Consistency of Outcome Requires Consistency of Method… Is Written Guidance Really Necessary?

Written by Mr. Randy Mayes

As I interact with workers, supervisors, and managers, I am often asked, “Do I really need written guidance for every task?” The simple answer is no. The more correct answer is, it depends! There is a lot to unpack with the “it depends” part so let’s start with one simple question, “Do you want or need a consistent outcome for your process or product?”. If the answer is “yes”, then you probably need written guidance of some kind.

Consistency of outcome is often the key that makes or breaks a company or brand. Take Starbucks for instance. Whether you order a Starbucks coffee in Seattle or Bangkok, you expect to get the same cup of coffee, and you do. Their brand is built on receiving a consistent, quality, product no matter where in the world you order your cup of coffee. Does Starbucks have a consistent method for making the coffees listed on their menu? The answer is obviously yes, because the cup of coffee tastes the same wherever you order it. Do they have written guidance, or recipes, to make the coffee? Yes, they do. The baristas may have to memorize the recipes before becoming qualified, but the written guidance does definitely exist. And that’s just part of the story. Other written guidance is used to order supplies, stock the stores, hire new employees, provide training, and in every other aspect of the Starbucks business. Their “green book” is famous, and my friend Lewis Senior has asked and been shown a copy at hundreds of Starbucks around the world. Not only do they write their expectations down, but the employees know about them, use them, and can even make them available to a customer upon request.

Most, if not all, high performing organizations realize that written guidance is absolutely necessary to conduct business in a consistent manner. Many times, the breakdown occurs when time pressures and workloads become so great that we don’t think we have time to refer to the written guidance. We think “I remember what I need to do” and then it’s, “well, I got it mostly right” or, “I got it about 90% correct and that’s a pretty good percentage. Close enough.” At that point, variability has been introduced and now, the outcome is no longer consistent. Imagine the variance you would get if you have many employees that produce your product or complete your process with 90% accuracy. As your customer, if I don’t know what I’m getting every time I order your product, don’t you think I will start looking for alternate suppliers that will give me a predictable outcome?

So far, we have only touched on the concept of product quality. Consider this same idea in light of safety, production, and efficiency. Consistency in these areas is a must also. An easy way to think of it is that, for processes where you need consistent outcomes, you cannot allow the variability of the method, or you are encouraging variability of outcome. What if your workforce only performed at 90% accuracy on tasks with known elevated risk, where the risk mitigation or reduction strategy analyzed by the organization is embedded in the written guidance? For any organization aspiring to be highly reliable, this can be counter to increases capacity and resilience.

The answer to the question of “Do I really need written guidance for a task” is more complex to answer than just the idea of consistency and more ideas will be addressed in future posts. At Fisher Improvement Technologies, we help companies realize their potential in a number of areas of operations, including effective written guidance. Please visit our website for more information on this and other topics for improvement