Marketer, author, and recent AMA Hall of Famer Seth Godin has a bit of a celebrity status here at IWCO Direct. When he posted a blog in early November about the relationship between quality and effort (you can read it here), it quickly made its way to my desk. In it, Seth uses his findings from creating a trivia game to demonstrate how being “careful” isn’t the only way—or even the best way—to avoid errors.
I agree with a lot of what Seth has to say, including his belief that effort can only bring you so close to a zero-error environment. Systems and procedures, on the other hand, can streamline that effort, bring in a system of checks-and-balances, and ensure a winning, proven strategy is in place to maximize those efforts and increase overall efficiency.
One Mistake Can Lead to More than One Error
In Seth’s example, one wrong answer in the trivia game didn’t impact the likelihood of any of the other questions being answered incorrectly. (Granted, in the world of quality assurance, one error is still too many, but I think even the most objective of us can agree that one error is better than 19.) However, in the world of direct marketing, one error at the beginning of a project can impact several other areas downstream.
Many of our processes build upon one another, so an incorrect input in the beginning of our processes (e.g., the front-end estimate had an incorrect spec) can have a ripple effect to all of our downstream teams, resulting in rework loops for different teams to re-do their work based on corrected/updated inputs.
Creating Standards to Protect Against Errors
We’ve found that the best way to combat rework and reduce errors is to implement Standard Work with its consistent procedures. Within the front end, every team has a process to check their work to ensure they don’t pass defects to downstream departments. We’ve also implemented a front-end quality defect tracking system to allow visibility to defects and engage leaders and teams to resolve frequently occurring issues.
Having an all-encompassing, tested system or process is extremely important when it comes to producing an error-free campaign. Every client and job is different and there are many nuances to each campaign. In order to ensure consistency and quality, we need to have standards in place—both from a process and a system standpoint.
Our processes (e.g. quality checklists, peer verification, etc.) are leveraged in both front-end workflows and operations. Each front-end department has a quality checklist they review prior to passing their work to the next team. Operations and QA also have checklists for their processes as well as a guide for what they should be checking on all quality pulls. Within production, we have a Quality Assurance team, a quality defect tracking system, and a DPMO (defects per million operations) metric we use to understand our quality performance.
A Process is Never Perfect: Continuously Improving Standard Work
From a system standpoint, we’ve made great strides in poka-yoke (a Japanese manufacturing term used to describe error prevention tactics), and our goal is to implement solutions that remove the potential for human error. That being said, given the nature of our work in creating unique, highly-variable campaigns, it is challenging to create rules that cover all scenarios. That’s why we carefully monitor and audit our processes. We place functional owners in charge of the overall processes to ensure someone is taking responsibility for how well our processes and standards are managed. This accountability also enables them to make changes based on fit/function.
When creating a process or standard, we engage cross-functional teams to evaluate the system. This ensures that those who have a hand in the day-to-day execution of the task are able to share their insights, pain points, and solutions to benefit everyone. As time goes on, we ask for feedback on our processes and have data around the processes themselves to measure adherence and the results they’re driving. There are intake systems within the Continuous Improvement and IT teams to prioritize process improvements and help us better understand the impact of the current standards we have in place.
If a process isn’t working, we reassemble the cross-functional team to reevaluate and identify the issue/root cause and determine corrective actions that can be put in place. If it’s an issue that is impacting our product, we try to contain the issue quickly and implement a solution to ensure real-time remediation (e.g., adding a second human check), but also look at the process from a broader perspective and try to enhance the process itself so those issues can’t occur within the process moving forward.
It’s true what Seth says—anything worth doing is worth having a system or process. But I’d add to that: robust effort needs to be put into creating and maintaining that system or process for it to work effectively.
Have questions about the Continuous Improvement efforts we put into our quality system to reduce errors? Contact me today.
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