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Most processes change over time. A car will age, and as it undergoes normal wear and tear, gas mileage will worsen. It won’t be an overnight change, but it will trend downward. This is drift. Processes, with no visible changes, often slowly perform differently. A fixture may loosen up over time, making it take longer to fasten the product in place. A measuring device may be subjected to a series of small bumps over time the slowly changes its readings, making subsequent tasks take longer.

In some cases, there may be minor alterations to how processes are done over time. For example, a tool might be placed in the wrong location often enough that it inadvertently changes a process, or a vendor might change packaging slightly.

Drift should not be confused with intentional changes to a process that shift an output.

When you understand drift, you will also understand why it is important to monitor processes so closely. Computers get cluttered up, and run slower over time. The shift in performance might be so slow as to be unnoticeable. You may only recognize the change if you are monitoring the process.

While drift is primarily a mechanical issue, it also can occur in the people world. It can occur as people get worn out in a process. People sometimes get bored or stressed out or overworked in a process causing outputs to drift.

There is also a sensitive issue related to personnel driven drift. It is sensitive because age is a protected class, but as people get older, they tend to slow down. Age can impact performance in certain jobs—primarily heavily physical ones. It is imperative to handle this issue correctly, both morally and legally. Get advice from your HR department if you suspect this is an issue. This sort of drift, though, should be mitigated with continuous improvement. Good processes should…

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