Why Don’t People Follow Processes and Procedures?

Why Don’t People Follow Processes and Procedures?

There’s been a lot of attention given in recent months to the processes and procedures used to order fulfillment. Key programs and initiatives like our Quality Management System (QMS) and ongoing projects all underscore the importance of understanding our processes with their supporting procedures and work instructions. A couple of themes related to our processes and procedures have emerged: 1) some of our processes aren’t documented and 2) some of our procedures aren’t followed. With the ever-increasing emphasis on processes and procedures, we’re spending more time and effort on defining, documenting, and maintaining them. So why do we find these same processes and procedures being overlooked, ignored, or passed by?

First, let’s consider the fact that some of our processes aren’t documented. That may be OK. The rule of thumb is that we should document when it will help. Period. Process and procedure documentation should make the complex less complicated, the unclear more straightforward. We document processes and procedures to strengthen our consistency and predictability and reinforce best practice. If processes and procedures are too hard to read, understand, retain, and access, then they don’t serve this purpose well and they won’t be followed. Think about the characteristics listed below… are people encouraged or discouraged from using your team’s processes and procedures?

  1. Effectiveness: Do your team’s processes and procedures work? Do they help team members successfully understand and complete work activities to achieve the intended result (which might not be achieved without the process/procedure documentation)? If processes and procedures are incorrect, incomplete, cumbersome, poorly designed, or not integrated with other processes, they won’t be used for long. Likewise, if processes are inefficient or can clearly be improved upon, people avoid using them.
  2. Accessibility:  Do team members know that your processes and procedures exist? Can they find them easily? If people look for a process but can’t find it, they usually assume there isn’t one and may figure out their own way of performing the work activity (undermining the goal of consistency, standardization, and risk reduction). And, since most of our processes are accessed online, people need to be able to download or open them quickly.
  3. Usability: Do people have to spend extra time “decoding” your team’s processes and procedures? People need up-to-date, concise, easy-to-understand processes and procedures that tell them what they need to know in an easy-to-read format. It can be a bad cycle because procedures that aren’t used typically aren’t maintained or improved and end up wasting space. And worse yet, additional procedures are created, making it difficult to know the good from the bad and to find what you need when you need it.
  4. Reinforcement:  Are your team’s processes and procedures just an exercise in documentation? What gets noticed, talked about, and paid attention to is what gets done. People need to understand that they are expected to follow your team’s established processes and procedures and to work on improving them. If people don’t discuss their work in terms of the processes used to accomplish it, then it’s hard to understand the value of those processes and procedures.

Now you have some ideas about what might be keeping people from following your processes and procedures. You may be thinking “Uh-huh, OK, what can I do?” The good news is that many of the quality management activities within the QMS are designed to help maintain a suite of effective, accessible, usable, and reinforced processes and procedures. So by participating in the QMS and working to integrate the required quality practices into overall work practices, you strengthen and increase adherence to your processes. Read on for specific ideas about how you can remove barriers and increase compliance to your team’s processes and procedures.
Improving effectiveness… With its emphasis on continual improvement, the QMS compels us to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our processes. Do people know how to use the Control of Nonconforming Product or Service and Corrective Action/Preventive Action processes within your team? These are key mechanisms for identifying and addressing errors and problems within processes and procedures. Make sure people know how to suggest improvements and involve them in enhancing your team’s processes and procedures. Also look at how your team measures and tracks the performance of its processes and procedures. Are you using process performance data, along with quality audit results, to pinpoint the most valuable opportunities for improvement within your processes and procedures and to assess the results of your improvement actions? Take a look at the “white space” (hand-offs) between processes and procedures¾this is often where disconnects occur and is fertile territory for improvements. Initiate process improvement projects for your most critical or problematic processes.

Ensuring accessibility… During our QMS usage, workgroups identify central, online repositories to house processes, making it easier for team members to find them. Has your team corralled its processes and do people know where to find them? Does your workgroup’s Quality Plan, with the associated Process to Process Mappings and Master Document Indices, identify key processes and procedures and let people know where they are stored? Do you use this information to help orient new team members? Make sure that your team’s processes and procedures are version controlled so that people can be certain they’re following current guidance. Are you looking at quality audit results to find missing processes and procedures and those that exist, but aren’t known or accessible? Use this information to correct barriers to accessibility. Make sure that people have the necessary access and permissions to get to online repositories that house your team’s processes and procedures.

Increasing usability… Are you periodically reviewing and updating your team’s processes and procedures as required by the Document Control process to ensure they are accurate and current? And what about using a common format for this documentation? Some of the central repositories in use, such as the Knowledge Centre, enforce a common format for processes and procedures. Work toward a common format for your processes and procedures stored in other places, such as organization and workgroup SharePoint sites¾it makes it easier for people to write and follow your processes and procedures. Are you keeping your process and procedure documents as brief as possible and easy to follow? Ask for feedback on how to make your team’s processes easier to understand. In addition, make sure that people know how to use the QMS Change Request process within your workgroup to ensure that process changes are planned, thought-out, and managed. Team members using, or affected by, a process should be aware of pending changes and be able to provide input. This contributes to better process integration by helping to address the interrelationships between processes and procedures. And again, you can use audit results that evaluate the accuracy and completeness of processes to fix shortcomings.

Reinforcing use of processes… To help process compliance become the norm, the QMS includes checking the level of adherence to processes and procedures. Another benefit from auditing–it provides insight into the processes with which people are and aren’t complying. Are you using this information to learn where your compliance problems are and then addressing the issues? Are you making Quality Management Reviews work for you? They provide a forum for reviewing and discussing process compliance strengths and weaknesses. Encourage management and team members to share information about your processes, helping each other to follow them. Find ways to reward the discipline and commitment required to stick to and work on processes and procedures.

So how do you get team members to use your processes and procedures? Keep the goal of effective, accessible, usable, and reinforced processes at the forefront¾and employ the proven quality management practices embedded in our QMS to meet this goal.

–Pat Graham at HP