Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Checklist culture enhances human performance, causes lasting results

August 5, 2016
By Jim Weynand Check-6

Aug. 5, 2016 – Under pressure to produce newer, improved products and under increasingly reduced life-cycles, manufacturers are responding by implementing the latest time-saving technologies and systems to automate and improve human processes. However, all benefits of automation aside, human beings still manage these processes and do what humans do. Memories fail and distractions occur causing even the most experienced process operator to have a lapse in judgment or decision making resulting in accidents and production losses.

Whether performance is measured in terms of profitability, productivity, quality, efficiency, time to enter market or safety, most organizations try to facilitate lasting performance improvement with a strategy solely based on incorporating new operational/procedural process or automation tools. As a result, performance gains are usually short-lived as the focus, novelty and commitment to the new process or “widget” wears off.

Incorporating a human performance improvement program to support automated processes can reduce unplanned catastrophic incidents and position an organization further up the performance ladder where safety is inherent, and farther away from errors and accidents.

Performance Excellence
Process and automated tools can be critical components to an organization’s success but are only the means to a larger strategic “end state” objective of developing a culture of operational discipline and continuous improvement called Performance Excellence. A proven methodology for driving real organizational change for real results, Performance Excellence targets three critical areas that drive operational success:

1. Leadership: focuses on specific executive and mid-level leadership actions, communication and team-alignment strategies, and the front-line leadership development required to drive lasting organizational change.


2. Operational process: incorporates best practices into operational processes and support tools that make compliance easy and drive procedural discipline, standard work, verifiable compliance and continuous improvement.

3. Team behaviour/culture: instills high-performing teamwork habits that drive and sustain improved operational performance, compliance and safety.

One of the primary tools used to support the three attributes comprising Performance Excellence is a checklist culture. Well-designed checklists work together to improve the reliability of an entire operation, not just a single task. The goal of a checklist culture is to harness best practices and procedures and drive real-time behavioural alignment. They also act as a critical crosscheck to prevent common sources of human error (forgetting procedural steps, steps out of order, failure to recognize risk associated with actions, direct mutual support or external quality assurance [QA] for critical steps, etc.).

Checklist development
Teamwork is a byproduct of reliability and consistency. A checklist culture is a reliably consistent team of individuals who communicate real-time with each other across the business in familiar language and operate in near perfect rhythm to complete assigned tasks — precisely, safely, and efficiently. To achieve a lasting, successful level of Performance Excellence within an organization, checklist development must incorporate and consider the following three insights as part of the development process:

• Capture notes, cautions, and warnings in real-time that alert users prior to performing individual steps. Notes should highlight an operating or maintenance procedure, technique, condition, or statement considered essential. Information contained in notes may also be safety related. Cautions should highlight an essential operating or maintenance procedure, practice, condition, statement, etc., which, if not strictly observed, could result in damage to or destruction of equipment or loss of data. Warnings should highlight an essential operating or maintenance procedure, practice, condition, statement, etc., which, if not strictly observed, could result in injury to or death of personnel or long-term health hazards.

• Write checklists to mitigate human error for an operation’s most critical, high-risk tasks, where failure is not an option. They should not be written for every single job task during the processing lifecycle.

• Design the checklist with the leadership team and ensure company culture/behaviour is taken into consideration. Leadership must be heavily involved to guarantee operational checklists align with current business objectives, yet subordinate insight and feedback should also be leveraged to ensure any new processes coincide with and not detract from the existing company culture.

Communal discipline of checklists allow supervisors and their subordinates to follow a standardized set of company-based procedures, written by boots-on-the-ground professionals with real-world experiences… rather than a chain-of-command hierarchy based on experience learned 20 years ago from a manual, or worse, the previous supervisor.  

Lasting results
For one North American manufacturer, a plant was having serious problems with the start-up times on some of its lines. Following each weekend, start-up times required one hour of unplanned downtime every Monday morning. To determine the root cause, the staff executed the start-up checklist and analyzed the resulting data with their line leads and operators. During a brief brainstorming session, they quickly recognized the condition in which the machine was left the previous Friday was causing multiple delays getting the line running on Monday. Accordingly, they developed a second shift shutdown checklist to be run on Friday afternoons that included proper cleaning of equipment and the draining of air lines. The result was a reduction of the start-up time from one hour to six minutes. They calculated the value of this one checklist as follows: three product lines, totalling 27 workers at $661.50 labour per week resulted in $33,075 annual savings in wasted labour cost and increased capacity by 102 units per week. They have since replicated this best practice to the other production lines in the plant and the company is planning to transfer this best practice to all similar plants.

As evidenced by the example above, instilling a sustained checklist culture in the manufacturing industry to support automated processes will move organizations from an experienced-based culture, merely aiming for safety, to a knowledge-based Performance Excellence culture executing standardized, precision operations. Implementing simple checklist tools makes it easier for crews to use standard procedures to increase productivity and create environments where safety is a result of doing the job right, every time.

Jim Weynand is the chief revenue officer at Check-6.

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