Drill Sergeant vs. Process Oriented Workflow Management

By | December 29, 2010

Need a good laugh this holiday season? Have you seen the Geico commercial in which a drill sergeant is offering psychotherapy? It starts with the patient lying on the therapist’s couch saying “and that’s why yellow makes me sad,” and it results in a berating tirade ending with “cry baby” from the drill sergeant. It makes me laugh every time I see it, but I have to admit, it’s not an unusual management style in production areas.

Recently I witnessed someone making a mistake in production only to have their supervisor push them out of the way and say “get out of the way and let me do this.” This combined with other observations led to the conclusion that production at this company was more “fly by the seat of your pants” than process orientated.

As you can imagine, that is not unusual but what was strange was that these folks had never seen any other way of managing.  When I started to explain the issues of the “fly by the seat of your pants” philosophy they looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. This led to a lengthy conversation with the two approaches as well as the pros and cons of each.

A process approach is proactive. It is designed to avoid problems before they occur or the procedure is corrected after a problem is discovered. When a problem occurs, the goal is to change the process not fix the specific job. A process approach slows down the initial process by creating SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), training staff in those SOPs, monitoring compliance and correcting those who do not comply. A non-process approach deals with problems on the fly, may not communicate the resolution or monitor compliance and, as a result, this approach often results in more mistakes because few staff comply with the standard procedure.

When a process approach is used, it includes relentless training and close monitoring until a confidence is created in new procedures and for new staff. In many cases the training requires the creation of materials and a scheduled time for training. In contrast, a non-process approach is filled with quality inspections at the end of the process and results in a higher percentage of rework.

I wish I had a web cam right now to see if this sounds like a foreign language or just a typical production conversation. Which of these are used in your company?

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.

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One thought on “Drill Sergeant vs. Process Oriented Workflow Management

  1. Richard Losch

    I thoroughly enjoyed Howie’s observations, and cringed a bit, too, thinking about some companies I’ve worked for and with over the years. As Howie said, a process approach is proactive. It addresses the root causes of problems, (and of future problems), not symptoms or individual incidents, and the focus on ongoing training and monitoring is critical.

    In our experience, however, companies with documented SOP’s, and even ISO certified companies, can fall victim to “scope creep” and inefficiencies in the process as time goes on. No process eliminates the possibility of any problem. After a single incident, your best long-term client may ask, “What are you going to do differently so this never happens again?”, and the next thing you know, you are adding a step to a fundamentally sound process, leading to inefficiencies and extra cost, without necessarily improving the process itself. An unwavering commitment to process optimization and key driver-based metrics to measure trends can increase the probability of long-term efficient processes.

    Thanks to Howie for raising this important topic, with a little humor, to launch us into the New Year.

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