Checking Accuracy

Apr 01, 2004 10:30 PM  By

Q

We plan to launch an employee incentive program to eliminate errors in the warehouse. To ensure that the right product is shipped, how can we motivate our employees to double-check their work?

A

TOM GUSCHKE
Principal, Keogh Consulting

Double-checking their work may be helpful, but may not be the best or only solution. There are usually several ways to improve the quality of order processing (and other operations), each carrying its own benefits and costs. But you should first discover the real cause(s) of errors and their relative frequency, and focus on those that occur most often and/or have the most significant impact. With that priority list, you can then identify solutions for each problem that give the biggest bang for the buck.

How about setting up a task force of warehouse employees to document mistakes and determine why they happen, their frequency, and their potential impacts or costs? Then conduct a contest to identify the best ways to reduce those mistakes. You’ll likely be surprised how resourceful the warehouse crew can be when challenged to think of ways to improve without working harder. Be sure to have them focus on the causes and effects, not on the individuals making the mistakes!

The objective is to have the workers themselves find the causes of the mistakes and then invent the remedies — without adding extra layers of “checkers” or “gatekeepers.” The causes and remedies may be eye-openers. Often, they are easy fixes — minor process changes, reformatting pick lists or checklists, redistributing tasks, cross-training, putting up clear signage, and so forth. Investigating the causes and effects of errors has the added benefit of educating the staff about the business purpose of their work. It lets them see and understand the impact of their errors on customer service.

A

RON HOUNSELL
VP, Tom Zosel Associates

Errors can be classified into two categories — deliberate and unintended. Working with the assumption that your workers are all well-intentioned and detail-oriented, we can break down the unintended group into two parts, “systemic” and “individual.”

Systemic errors flow from layout, packaging and product identification, and other things. They can be attributed to most of the workers who perform the same kind of task. Individual errors flow from a lack of training or understanding of the right way to do the work, carelessness, too much speed, poor planning, or intentional failures, and are usually not shared by the work group as a whole.

Some labor and quality truisms:

  • It is hard for people to check their own work. Have a separate person fill that role or rotate the task among your best workers.
  • Using statistically valid sampling will manage error rates as or more effectively than 100% audits of completed work (receiving, putaway, replenishment, and packing, as well as picking). Sample a certain percentage of everyone’s work every week and provide immediate feedback where errors are found. Increase the level of audits of those with low quality until things change for the better. Keep good records of audit results and use them as part of performance reviews.
  • To optimize labor performance (and it is the largest operational cost after inventory and transportation) employees should be evaluated along two dimensions, productivity and quality, not just quality. Once those are in place, an incentive should be used to reward exceptional performance (perfect quality and production that is well above the acceptable minimum). Poor performance in either respect must also have consequences or it is meaningless.

A well-designed productivity improvement program, including a fair and equitable way to predict the time content of individual work and compare it to actual accomplishment, is by far the most effective way to improve employee morale and turnover.