Why Don’t People Follow Procedures? (Part 2)

Remember John? He’s the new Production Manager who had just implemented a new procedure when we checked in on him last. Even with the best intentions, John was unable to follow-up on how things were going for some time.  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? So why don’t people follow procedures?

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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.  There are reasons why people are not following a new procedure.  One of the main points in part 1 of this post was that you need to find out what those reasons are and figure out what to do about it.  

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.  Go to where the work is being done, see it for yourself, and talk to the operators.

What might you learn?  There really are several reasons why people may not follow procedures:

  • It’s not practical:  it sounds like a good idea but it doesn’t work or it’s over-kill.
  • It’s too hard:  while easiest isn’t necessarily best, you will increase the chance that people will follow the procedures every time you make them simpler and easier.
  • It’s not understood:  the procedure itself may be confusing, it may not have been taught well, or it could be the individual just didn’t get it when trained.
  • Benefits are not seen or understood:  it seems like there is always someone who somehow didn’t get the word.
  • Fear of change: some people really resist change.  Some people who just have to be forced in the end but you’ll see this less often if you get the right people involved early (see Overcoming Resistance).

The countermeasures all revolve around communication.  Involve operators in developing new procedures.  Get their input to keep it easy and practical.  Listen to their feedback when developing new procedures and after implementation.  Communicate early and often.  Communicate with a variety of approaches and venues.  Communicate the need for change, the benefits, the new procedure itself, and what’s in it for them.  Check for understanding.

John learned the value of following up with his team through his 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?  Please share some examples you have seen and the steps taken to correct the situation.


This is a follow up to Why Don’t People Follow Procedures which you can read here.  Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar).  Please check out my Facebook page and continue the discussion there too. Your feedback is appreciated.

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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