How to reduce work errors and work mistakes by 90% with a Workflow System (Part 1)

Hi there!
Have you ever wondered what causes work mistakes in the first place?

I was curious, so I looked into it.

As a result, I decided to write a blog (because it’s not enough to call it an article) titled “How to reduce work errors and work mistakes by 90% with a workflow system”, which became the title of this issue.

In the first half we will focus on what causes errors in the first place and how to solve them. In the second half of we will look at how workflow systems can be used to reduce errors.

Why do mistakes occur in the first place?

Type and percentage of mistakes

I will talk about human error and what causes people to make mistakes.
There are many theories on how to classify mistakes, but here I have cited a paper by Professor Takeshi Nakajo of Chuo University and classified them into two main types.

The first is errors caused by the operator, and the second is errors caused by the work environment and procedures.

  Cause Percentage
Mistakes caused by the operator
Not knowing the protocol Lack of knowledge 20%
Lacking the ability to follow procedures Lack of skills 15%
Unwillingness to follow protocol Lack of morals 25%
Errors caused by work environment and procedures
The work plan was unreasonable or the environment was poor Planning and environmental deficiencies 10%
The work method was vulnerable to errors Inadequate protocol 30%

※The above data is taken from a 1999 research paper by Professor Takeshi Nakajo, Management Systems Engineering, Chuo University, on the Effects of Work Management System on Human Error Occurence.
URL:https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110003154353
※The above papers are available for purchase.

These two categories are divided into errors that are directly caused by people (1. caused by operators) and errors that occur as a result of the environment affecting people (2. caused by the work environment and procedures).

It is said that errors caused by operators (1) can be prevented by training. On the other hand, mistakes caused by the work environment and procedures (2) cannot be prevented by training workers, and it is important to analyze the causes and consider measures to prevent recurrence based on the premise that humans will always make mistakes.

Well, that’s just as I saw it.

Solutions

The following table summarizes the measures that can be taken for each of the causes listed above, citing the contents of a paper by Professor Takeshi Nakajo of Chuo University.

Solutions by type

Cause Type Solution
 Lack of knowledge Mistakes that can be prevented by training

Require or encourage the creation and updating of work procedure manuals

Assign a mentor who can be easily consulted and asked questions when the work procedure is not clear

 Lack of skills

Start with simple tasks that do not require advanced use of tools and gradually move to more complex tasks through on-the-job training

Share working know-how about the tools in the form of workshops and materials

 Lack of morale

Periodically review the validity of procedures
In addition to the above, it is also important to understand the importance of following the rules and regulations.
This will prevent the development of a culture of disregard for rules and motivation to violate them

Regularly conduct internal audits to ensure that procedures are being followed
Create a sense of deterrence by periodically checking evidence that work is being done according to procedures to prevent rule violations from becoming a regular occurrence

 Planning and environmental deficiencies This is a mistake that can be prevented by improving the work environment and procedures, therefore it cannot be prevented by training the workers

It is important to analyze the causes and consider measures to prevent recurrence based on the premise that humans will always make mistakes

Occurrence prevention perspective
Elimination / Substitution / Respond with the three principles of simplification

Ripple-effect prevention perspective
Use the two principles of anomaly detection and mitigation

  Incomplete procedure

The data above is a summary of the elements found in the following paper by Professor Takeshi Nakajo, Management Systems Engineering, Chuo University.
Error classification and solution cited from Effects of Work Management System on Human Error Occurence, 1999.
https://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110003154353
The classification of solutions is taken from 「Human Reliability Engineering: Engineering Approach to Error Prevention
http://www.indsys.chuo-u.ac.jp/~nakajo/open-data/Healthcare_Errorproofing2.pdf

Now, we will break down the above solutions for each cause.

1. Lack of knowledge

Solution
Require or encourage the creation and updating of work procedure manuals
Assign a mentor who can be consulted and asked questions when work procedures become unclear

I have no personal objection to the measure itself.

In particular, the procedure manual is useful as a guide for any company or site, as there are many things that can be understood by reading about a certain process.

Next, I would like to talk about the existence of mentors.
Some of you may be unfamiliar with the term “mentor”, but mainly supervisors and trainers take this role.

Whenever you have a question, it is important to have someone nearby who you can consult and ask for advice.

Points
  • Unify the format of work procedure manuals
  • Frequency of work procedure manuals updating and cost for them
  • Quality and attainments of the mentor

Now, there are some points to keep in mind when proceeding with this solution, which I will also explain.

First, unify the format of work procedure manuals.

This is to prevent the creation of work procedure manuals themselves from being dependent on personal skills.

When creating a work procedure, it is necessary to avoid a situation that depends on people, such as the accuracy and volume of the contents differing greatly between manual A and manual B, and that type of manual can only be written by Mr. Smith.


The bottom line is that it is better to define the structure and quality of the procedures in advance so that there will be less hassle later on.


The next question is about the Frequency of work procedure manuals updating and cost for them.

The timing of the update is when additions, corrections, and deletions are needed. However, how about the situation where the update work is outsourced, or the procedure manual must be printed out on paper and rebind that takes several days, or the manual has been digitalized but it takes several days to get the approval from the IT section to do the update (consuming related costs).

It’s not easy to update.

Considering the cost of updating, it is necessary to build an environment and system that allows for easy updating in the first place.


Finally, I would like to talk about the Quality and attainments of the mentor.

This also begs the question, who ensures the quality of the mentor? Is it the mentor’s boss?

There could be some mentors who have knowledge in a specific field so to judge as if you can’t do even such a thing or haven’t studied enough. There are also mentors who try to teach you things that are not required of them.

In addition, given the recent mobility of human resources, there are many cases where people with more knowledge than mentors participate in business operations.

In such a situation, some people may say that this procedure is not efficient and want to change it. (It depends on the mood of the company.)

In such cases, if the mentor thrusts the idea back at the client without digesting it, such as “this is the way we do it here”, the opportunity for improvement will be lost.

However, there is no such person as an all-powerful God who can answer every question.

Therefore, it is safe to consider the mentor as a role in itself and have a system in place to make decisions on matters that arise, such as questions that cannot be answered immediately or matters that require improvement of procedures, with metrics to be discussed within the team and decisions to be made based on the results.

2. Lack of skills

Solution
Start with simple tasks that do not require advanced use of tools and gradually move to more complex tasks through on-the-job training.
・Share working know-how about the tool in the form of workshops and materials

I have no objection to this solution itself.

If I had to say, I would like to consider creating an environment that ensures psychological safety.

People who receive external evaluations of their lack of skills tend to think that they will not be evaluated because they can only do this level of work, or because they can’t present as well as everyone else in the study group.

In fact the skills required for a particular company are different from company to company because the business model and the environment are all different. Therefore, rather than a lack of skills, it could be said that necessary skills are not being provided.

If you look at it from the perspective that the skills are not being given, the person teaching will naturally think about it rather than bemoaning the lack of it.

Points
  • Assign tasks according to the level of understanding and proficiency.
  • Create an environment where you can inspire each other

Now, let me explain each point.

First of all, as written above, it is important to assign tasks according to the level of understanding and proficiency. In doing so, it is necessary to conduct OJT and study sessions from the perspective of how to provide skills in an easy-to-understand and quick manner, rather than assuming that skills are lacking.

This also influences the creation of an inspiring environment.

Some companies offer rewards for sharing the results and materials of study sessions.

It may seem far from today’s topic of eliminating work errors, but it is actually a point that makes us think that management is about the environment. This is an important point that makes me think that it is a method that does not rely on technological solutions.

3. Lack of morale

Solution
Periodically review the validity of procedures
・Regularly conduct internal audits to ensure that procedures are being followed

Lack of morale.

It is easy to say that a person is lacking morale, but the cause of this is deeply rooted.

For example, the more skilled a person is, the more likely they are to skip over standardized methods.

This is an act of prioritizing the work that he or she thinks is necessary or most effective at the time, depending on the situation.

If that led to an error as the result it defeats the purpose, but in some cases, hints for business improvement are hidden in the process (a chance to review procedures).

On the other hand, there are risks that arise when procedures are not followed.

People who do not have a strong sense of belonging to the company or who have problems agreeing with the company’s policies tend to believe in their own opinions rather than the opinions of others, rather than a lack of morale.

In this case, rather than trying to fill in or make up for moral shortcomings, we need to mutually understand what we agree on and what we don’t agree on.

This point will be explained in more detail in the second half of the next article as technical and adaptation issues, so please understand that this is just a matter of course.

Points
  • Eliminate unreasonableness and waste from the procedures from the perspective of whether there is any significance in following the procedures and whether following the procedures is overloading the work.
    ※ It prevents the development of a climate of disregard for rules and incentives to violate them
  • Create a sense of deterrence by periodically checking evidence that work is being done according to procedures to prevent rule violations from becoming a regular occurrence

Now, what approach can be taken to address the lack of morale?

One is to publicly confirm the significance (to agree with each other that this point has this implication).

In layman’s terms, this means that we should agree on the purpose of the project, instead of arguing about what is meaningful or meaningless.

The next step is to consider the load of the procedure itself.

No matter how much you promote the idea that this procedure will produce this level of output, if you cram in too much work at a pace that makes you run out of breath, or demand a pace that makes people feel like they are being treated like machines, you will inevitably get a backlash.

It is necessary to review the procedures to ensure that they are not overly burdensome to each other as concrete and meaningful tasks.

On the other hand, it is also important to create mechanisms to correct habitual rule-breaking.

For example, delivery time and quality. It’s difficult to have both without sufficient time and assets.

However, in practice there may be cases where people are constantly turning a blind eye to quality due to absolute deadlines, etc. (i.e., skipping over things that seem unimportant in the checking procedure). What is useful here is the frequency of teaching the significance of the rules and the frequency of internal audits.

Well, the more opportunities we have to teach the significance of the rules, the more improvements and unnecessary things will naturally become visible each other.

I believe that the process of correcting this point is what makes the person in the room feel growth.

Regular internal audits are also an externally evaluated event from the employee’s perspective.

This is a natural deterrent, but we don’t want people to report lies, so we want to proceed with the frequency of mutually confirming the significance of the rules mentioned above as a deterrent to lies.


So far, I have introduced three of the major causes of mistakes: lack of skills, lack of knowledge, and lack of morale.

As a SaaS company, we don’t advertise SaaS at all, which might displease you, but as this article says, if you don’t think in terms of abstraction you miss the point and significance of using the tool in the first place.

Next time, I will touch on the remaining two causes of mistakes: planning and environmental deficiencies, procedural deficiencies, technical issues and adaptation issues, and explain how to solve them in a workflow system.

Please stay tuned.

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