“How to Achieve Process Improvement and Reduce Human Error with Effective Documentation”: Emmet Kearney

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

This famous quote often looms over the areas Six Sigma and Lean Management. It was also the key message brought into Emmet Kearney’s talk on process improvement through documentation.

Some authors have contested the relevance of the quote, with Colm Fitzpatrick touching on the positive & negative aspects of data in his talk. It is generally regarded that business decisions based on objective data and trends are more effective, particularly with reference to the lean principles.

As I am completing my Final Year Project on Lean Start-ups, inevitably the process is about finding out what the customer values through the lens of objective data collection, then orientating the business towards adding value for the customer.

Emmet Kearney, the Business Development Manager at TWi, presented on the topic of Process Improvement at The Lean Productivity Conference. He refined some of the key points of Six Sigma, contesting that standardized operations, documentation and data are the key tools of process improvement.

These same topics have been recurring themes throughout my previous blog posts.

The basis for this argument is that humans make errors, these errors are costly to an organisation. Therefore, standardizing and improving the processes will improve the companies long-term strategic position.

Emmet placed a particular emphasis on the human-tech interface in companies. With modern industries developing, this interface is becoming more prevalent in today’s businesses (This is discussed in my post with Denis O’Brien).

Emmet highlighted several key areas of attention:

  • Culture: as discussed in my post regarding Change, a company that promotes communication, sharing, and curiosity, is more likely to acknowledge mistakes as being productive or having potential for improvement. The ability for a company to create an environment where the risk of mistakes are minimized, while the learning process of mistakes are maximized.
    • Providing communication channels within the company’s framework can direct the company’s culture towards that of an open and sharing environment. Advising people on procedures, allowing them to partake in training and workshops can enhance their curiosity and willingness to engage. Over-time, building a nurturing and open company culture.
  • Quality Management Systems (QMS): standardized planning and execution with strict quality controls are another option to minimize risk and human errors. Standardization reduces variation, which is easier to manage and reduces errors.
    • QMS such as ISO 9001, provide stringent procedures to follow in order to reduce errors and provide a framework to follow to manage errors. The format in which employees have access to the information is vital.
  • People: The above three points all revolve around people. The technology is built by people, to be used by people, for people. Ensuring that employees know how to use the human-tech interface to the best of their ability is vital, while also allowing nurturing the company culture and providing adequate information to employees, are all key to reducing human error and generating process improvement.

The rise of technology in commerce has meant a rapid change in how business is done. Technology has allowed for documenting and data analytics to be far more efficient.

Emmet suggests that both hard, and soft documentation, are the driving forces behind process improvement. Documentation supports data, data can allow for an objective analysis of the business, therefore data is arguably the vital tool for process improvement.

Data can highlight the areas which are in need of attention. Without adequate documentation, human errors will go unnoticed, affecting the customer and affecting the organisation.

It is through documentation that proper management can be accomplished and processes can be optimized. It is also through continued analysis, such as with QMS, that these standards are maintained and adapted accordingly.

Humans are bound to make mistakes, yet humans are a vital part of the company. Through documenting the processes, generating standards and nurturing the employees to achieve these standards are the fundamental building blocks of process improvement.

Without documentation, there is no where to begin.

You begin with data, you improve through data, and the results should be visible in data.

My Lessons Learnt:

  • Objective information is an important tool in Process Improvment & TQM
  • Through soft-copy documentation, processes can be improved easier
    • Nurture the technology in the company, it is an opportunity
  • Humans make mistakes
    • Find the way to minimize the risk & maximize learning
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