In Lean staff develop and maintain quality standards

Although volume numbers in a business are easy to track, maintaining quality standards can be a more subjective matter.

In a Lean environment, quality indicators for all phases of work are established and maintained by staff.

The key to all this is determining what ‘good’ looks like, setting a standard of quality to adhere to, so that deviations from it can be identified as errors.

Having the staff determine the work quality standard has a number of benefits.

First, it encourages and empowers people working in the process to highlight errors caused by earlier activities and forms part of the feedback loop for quality improvement.

Second, when incoming work is not of a sufficient quality, the person receiving it needs to take an action to explain to the team producing the error why the work does not meet the standard and to help them determine a counter measure to correct the situation.

The quality indicators are not there to simply reject work and send it back; they are there to initiate a cross-functional conversation for improvement. Mixing the perspectives of those at different stages in the process allows both parties in the problem-solving to learn more about the other’s methods and views.


Finally, this helps everyone understand the processes before and after their own point in the process.

Standing back from the process a bit, there are other, less tangible, benefits to be had from having the staff tackle the quality issue. It creates ownership for the process from  the front-line staff and encourages collaboration and creative thinking, all Lean behaviours.

business team

Lean: Embracing workplace errors eliminates the blame game

A work climate with blame as the knee-jerk response to a problem is a toxic one. It’s reflective of a workplace that does not place a premium on problem solving.

If people are blamed, they will not surface the problems. These issues will still exist undercover, eating into resources and overburdening people, leading, ironically, to even more errors.

With Lean, there is an implicit respect for people at the core. As such when errors or mistakes are made in a Lean workplace the default presumption is that people are not the cause.

The purpose of the Lean system is to detect, correct and prevent errors, always striving to make processes and procedures error proof.

While this might be idealistic, it focuses everyone to consider designing errors out of the business not through excessive checklists (which is another form of waste) but by designing processes where errors are difficult to make, and if they occur, are quickly spotted and corrected.

In order to create a work environment that surfaces errors for teams to work on, it is important to make the work culture accepting of errors. By viewing errors as an opportunity rather than a problem, it transforms the culture into one that views such issues as part of the process rather than an exception to it.

Implementing lean

This work culture zeitgeist change makes it safe for people to talk about the errors they make themselves and errors made by other teams that they identify.

Talking about and surfacing errors must not be seen as negative, rather as an opportunity to improve the business, reduce costs, increase the response to customers and increase the service’s stability.

That is, of course, the goal of every business but only Lean truly achieves that end result.


Avoiding peak load issues key to effective Lean workflow

Key to a Lean work environment is the measured way the work flows through the system.

Learning how to schedule work to balance the load and even out any peaks is key when managing an end-to-end operation.

Allowing large peaks to enter the system affects the entire end-to-end business, as spikes of workload lurch through the business process, disrupting all other work along the way.

While clearing such a cumbersome load of work from one activity might release pressure on a single department, it nonetheless creates a tsunami of unexpected work for all subsequent activities, resulting in reprioritization, increased backlogs, overburden, increased errors and delays.  For all of the benefit of clearing out a lot of work, it creates a problem that ripples through the entire system.


That ripple isn’t a short-term issue either. Overburdening a Lean workflow increases the utilization of staff well over 80% and puts your department at risk of failure and loss of control which may take months to recover from.

Simply put, if you exceed your capability, you will reduce your capability.

There are indeed ways for management to increase production capability but maintaining the stability of the end-to-end workflow must be of paramount importance.

A business woman

Lean feedback loops: error detection, correction, prevention

In a Lean production environment first-line managers and their staff  need to actively identify and remove the causes of errors in the flow of work.

These feedback and learning loops are de facto staff exercises in continuous improvement that improve workflow even as they hone the abilities of the staff.

In practice, staff spot errors caused by other departments and contact them immediately to resolve the issue. It’s quite likely that the person causing the error may be oblivious to the impact their action had on the work flow. If such simple issues cannot be resolved easily, then they are likely agenda items for an Operation Review.

Although front line staff are the first to track errors, first-line managers are also at work, identifying errors in scheduling, overburden, planning, skills, work design and such.

Directors and middle managers identify issues in organisational structures and scope, automation investments, and strategic choices.


The main error types to focus on are:

  • Rework Errors
  • Errors that increase delays
  • Unclean work (Incomplete work provided by another department)
  • Non-standard – A process not designed to deal with a type of work, (not to be confused with a process designed to construct non-standard offerings)
  • Large batched non-automated work  – Test with small batches first. When proven to be error free, batch sizes can be increased safely. Lean ideal is always a batch size of one.