Tuesday 4 January 2011

Real Men don't follow Procedures

What Real Men (or Real Women or Real Anyone) Don't Do
In my files, I have a copy of an article called "Should Real Men Use Procedures?" - largely repackaged here. It's a very interesting look at an unexciting topic, written by Dr David Embrey of Human Reliability Associates.

Nobody gets really excited about procedures. Or at least, they don't until things go wrong. Procedures are needed to comply with quality systenms, and procedures are needed to document safe and effective operation. In an ideal world, corporate knowledge of the safest and most effective way to conduct operations would be encoded into procedures which everyone would follow (until a better way is found).

Unfortunately, people don't always like to follow procedures.

As the article explains

In one project, a questionnaire was distributed to nearly 400 operators and managers. The first set of questions related to the extent that procedures were actually used for different categories of task. For tasks perceived to be safety or quality critical, the use of procedures was high (75% and 80% respectively) but by no means universal. For problem diagnosis (regardless of whether a system was safety critical or not) only 30% of the respondents used procedures. In the case of routine tasks, only 10% of the respondents said they used procedures. When a task is described as ‘proceduralised' there is an implicit assumption that the procedures will actually be referred to when performing a task. However, the results of the survey indicated that even in tasks where procedures were said to be used, only 58% of the respondents actually had them open in front of them when carrying out the task These figures imply that the actual average 'on-line' usage of procedures for safety/quality critical, problem diagnosis and routine tasks is quite low, i.e. 43%, 17% and 6% respectively
That's pretty low!  And even when the procedures were referred to, they were generally taken as being advisory guidelines
Another dimension assessed by the study was the extent to which procedures should be regarded as being guidelines, or needed to be followed 'to the letter'. Although there was considerable agreement that safety and quality instructions should be followed 'to the letter' (90% and 75% respectively) for most other categories of task about 50% of respondents believed that they were primarily guidelines. This came as a considerable surprise to the management of the companies included in the survey.
Now it might be assumed that for routine tasks, people did not refer to procedures because they could remember them perfectly. Alas this is not the case

The results indicated a very high usage of 'Black Books' by both operators and managers (56% and 51% respectively). Although there is no reason in principle why such informal job aids should not be compiled by individuals, their existence suggests that there may be considerable variation in the way that tasks are actually performed. There are obvious implications for quality critical operations if some of these variations in performance do not achieve the required objectives.
So people don't refer to company procedures, but they do refer to their own personal version in their own black book. Some of the reasons for this are shown below.

Procedures are not used because. (percentage agreeing)
  • they are inaccurate (21)
  • they are out of date (45) 
  • they are unworkable in practice (40)
  • they make it more difficult to do the work (42)
  • they are too restrictive (48)
  • too time consuming (44)
  • if they were followed 'to the letter' the job could not get done in time (62)

  •  people usually find a better way to do the job (42) 
  • they do not describe the best way to carry out work (48)
  • it is too difficult to know which is the right procedure (32)
  • they are too complex and difficult to use (42)
  • it is difficult to find the information you need within the procedure (48)
  • it is difficult to locate the right procedure (50)
  • people are not aware that a procedure exists for the job they are doing (57)
  • people do not understand why they are necessary (40)
  • no clear policy on when they should be used (37)
  • experienced people don't need them (19)
  • people resent being told how to do their job (34) 
  • people prefer to rely on their own Skills and experience (72)
  • people assume they know what is in the procedure (70)

So the procedures are innacurate, are not the best way to do the job, are difficult to follow or find, and people don't understand why they are needed, son instead they follow their own noses.
The way around all of this is pretty obvious, namely to involve the workers themselves in the creation and update of the procedures, and then to make them as user-friendly as possible. In other words, work with the operators to create the procedures from the black books themselves, and then apply a system for continuous improvement.
The old story about the knowledge sharing system applied at Xerox arose from a situation exactly as described in the article. Here there was a company manual which everyone was supposed to follow. Unfortunately it was wrong, out of date, and ineffective. The technicians kept two sets of manuals - a clean set to show management, and a set full of their own scribbles and annotations which was effectively their own "Black Book". Eventually Xerox introduced communities of practice, who took ownership of developing, applying and continuously improving their own procedures.

REAL men and women WILL follow procedures, provided they are involved in creating and improving those procedures in the first place. That's when they know that they are REAL procedures!


Kerrie Anne Christian said...

thanks for blogging this
I have governance responsibility for our site 9001 certification system including Document Control & procedures

I've been part of a process where operators were asked to produce the one best system of operating procedures - slow process but they owned it (each of 4 shift crews had their own way of operating this key turbo machinery - not really a good idea in fact for critical gear !)

Now I'm in process of reviewing lots of procedures - so it's good to see an honest approach rather than "Emperor's New Clothes" spin

Mohan Arun said...

Real breakthroughs came from people who dared to think different. If the deviant works, the deviance can become part of the 'procedure'. All human effort is an experiment, there is nothing written in stone here, people need to understand that we constantly test our surroundings, adapt, adjust and evolve ourselves to obtain the maximum possible efficiency and performance. Procedures are only guidelines and recommendations. If you can get it done faster, cheaper or better in another way, we should all be ears. If there is a shortcut, we better know about it.

I once worked in data entry where every one was typing in adding records from yellow pages and they were typing in the city name field anew everytime a new record was to be typed. I started copying the city name field to clipboard and pasted it for faster record entry in the next record entry and then everyone copied from me because it saved keystrokes and time. I broke the 'procedure' and then it became the rule because it was more efficient.

Nick Milton said...

Absolutely Mohan. Procedures need to be continually improved. The key is to involve all the people in updating the procedures as these shortcuts are found. The danger comes when people keep their own shortcuts in "black books" and not in the procedures, so that improvements can be shared. Otherwise you end up, as Kerrie-Anne found, with 4 shifts operating the process in 4 different ways.

Jane Bozarth said...

I spent a lot of time with Orr's "Talking About Machines" (referenced above) when writing my dissertation. One thing that proved problematic in terms of the procedures was that they were created on the factory floor by engineers using pristine machines as they were meant to be used. Anyone who's owned a copier knows they have their own personalities, and users NEVER treat them the way owner manuals instruct them to. Often the company-produced machine procedures were just not appropriate for the given real machine undergoing real use in the real world.

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Jane

Blog Archive