of 1 to 5 in a few categories. Knowing they are unhappy without knowing the specific reasons doesn’t help you unless you were totally ignorant of their state in the first place. Giving people the ability to give direct feedback in user surveys ensures that you get the emotional intelligence you need directly from the unhappy customers.

Monitoring social media may result in emotional intelligence about customers, though this is prone to sudden flare ups based on what hits an emotional nerve. The social media storms that hit in response to one person’s comment or unfounded rumor are not necessarily something to act upon and certainly not something to alter the functioning of an organization unless it actually is the product or service. For example, the false rumors that a tea company’s label featured slave ships should be addressed by public relations, not necessarily changing the labels in the next run. Don’t fire key personnel in response to the online equivalent of a lynch mob. But do look at viral videos like those of Christmas 2015 trials of hover boards showing them catching fire with alarming frequency.

Don’t forget user tickets as a source of emotional intelligence. Help desks periodically receive requests for product and service enhancements that are not actually problems, but customers don’t know any other way to give their feedback to the company. You can improve this information collection without hurting help desk metrics by creating a category specifically for suggestions and enhancement requests.


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The Link between Drucker’s Questions for Innovation and Continuous Improvement Methodologies

Peter Drucker can be seen as the founder of scientific management, calling for the collection of data and deliberate decision making towards specific goals. This concept is what allowed the United States to shift from a civilian to wartime economy and produce more tanks and planes in six months than the Germans though the US could produce in five years, allowing the United States to win World War 2. While that is in the past, Drucker’s insights on the methodical cultivation of innovation and process improvement remain not only relevant today but intertwined with the steps you need to take to improve your operations tomorrow.

Drucker’s Four Questions on Innovation:

1. What do you have to abandon to create innovation?

Drucker considered the most important and most difficult step of innovation. You must abandon what is no longer profitable, the products and services that are on the decline, the zombie projects that take up time and resources from the future bread and butter of the company. And you have to abandon projects that were tried and failed instead of continually trying to launch what won’t fly in today’s market, so you can develop what will work.

2.       Do you systematically seek opportunities?

Does your business have a plan to identify new niches or customer market segments for existing products? Do you have processes to capture customer suggestions or do focus groups to identify what you can improve in your current product, service of it or distribution? Do you capture ideas from your own staff on how to improve your processes or procedures?

3.       Do you have a disciplined process for converting ideas into practical solutions?

This question is the keystone of most continuous process improvement methodologies. Do you have a disciplined plan for measuring the as is state of operations, quality, delivery or other requirements of quality? After you’ve determined opportunities, you have the ability to plan how you’re going to make changes to better meet customer requirements or meet them for a lower price, with fewer resources or better performance.
Perhaps you’re implementing lean concepts to reduce waste and earn environmental certifications the customer sees as a mark of distinction. Perhaps you’re using Six Sigma to improve the quality of your product or improve the manufacturing process to reduce rework and its associated costs. Incremental improvements in the efficiency and performance of the production line can reduce manufacturing costs and improve profits, though whether this results in lower priced products or margin to integrate new features for the same price depends on the product itself.

All of these continuous process improvement methodologies are a variation of the plan–do–check–act Deming is credited for or Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control cycle.

4.    Does your innovation strategy work?

You have to have a plan to define the state of operations, collect the data, determine how best to proceed, make the changes and then verify that the change had the desired effect or verify that it worked. This is where the last step, whether a check or verification, is to make certain the change worked. If it failed, you either roll back the changes or study what to do instead. What you cannot do is make changes, assume they work and move on to the next project.

Another version of the innovation strategy innovation is studying the positioning of the product relative to the customer’s desires, expectations and position. You may need to alter the product to fit changing customer expectations, develop new products to be first in a new market, adapt to fit market and industry changes, update to integrate new knowledge into product design or business operations or alter your product line to suit demographic changes.
Constantly studying the state of the market and your product’s performance relative to competitors is part of this, and that market analysis, especially the emotional intelligence direct from customers, can give you information you need for future process improvements. For example, if customers expect the products to arrive in five days and your average is four days, many customers are getting their products on days six and seven. Now you know the next process improvement project to tackle – reducing delivery times for those customers.