What is an error? External errors are mistakes that get outside our business walls and become visible to vendors and customers. Internal errors are problems we experience within our walls. Hopefully, businesses will catch most internal errors before they reach customers.
Unfortunately, internal errors often go unnoticed. If we don’t hear customer complaints, we assume all is well. But consider the cliché, there’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over. When we pay people to redo something they’ve already done, we’re paying them twice as much to accomplish one task. Since this double labor is absorbed in the administrative cost of doing business, it doesn’t raise any flags pointing to errors.
Internal errors cause additional expenses. Once errors are visible, you can evaluate the processes to understand why errors are present and then make changes to prevent them in the future.
Common Discovery Approaches
To prevent errors, we must find them. One method of identifying errors is self-reporting, where everybody monitors their own mistakes. Because most of us think we do our jobs well, we aren’t eager to share our fallibilities. In many cases, when we encounter an error, we’ll spend time fixing it rather than declaring it – spending time to do it over. So while this is a noble concept, it fails in the end.
Reviewing co-worker output is another way to uncover errors. Unfortunately, inspecting other people’s work is one of the most prominent forms of waste in the office. It’s no less expensive than paying the original person to do it twice.
Luckily, there’s a reliable method to identify most internal errors efficiently.
The Secret: Process Customers Know Best
External customers receive products or services from our business. Process customers receive products or services from processes within our business. Since they receive products or services, process customers also get the errors.
Errors often pass through unreported unless the process customer is asked to monitor and report mistakes specifically. Here are two common reasons why errors go unreported:
- It’s faster to fix mistakes than it is to return them for rework. When Jim asks Sue to develop a price quote for a customized product, he gives her a description of the unique product. In this situation, Sue is the process customer. Jim’s descriptions are often unclear, using obscure terminology or leaving out critical details. When Sue doesn’t get a usable product from Jim, she solicits clarification from co-workers to complete her work because Jim’s typically out of the office.
- Fixing others’ mistakes avoids the conflict of exposing errors. Rachel is a human resource professional in a business unit. When she has a job opening, she submits a form to Bob in the corporate office, who posts positions on the company website. Here Bob is Rachel’s process customer. Sometimes Rachel leaves vital details out of the posting title, or she may accidentally state the job is first shift when it’s second shift. Instead of bothering Rachel, Bob merely makes the changes himself.
When asking process customers about the errors they encounter, emphasize “errors” are any products or services not entirely ready for the next task. Realize also that sometimes it takes several steps through the internal process before mistakes become apparent.
Begin Searching for Errors Today
If you have a hunch there are errors in a particular area of your business, ask the relevant process customers to begin tracking and reporting. Assure everybody that your goal is to help them be more successful. Explain that once errors are visible, you can collaboratively work to eliminate them, reducing frustration and costs and increasing throughput and profit!
Collect error data for a few weeks. Select the processes highly prone to errors and commit to changing them so mistakes can no longer occur.