View Cart (0 items)
Management / Employee Management
June 2014 Entrepreneur's Edge

Fail-Safe Systems

Challenge: A forgetful crew spends too much time, money and effort retrieving essential pieces of equipment or other cleaning supplies during a day’s work.

June 03, 2014
KEYWORDS business / fail-safe / list
/ Print / Reprints /
| Share More
/ Text Size+

We all have automatic little internal devices to help ensure we perform our tasks correctly. 

When we leave our house or place of business we naturally lock the door, and then we give it an extra little tug to make sure we’ve actually locked it. 

We make lists of items we need at the grocery and, before going through the check-out line, check the list to ensure we’ve not missed anything. 

We all have a “to-do” list on our desks or smartphone and draw a line through each or delete it from the list on the phone as we complete each task. 

Even Santa Claus has a list he “checks twice” of those who are naughty or nice.

It still happens

Although you and your staff have memorized and know what you need to have on your truck before leaving either your facility or a customer’s home, we can, and occasionally do, forget to check. 

In our work lives, we need the same kind of system that Santa Claus uses. Santa sure doesn’t want to make mistakes and disappoint a deserving child on Christmas morning and you don’t want to disappoint your customer, so it is important that you create a system and adhere to the system constantly so it becomes as automatic as tugging on a locked door to ensure it is locked.

But there is a problem. We’re not perfect. We’re busy. We multi-task. Even in the best of circumstances we overlook details or forget to consult our list, which means a truck goes on a job without a necessary tool, causing panic and wasted time driving extra miles to go back and get it. 

Sometimes monthly or annual maintenance tasks get forgotten, causing expensive equipment failure. “Tickler files” (digital or physical reminder calendars) don’t get used or updated so future planned tasks aren’t scheduled, causing angry customers to quickly become ex-customers.

We probably can’t avoid all these malfunctions in our personal and business lives, but we can certainly minimize them. One way is to create a double-check requirement. Santa Claus uses the system of “making a list and checking it twice” and we can also do this by creating fail-safe systems.

Double up

The flower shop that once delivered flowers for a wedding to the church but forgot the bridal bouquet developed a system of having two people check the order. They check it once in the shop before it is put in the delivery truck and again in the delivery truck just to make sure the bride’s bouquet isn’t still waiting to be put on the truck. Yes, it takes a few seconds of extra time, but nothing near the amount of time it would take to drive cross-town with a wedding bouquet trying to beat the clock when guests are seated in the church and the organist is playing “Here comes the Bride” for the tenth time.

The sales office with an “outside” salesperson and an “inside” customer service representative who coordinates calls between the office and the outside salesperson has a formal meeting every Monday morning so they don’t miss a sales call or a follow-up quality control call. 

In the shipping department of a busy distribution warehouse, the person responsible for supplies at work stations has a checklist for each station that he and each assembler check once at the beginning of every work day and again after the lunch break. When the inventory level of an essential item is near a pre-set minimum amount, the supply of that item is replenished and, if the backstock of that item reaches a pre-set minimum, a purchase order is submitted. That way, an assembly line isn’t shut down because they are out of a single component.

Fail-safe systems

What about creating a fail-safe system for your business?

https://admin-cleanfax.epublishing.com/admin/article/general/load?articleId=105893# Of course, each business is different but, in general, I’d recommend that you have two checklists. 

The first is the “standard” list of equipment and supplies that are always on the truck. You might not need all on that list for every job but, since you use these items so frequently, it makes sense that they are always on the truck. 

The second is a “specialized” list that has all the items you need for various specialized jobs and, when you have a specialized job, you assemble those items and place them beside the truck. But before putting them on the truck, take out the checklist and make sure each item you might need is there then put them on the truck. It’s exactly like checking your list at the grocery before getting in the check-out line. You certainly don’t want to drive back to the store for that bottle of milk you child is expecting to have with tomorrow’s cereal, nor do you want to drive across town to retrieve a much-needed extension cord.

There is one more important element to this fail-safe system and that is to have some sort of visual system which, if you are reaching the minimum amount of a given supply in the backstock, notifies you to get more from your supplier. I could write another article on this system but, for now, I’ll limit myself to the fail-safe system at hand.

Yes, in a perfect world, a fail-safe system wouldn’t be needed — but this is an imperfect world filled with imperfect people like you and me and your staff. 

The price to “check it twice” is far less than the cost of a lost customer, an expensive repair, messing up a day’s work schedule or the tear rolling down the cheek of a youngster that Santa forgot. 

So make that list or a fail-safe system and check it twice every time you leave.

Larry Galler specializes in coaching owners of small businesses to grow their business through effective marketing, customer retention programs and systemizing their business practices. Explore how he can help you during a free coaching session by calling (219) 464-9463. You can also receive his free assessment to measuring your company’s “culture of excellence” by sending an e-mail to Larry@LarryGaller.com. Put “excellence” in the subject line. Visit his website at www.OneYearToGreatness.com.

Recent Articles by Larry Galler