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Can you go too digital too fast?

Many organizations that I work with have this concern when we first start discussing a software for tracking performance of individuals on the shop floor.

"I don't think we are ready for a digital solution"

"We need to walk before we run"

There are pros and cons to implementing a digital solution in your work environment. It's up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide the best solution for your organization.

But first, let's start with the biggest misconception about digital systems.

MISCONCEPTION: "My team will have a harder time adopting a digital system"

As a manufacturing leader, you have implemented changing procedures or standards. You know that after the new procedure is rolled out to the associates, you need to go and verify that the new procedure is being followed and producing the expected results. You can do this by "spot check" where you select at random to verify the procedure. You can do this by 100% inspection where you talk to every team member. You are only limited by yours (or your leaders') time to follow up. And you probably have a dozen other follow ups to do today that are just as important.

When you are adopting a new system, a key part of that system is the feedback loop to "inspect what you expect." As a leader, you must verify that the system is being used properly by the teams as frequently as possible. The key part of any learning system is the time it takes you to fix mistakes and improve, or the feedback loop. Humans need a continuous feedback loop to help engrain new behaviors into their habits.

A key part of changing behaviors is giving the user continuous feedback. You need to correct the user as close to the time of the mistake as possible.

Digital feedback loops are shorter than manual feedback loops.

Here is a simple example- Think back to college when you took an exam.

If you took this exam with a pen and paper, then the exam went into a folder and to someone's office to be graded. All the exams were graded and then went back into a folder to be returned to you. Perhaps the time from when you took the test until when you received your grade was as short as a few days or as long as a few weeks. Your feedback loop is the time between when you took the exam and when you received results. In a paper based exam, the feedback loop was longer than your short term memory.

If you took this exam digitally, you likely answered all the questions and then the exam was graded for you instantaneously, providing you feedback in minutes or maybe hours. You might have even gotten feedback after answering every single question, where your feedback loop is immediate.

Which scenario do you think is better to help you learn and improve faster? The digital exam gives you feedback while your mind is still in the zone, while you still have a chance to alter your mind and assumptions. You still have a chance to alter your behaviors.

We say this all the time with employee feedback, give it as immediately as we can to the time of the event. The mind is still fresh and you are likely to capture that employee when they can still absorb the feedback and adjust their psyche. If you wait until your next 1x1 to give an employee feedback about something that happened right now, you are missing a golden opportunity to help that employee grow.

Now let's go back to implementing digital systems. You want to reduce the length of the feedback cycle for your employees so that they can absorb the feedback and improve their decisions. With this in mind, what happens if you go digital on the factory floor?

Reduce errors by going digital

To illustrate this, let’s use a manufacturing example:

Let's say that an employee is recording quality defects on a piece of paper on a production line.

Every time she performs an inspection, she is recording it on a hand written paper sheet on a clipboard beside her workstation.

If she starts to see defects trending negatively, you want her to take action and intervene. But let's say that for some reason she doesn't recognize the increase in defects and continues tracking them with no intervention. This is time = 0.

On a paper based tracking system, the only one with the data is the one person who has the paper copy. If that paper copy is filed somewhere, no one ever has that information unless they go looking. If the paper copy is transcribed into a digital system, the next time someone sees that information is when they are transcribing it. By the time that someone is transcribing the information, the opportunity to intervene has passed.

How long were those quality defects produced before someone notices? Time = +Hours? +An entire shift? +An entire day?

How much has it cost the business by the point that the defect trend is noticed and an intervention is made?

Now if this employee was tracking the defects digitally and those defects were publicized on a scoreboard for her peers and leaders to see, she may still fail to notice the increase in defects. But this time, the information is available to more than just her. The information broadcasted across displays in the manufacturing area mean that her peers or her boss are likely to notice and come over to her to ask about the trend. Or, she might be more focused on paying attention since she knows her results will be broadcast for the team to see. The opportunity for intervention has multiplied and become significantly easier.

The feedback loop is much shorter when the system is digital. The intervention potential to correct mistakes quickly is significantly higher when everyone has access to the data.

Paper-based alternatives are limited by your time to follow up

If you want to implement a paper-based or manual system, you can also find ways to complete the feedback loop on that system. Here are a few examples of how a feedback loop could be completed in a paper-based system.

For a paper based system, in order to inspect that the system is being performed correctly, you will need to walk the floor to see the behaviors and information first hand. This is increasingly difficult in the new normal of social distancing, and could put your teams at greater risk of exposure. But with the proper PPE and available time in your schedule, you can inspect the systems directly on the floor one at a time. Note that if you had this digitally, you could look at all instances of the system and then prioritize where to walk on the floor versus going to each station in random order.

Or you could wait until the information is transcribed into the excel sheet. When you are doing a paper-based system and you want to preserve the information, someone needs to transcribe the information somewhere, maybe an excel sheet or a whiteboard. For most handwritten systems, the sheets are handed out at the beginning of the shift and collected at the end of the shift. Then they are transcribed into a digital system after the shift or sometime over the next day or week. By the time that the data is available and ready for you to inspect, at best the shift team has left the building or at worst the shift team has performed several shifts since the data was originally collected. The feedback loop is too long in this situation and creating a learning environment will be a challenge.

This time between when an employee tracks information and when you can inspect the information and correct any issues or behaviors is critical to the success of the system.

Have you ever been playing a game and look up after you scored to see the impact on the overall score? Your employees want to be able to do that with the actions they take at work. Humans crave feedback on how their actions impact the bigger picture, and a digital system completes that feedback faster and helps the employee adjust their behavior to improve their performance immediately.

You know your team better than anyone, but there are some advantages to starting with a digital system first and you might not regret going too digital too fast.

Jennifer Biggs
Jennifer Biggs
Jennfier has a passion for leading and motivating teams through cultural transformations. She believes that people come to work everyday to be great. Through her operational experience at P&G Manufacturing, she has seen the true potential of an engaged and empowered team. She joined Ampogee in 2018 after 7 years of Manufacturing Operations experience. She has an Executive MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and a BS in Chemical Engineering from NC State University.

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