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Error Proofing

Why do I need to error proof, my ERP system does that for me?

If your organisation measures Quality, then you need to ensure error proofing is everywhere.

It is OK to rely on your ERP to prevent administrator errors, but there are many other areas where you can introduce error proofing too.

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Remember, that from the 8 wastes (DOWNTIME), error is one of them.  Errors cause defects, and rework.

In a business office environment, mistakes happen.  And then is becomes the responsibility of the same person or another to have to fix it.


This takes time, and can also be left aside as a later task, which is not bring value either to the administrators time, and certainly not for your customer.  This leaves a bad impression of your organisation to handle errors in a timely manner.


And what impact does it have on your administrator?  Tension between departments, stress, frustration, it may result in turnover and absenteeism.  And it creates poor morale.  Something difficult to deal with in a business office place.


How much cost do you think it takes to fix errors?  Resource time to fix it.  Resource time to inspect, audit and monitor.  Extended lead times in getting the product or service delivered to the customer impacts cash flow.  And you may suffer monetary penalties or fines by your customers if they have this written into their contract.

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Error proofing aim is to provide QUALITY AT THE SOURCE

In the example of an order entry error:


Order entered incorrectly = 1 USD

Error is detected by your Financial Services department = 10 USD

Error is detected by your customer = 100 USD


What's the price of customers telling others about their bad experience?



Error proofing focuses on two areas:


1. Preventing defects

2. Automatically detecting errors

How often have you heard responses from administrators who made an error saying “I will take more care next time” or “I was very busy that day”?

Here are some common reasons for errors in an office environment:

  • Lack of training

  • Non standardized work

  • Process is too complex

  • Time delays between input and output = forgetfulness

  • Multi tasking

  • Rushing due to workload

  • Computer or software speed and issues

  • Distractions by walk ins, noisy office neighbors, light, heat

  • Poor knowledge - new starter or backup not understating well the customer


How do we start with error proofing?


1. Lean approach - avoid making the error

2. Avoid passing the errors on to the next person

3. Avoid passing errors to the customer

These are much better steps than the traditional method of Inspection for each task performed.

Priorities for error proofing - 


  • Make it impossible to make the error! Use system messages to inform something is missing in the information entered, and show which field needs populating before moving to the next order


  • Make it harder to make the error - Use system pop up messages asking the administrator to confirm the information entered is correct


  • Make it obvious the error occurred - Just like with a spell check where the word is highlighted in red, add in some visual sign that the error has been made


  • Make the system or process robust so it tolerates the error - Ensure your process does not allow errors.  Or if you cannot prevent errors in your process, ensure that if the error is made, it has zero impact on your customer.


  • Self inspection is the most preferred option, where an administrator will need to return to their order or task, and perform some quality checks before releasing it to the next person.

You can use some Lean Tools to help understand why mistakes are being made:


  1. Five Whys

  2. Problem analysis tree

  3. Fish-bone diagram to analyse causes

  4. Tally/Check sheet of the most likely causes

  5. Pareto analysis, to identify the relevant few for focusing on, to define and prioritize

Some ideas on how to introduce error proofing

  • Improve the information coming in - if your customer is ordering the wrong products, have your sales persons provide more reference material or on site training

  • Audible or visual warnings - have your system provide pop up messages or stop signs if something is not looking correct

  • Physical workplace - ensure adequate heating, lighting and sound reduction in your office

  • Adequate breaks - ensure the administrator has time to get up and move around regularly

  • Process simplification - work to improve the process if it shows error rates.  This is fundamental.  Use the tools listed above to question the reasons for errors in the process

  • Training - ensure effective training is in place, and perform regular refresh sessions

  • Self inspection - ensure time is built in for administrators to go back and check their work, before the task moves to the next person

  • Standardize your process - in a logical, sequential way.  If your steps are not in the right order, you may miss adding some key information

  • Job aids and visual reminders - provide your administrators easy to read, Clear examples of what mistakes to look out for

  • Checklists - especially useful for new starters, back up purposes, or people who multi task

  • Measurement and feedback - if your teams are not aware of the largest or highest reasons for error, they will not be aware to keep an eye out for that important step when entering information

  • Drop down menus - always an improvement when comparing with free text fields

  • Required fields - will not allow continuation of an electronic process until all steps are completed

  • Pop up warnings - these can be clicked through, but go some way to providing a warning message

  • Macros - it may take time or expertise to write one, but prevent mis-entering of information

  • Copy/paste - provide the right tools to enable copy and pasting of customer requirements

  • Dual monitors - PC monitors are cheap these days.  An extra monitor helps to view the customer information against the system entry information, and allows for self checking and auditing

  • Stop the work!  If an error is spotted, stop the work everywhere within your team - inform of the error, what is being done to fix it, and how to prevent it.  This ensures every other administrator is aware of the potential error and will be conscious of that when repeating the same task


Some examples of error proofing you can find or implement in the office environment


1. Signatures - when signing hard copies, don't just put “Signature” on the lines.  Specify the titles and/or names of those who have to sign it.  And of course the date.


Give the signatory the reason why they are signing off the document.  e.g. Quality person is signing off the Standard Operating Procedure section, the Risk analysis and the Part Number investigation.

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The Supervisor is signing off the Training and Implementation sections.  The Manager is signing off the Ownership and Auditing sections.

2. Make your results visible.  Measure the error rate before and after changes were made.  Turn them into quantitive figures e.g.

  • 95% less defects than last year

  • 75% less injuries

  • 99.6% less customer complaints

  • 70% less warranty cost saved

  • 89% scrap reduction

  • 60% productivity increase

And you can also make qualitative statements:

  • Jane reported 5,000 USD savings in making a new use of post it notes

  • Financial services team saved costs of 75,000 USD by implementing a 6,000 USD software

As a Lean consultancy, we are passionate about simplicity and Lean is a mindset that we apply in all our areas of activity. Our reward is when we know that we helped you meeting your business objectives, where both management skills and tools play a key role.

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