Why Don’t People Follow Procedures?

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Follow through is critical.      Image by familymwr via Flickr

It’s a cold and rainy morning as John, a new Production Manager, is driving to the plant.  He implemented a new procedure yesterday and he wants to follow-up with his team to ensure everything is going as planned.  It’s an important change since it should resolve a nagging quality issue.  John is hit with a major issue as soon as he walks in the front door.  Before he knows it, it’s been a 12 hour day and John all but forgot about following up on the new procedure.  That’s OK, follow-up will wait until tomorrow, right?  When John finally gets around to asking his operators about the procedure, he finds that they are not following it at all and each operator seems to be doing his own thing.  Sound familiar?

Cover of "The Toyota Way Fieldbook"

Cover of The Toyota Way Fieldbook

Why wouldn’t the team follow the new procedure since there are such clear benefits?  You probably have a theory or two if this experience sounds familiar to you.  The Toyota Way Fieldbook states that when people deviate from the original plan, it’s a strong indication that there is a flaw in the plan.  This was also one of the main points of Implementing Change – Get It Done! There are reasons why people are not following a new procedure.  You need to find out what those reasons are and figure out what to do about it.

Sustaining the improvements can be the most difficult part of the change process. It can be very tempting to move on to the next project in today’s busy manufacturing environment. But don’t let up just yet because you are likely to see everyone drift away from your new best practices if you do not have the right systems in place. There are a few important points if you are to Sustain the Gain:

a) You will need to follow-up with the key players to see what issues they may be encountering. You will often find that you would benefit by making modifications to the new Best Practice. Reserve the right to learn, get smarter, and to continuously improve.

b) You will need to establish systems to support the change. Data may need to be collected for Leaders to review. Data would be helpful if the change involved process set point changes or other measurable parameters. Forms will need to be created to document that the new procedures are being followed for new Quality inspections and other similar changes.

c) Leadership must ensure that there are robust systems in place and follow-up at the right level of the organization to ensure the change becomes a reality. Follow up will be needed to ensure that the change is implemented as intended. Proper follow-up will enable you to work through those unforeseen issues instead of ignoring them or being blissfully unaware.

John learned the value of following up with his team through this experience.  He also learned that there valid reasons why his new procedure needed modification.  What about you?  Have you seen similar examples?  Are there other reasons why operators may not follow standardized work?  Are you ready to engage your team to get the most out of your standard operating procedures?


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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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15 Responses to Why Don’t People Follow Procedures?

  1. Quiet often, procedures were not written by or with the teammembers – therefore “they are not the owners” !
    What you call “drifting away” can be a non-structured part of a pdca-cycle……reminders need to be sent out that changes or improvements need to be discussed, agreed and implemented and can´t be done by a single person or team. They need to understand that there are documents which need to be changed ( and whatever other form,drawing,SOP,QA or RA-signature e.g.) is required.
    As you said, don´t hammer them initially
    -find out the “WHY” (didn´t they follow the SOP)

  2. shilpa says:

    Good post and a good reminder to people who put process improvements in place. There has to be a plan to make sure the procedures are being used and if not then find the root cause.

  3. Pingback: Il meglio della blogosfera lean #81 — Encob Blog

  4. jant1951 says:

    Good post. Having spent twenty-five years in a corporate environment I fully understand the principles of implementing new procedures and processes. Oftentimes it’s not the actual procedure we have trouble with it’s the ability to embrace change.

  5. kopstar says:

    A very interesting subject. The basic answer from my experience is that new procedures need to be understood before they are followed – answering the “why?” question. The best method is to invite those who are using the procedure to help develop it in the first place then they will not only understand “why” but also feel ownership of it.
    The likelyhood then is that not only will the procedure be followed but it will be improved further.

    • That’s all very true. Early involvement should produce buy-in and ownership. You have a great point about the ownership leading to Continuous Improvement. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  6. Very relevant topic. I have experienced this problem often. Even if you change the work instructions those people who never look at them will continue to do it their own way. I try to use very visual work instructions and make sure they are well visible in the workplace. I agree with Gerhard: you need to involve the operators in the change implementation so they become the owners. An then, as mentioned by Christian, you need to check and make sure the change is implemented: ¡In every shift!

    • Cornelio,

      You have some great points. The problems are magnified in a multi-shift operation. The communication is more difficult and there is 3 or 4 times the follow up required to make sure everyone is doing the right thing. Manufacturing plants seem to be getting busier every day which makes finding the time to follow up another challenge. Thanks for sharing your insight!


  7. Denice Wroe says:

    I don’t think this article answers the title question, “Why Don’t People Follow Procedures.” The response, “You need to find out what those reasons are and figure out what to do about it,” wasn’t at all helpful to me. “Sustain the Gain,” “You would benefit by making modifications to the new Best Practice. Reserve the right to learn, get smarter, and to continuously improve,” STILL does not answer the question “Why Don’t People Follow Procedures.” I’m sorry for the criticism, and I admire and respect the author, but I don’t think the article followed the promise in the title.

    • Denice-thank you for the feedback. My first reaction to you comments was to toss out a few examples. A follow-up post should do a better job of answering your questions though. I’ll plan to post part 2 to get into some examples. Thanks again for your straight forward critique and for inspiring a blog post for Lean Leadership.

      • Denice Wroe says:

        May I please get a more private email address so I may send you some thoughts?
        Denice Wroe (dwroe@arlingtonscientific.com)

  8. Jonathon says:

    Nice post Christian. I have linked to it from our “Lean Blog News” group on LinkedIn. Please feel free to join us also, as its a new group hoping to help promote lean bloggers, and anything lean/leadership etc.



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