The Systems Thinker Blog

Business Systems Dramatically Reduce Human Error

Posted byRon Carroll

"Everyone makes mistakes." We've all heard that statement a thousand times, and it is true. We can never eliminate human error. However, this phrase is most often just an excuse. With effective business systems and processes, you can reduce most of the daily human errors that are causing you to lose customers and profit.

Human Error

10 Types of Human Error

Below are ten common mistakes that people make and some suggestions to minimize them in your organization.

  1. Misunderstanding (Teach your written policies and procedures repetitively)
  2. Forgetfulness (Create a checklist or a Poka Yoke)
  3. Wrong identification (Lean 5S: mark, label, color, etc., for easy recognition)
  4. Lack of experience/skill (Improve your hiring or training systems)
  5. Willful ignoring of rules or procedures (Hold people accountable)
  6. Slowness (Remove bottlenecks; create standards of performance; measure results)
  7. Inadvertent or due to sloppiness (Apply an improvement methodology; see eCourse)
  8. Lack of standardization (Reduce and simplify; create procedures, templates, jigs, etc.)
  9. Intentional/sabotage/not caring (Warn or terminate the person immediately)
  10. Surprise (Unexpected, infrequent or random causes are more difficult to eliminate)

Don't get frustrated with the mistakes people make. You know from Murphy's Law that if something can go wrong, it will. Instead, realize that frequent or repetitive mistakes are the symptoms of poor systems or processes that you can control. You have the power to make the necessary improvements. If a person chooses not to follow your improved system, find someone who will.

People are the most important component in most business systems. Fit the right person to the job. Make sure they understand the process and are trained to do it properly. Set expectations and goals. Give people frequent feedback regarding their performance. Hold them accountable for results.

You Choose the Level of Human Errors

Remember: The more you strive to make a business system perfect—to eliminate errors and waste—the more difficult the task and the more money it costs. The good news is that you get to decide how many errors you can or will tolerate.

The airlines expect one bag in every 150 bags they handle to get lost. That's why they put a baggage claim office in each airport. Airline managers have calculated that the cost of a near-perfect baggage handling system is too expensive, and the public will tolerate an "occasional" lost bag. They choose to accept this level of error in their process.

Your customers, your financial reports, or your gut will tell you when people are making too many mistakes, and when it's time to pay the price of improvement.

Review the ten common mistakes again. Pick one that is currently frustrating you or your customers. Now, go change the business system that is causing it.


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Tags: People, Improvement, Systems