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Don't Blindly Follow Directions

Standardizing processes is an important component of Lean success. But just because instructions are written down does not mean that they are correct, or even safe.

I saw an article recently that reinforced this. Apparently, according to a story on MSNBC, a woman downloaded walking directions on her phone. The route led her to a busy street with no sidewalks.

(This is not the busy street in the article!)

She chose to walk along an unsafe route because of the directions, and was injured. She is now suing Google for providing faulty information.

Similar situations arise frequently at work. A written process might be wrong, or even worse, dangerous. Now, I recognize that there is authority behind a work instructions. I am not saying to just throw processes out the window if they don’t seem right.

I am saying question the incorrect ones. And I am saying certainly don’t follow an unsafe procedure. If a written process tells you to bypass a safety feature, or lift an excessive load, or use toxic chemicals without protective gear, go to your boss and ask specifically, “Is this act safe, and do you really want me risking injury/violating OSHA regulations/etc.?”

I’m an optimist about human nature. I believe that most safety issues exist out of ignorance rather than malice. Most bosses will not intentionally and knowingly tell you to do something unsafe.

One of the real powers of a continuous improvement culture comes from constantly questioning processes. Don’t do something wrong just because it comes neatly organized in 12-point font. If the process is broken, fix the process.

(Note: Traffic image courtesy of user Haljackey via Wikimedia Commons.)

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