Do it once, do it right – The cost of re-work

The infamous Wyatt Earp is reputed to have once said “Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything.” Time and energy are precious commodities today – so it is that the cost of re-work is a significant consideration in organisations especially where tight commercial timeframes or statutory deadlines are critical to compliance or cashflow.

The problem of costly rework is not confined to the factory production line or the construction site. There are many commercial and public sector organisations who face similar problems associated with  sub-standard execution of work involving such activities as research, report writing, analytical tasks, simple transaction activity and service provision.

What is the cost of re-work?

It can be as simple as getting the order wrong in a coffee shop. One instance of having to throw away an order of toast because it was served as white bread when the customer ordered wholemeal may not seem a big issue. But when it happens many times over, the cost moves from a few cents for the bread to lost business because the customers move to another coffee shop where the orders are filled correctly each time every time.

Poor-ServiceFor organisations struggling under resource limitations every analytical report that must be rewritten or edited because of defects in assumptions or poorly written communication consumes valuable time and energy that could be better used moving on to the next priority. The consumption of managerial and supervisory time in detailed checking of the work of subordinates owing to a history of errors, is a significant drain on the real purpose of leadership of the organisation. 

What can Managers do?

Most organisations don’t have a disciplined means of measuring the cost of re-work, especially in its “softer” forms. It is amazingly deceptive just how much productive time is wasted in revisiting work that is poorly executed in its original form. If as a manager you could gain an extra half hour each day by not having to check or correct the work of others – how much more could you achieve?

What can you do to claw back that unproductive time?

  • Set and communicate required standards
  • Train staff in required standards.
  • Regularly provide update and extension training
  • Ensure supervision is close and focused, enabling and not just criticising
  • Provide a workplace environment that is conducive to productive activity and free of distractions.
  • Don’t keep changing the rules or directions.
  • Don’t expect performance above capability
  • Promote continuous improvement
  • Require accountability for gross failure of work quality

What can Supervisors do?

Staff gain confidence by achieving difficult objectives, but need support and guidance to hit the target. The organisation’s Supervisor level is incredibly valuable in this respect, providing the individual mentoring and coaching required to minimise mistake repetition and to build toward error free capability.

  • Use templates, models, precedents to assist benchmarking performance
  • Measure progress and provide constructive feedback
  • Firmly address repetitive poor or sub-standard work
  • Provide examples from own experience
  • Allow some slack for learning from mistakes ..but ensure learning takes place
  • Avoid confusing or unclear instructions.

What can employees do?

The cost of re-workBeing self aware is the best possible approach an employee can take to contributing to work error prevention. In other words understanding the objective of the task before them, the criteria that will determine its success, any aspects of the work environment (including information availability) that might prejudice the employee’s capacity to complete the task correctly and any personal limitations that could compromise its quality in terms of the basics of accuracy, timeliness, relevance and completeness.

In addition employees should:

  • Acknowledge errors and seek constructive feedback to enable active learning.
  • Embrace continuous improvement and quality procedures
  • Ask questions and seek clarification rather than taking an uneducated guess in new situations
  • Never think “near enough is good enough”
  • Never sacrifice quality for speed.

What tools can we use?

ToolshedThere is an old saying that “The Manager is the most expensive tool in the workshop”, meaning that the more time the Manager spends intervening in the operational aspects of the business, the more overhead is consumed by lower order tasks and the less value is added to the business development end of the chain.

The best way to apply the intelligence of the Manager to the business processes without requiring the Manager’s actual presence is to implement systems that provide that oversight indirectly, such as

  • Quality checklists.
  • Workflow technology that monitors key criteria.
  • Suggestion programs to enable staff to contribute to better processes and procedures and add their own experience to the quality development.
  • A database of known or possible errors and helpful hints for avoidance or rectification can help as a reference or quality checklist.

 In Primary School our Manual Arts teacher tried to inculcate us with the maxim “Measure twice, cut once” as the golden rule of reducing waste and errors in carpentry. Conceptually that rule is still valid in all forms of employment, career, indusrty, commerce and government. Do it once – do it right.

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