Workplace Organization: You get what you inspect

Curtiss Quirin

I learned a long time ago that in a manufacturing environment you don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect. This concept is very simple to grasp but very difficult to implement and sustain. Inspection requires not only the creation of a standard but also the discipline to observe and audit on a regular basis. If done correctly, it will help to create constancy of purpose and the development of a work culture.

How many times have you or your company started a new initiative (sometimes with great fanfare), only to see it slip away over time. This generally occurs because the expectation was created, but no follow-up was established. This confuses your workforce and makes people skeptical of any future changes. Before any new initiatives are started, you, as the leader, must decide what is important and be prepared to stay the course. The goal is to set a standard and change behavior.

The following are the key steps required to get started:

  1. Pick something important
  2. Involve your people
  3. Establish measurable requirements
  4. Make it visible
  5. Set up an audit frequency
  6. Have the discipline to stay the course

Start With Cleanliness
It is only natural to think that the first thing to select would be related to quality or productivity. I submit, however, that the best place to start in a manufacturing operation is with housekeeping and workplace organization. Good housekeeping on the factory floor sends an important message about your company’s expectations not only to its workforce but also to its customers, suppliers and plant visitors.

Generally speaking, if you are able to get workplace organization under control, you will automatically generate three hidden benefits: safety, quality and productivity.

Setting a Standard
Your people will do what they perceive is important to you. You need to discuss why good housekeeping is important and listen to their ideas about how their department should be organized. It is very important to create understanding and gain agreement up front.

After that, a measurable standard should be set. Inspection requires a definable condition that is objective and independent of whether or not you like a person. Did the job get done? Yes or no.

In the case of housekeeping, are the equipment and floors clean, free of debris and wiped down? Yes or no. With workplace organization, are tools where they belong and is material stored correctly? Yes or no.

Things like shadow boards for tools and taped lines on the floor for materials can help to create a visual standard. That way, as you walk through an area, an abnormal condition is clearly seen and can be addressed.

Another way is to set up check sheets where employees record completed activities. These check sheets then become a document that is turned in at the end of each shift and audited.

Taking The Time
With your busy schedule, where will you find the time to audit the activity you are expecting to happen? The bottom line is that you need to find the time or, better yet, make it part of your standard work.

If you ask an employee to do something but never check to see how it’s going or whether it was even done, you send a confusing message. In the case of housekeeping and workplace organization, it can be as simple as walking through the department each day, noting the condition and providing feedback and encouragement.

The audit function, if done right, should never be an “I got you.” It should be “I care” and “How do we continuously improve?”

Sustain What You Start
Lastly, as the leader, you must develop the discipline to stay the course. Whatever you audit not only needs to be done on a consistent basis but also over a long period of time. If you picked an important activity, this commitment should be easy.

People need and want the stability that inspection brings. Remember, the best days in a factory are like the movie “Groundhog Day” – predictable and repeatable.

Your ability to sustain what you start is the essence of inspection.

Curtiss Quirin is the director of supply management for industrial supplies for Delphi Corporation. He previously was director of operations for its battery plants.

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