How to Achieve Visibility, Traceability and Accountability in Manufacturing

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In our last post, we shared how delayed responses – gaps in time between when an event occurs and the response to that event – plague modern operations. And, while it is easy to rationalize these inherent inefficiencies as “that is just how it is,” the mounting pressures placed on the shoulders of manufacturers to adapt in response to world events and industry trends demand change. But, how can you change, how can you adapt, how can you ensure your operations remain resilient when you lack visibility, traceability and accountability? Without all three, sustainable change will fall victim to the failure of adoption, caused by subtle resistance manifesting as poor compliance and pencil whipping.

Visibility, Traceability and Accountability 

Visibility, traceability and accountability are critical components you should expect to encounter as you walk the yellow-lined pedestrian walkways that criss-cross throughout the factory. However, if you are still stuck with a paper-based approach of documenting activities or even if you are leveraging more modern, yet still outdated, technology of the late 90s and early 2000s, you are most certainly missing out on the visibility you need to make work traceable and hold people accountable. 

Here is a breakdown:

Visibility leads to traceability 

Traceability leads to accountability

Accountability leads to compliance

Visibility

Visibility: noun – the state of being able to see or be seen.

You may not realize all the blindspots you have throughout your operations. And while it is not realistic to outfit an entire factory with cameras that capture every angle in order to truly see what is happening at any given moment ever, it is possible to bring sight to everyday activities. 

Visibility manifests as the ability to see, digitally speaking, who did what and when by leveraging data points. These data points must be a combination of information captured through manual entry and automatic data logging. The more sources you have logging extractable details, the better visibility you will bring to your operation.

Traceability

Traceability: noun – the quality of having an origin or course of development that may be found or followed.

Visibility gives rise to traceability. Traceability is the ability to track and document information from end-to-end throughout the manufacturing process – from raw material to finished product and everything that happens in between. This builds on the foundation visibility brings (who did what and when) by adding to it the result. Now every completed task or impromptu action fits together like a series of intertangled plots and subplots of a full manufacturing story told again and again, each day throughout the course of day-to-day operations. 

With complete traceability, you know the beginning, middle and end of each event. If a line is down, find out who is working to get it back up, what steps they have taken and based on the resolution, reverse engineer to suss out the root cause. Instead of interviews and guess work, you can follow the data trail to find out which tasks were completed – and which tasks were not – to piece together the chain of events that led to the unplanned downtime. All in just a few clicks.

Accountability

Accountability: noun – the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.

Traceability leads to accountability. Armed with the information of who did what, when, and what the result was, you have a crystal clear picture of ownership. Not only can responsibilities be mapped out to a granular level with specifics down to the person, but details depicting adherence to process and procedure can be captured. 

Compliance

Compliance: noun – the action or fact of complying with a wish or command

Accountability leads to compliance. The ability to see what should be and compare that to what is unlocks a new capability within your operations – the ability to eliminate assumptions (what should be) and make data-backed decisions based on what is happening on the frontline (what is). This is the only way to move a best practice from a hypothetical scenario, to a tried-and-true reality while understanding the actual impact. That is critical for driving improvements to safety, quality and efficiency or when exploring how to reduce your operation’s reliance on tribal knowledge while moving to a scalable approach to sharing knowledge. 

Compliance is key.

Why is Compliance so Important?

Compliance is closely linked to production losses, waste, customer complaints, product recalls, safety incidents and more. In those moments of crisis, as a manufacturer you want to be able to quickly and accurately investigate the root cause, so you can identify and implement corrective actions as quickly as possible to ensure that units continue to produce at the required run rate and quality specifications while facilitating a safe working environment. 

Compliance to documented standards ensures that lines can continue to produce quality units and workers can work safely, both of which are critical for making a buck. Documented compliance ensures that your operations are audit proof, helping you to avoid costly fines and investigations, which is critical for saving a buck.

In most operations, compliance is not always 100%. In fact, it is usually way less than that. The reasons for poor compliance vary and can not be explained away by citing a lack of work ethic or a prevalence of intentional negligence among the frontline. More often than not, poor compliance indicates a problem with the working culture within the factory. Mounting pressures force manufacturers to “do more with less” and instead of finding new, innovative, efficient solutions, tasks are added to an already overwhelmed workforce. Combine that with failures of internal education to ensure the “why” is thoroughly understood and you have a recipe for poor compliance. One of the most prevalent ways in which poor compliance manifests is pencil whipping.

Pencil Whipping – The Elephant in the Room

It is time we acknowledge the elephant in the room – pencil whipping. It is when someone documents that a task or work was completed when in actuality it was not. It happens more  often than you think. Without the right tools in place to get the visibility needed to understand compliance or lack thereof, pencil whipping will continue to occur. No one has any way of verifying that each check was performed and each cleaning was completed. 

Instead of tackling the root cause of pencil whipping, the usual solution is to add additional checks, which could mean conducting the same checks or inspections more frequently or tasking another worker to act as a second pair of eyes. Think about that. Can pencil whipping, which is in part caused by too much to do, be solved by asking the same people to do more?

The answer to that question is “no.” The solution is to understand compliance or lack thereof. Surface what was done, when and by whom by making tasks digitally visible. Tie that activity to the result with the traceability enabled by data. Hold those responsible for the completion of these activities accountable, not to enforce bad habits, but to understand what expectations or deliverables are realistic. Then make changes based on your findings. That is how you combat pencil whipping.

How to Achieve Compliance with Connected Worker™ Technology 

A Connected Worker Platform tracks every element of every job, and can alert management if there are significant variations in adherence to standard operating procedures (SOPs). All data is stored in the cloud as work is executed, making it easily traceable and available in real-time. For example, in the event of an audit or inspection, management can easily trace all processes from procurement of raw materials to the development of the final product with a couple clicks. Parsable allows you to easily see who completed which task, the timestamp, input data captured including photos and videos and how the procedure was executed. 

Prior to implementing Parsable, one company had a requirement that a quality check be performed during each hour of production. This quality check prompted the operator to confirm the samples they randomly selected met the various specifications laid out by the quality assurance (QA) team. Every day, those forms were completed and submitted without delay or issue...until the day they began using Parsable to complete those very same checks. 

What happened next may surprise you – not a single check was able to be submitted. Operators complained to management that it was too much work and the expectations were too high, that completing this QA inspection every hour was completely unrealistic when considering all the other tasks and activities the operators were responsible for completing while keeping the line running. This problem was not caused by Parsable, after all these checks were not new. Instead, what this customer discovered was that the checks had not actually been completed for months – it was too demanding. The forms that said otherwise were the result of rampant pencil whipping, which placed the company at risk of product recalls and audit failures. How did management respond? How would you respond?

They listened. They used the data they collected through Parsable and the feedback they got from their frontline workers after surfacing this gap in compliance to revisit the hourly quality check requirement. Production leaders worked with QA leaders to make changes to the process, so that the workload placed on operators was not only manageable, but more suited to the needs of the business. They moved from an hourly cadence to four hour intervals. While QA was initially skeptical that the reduced frequency would lead to greater risk, they found that increased compliance and more accurate data was the greatest mitigator. Less pencil whipping, more adherence to spec and reduced pressure on the frontline.

With Connected Worker technology, your organization has access to more data, which allows it to holistically make better decisions. The volume of data captured – during every shift, at every plant, every day – can enable your company to improve quality from insights gleaned from the millions of data points captured. As a quality or safety manager, rather than spending weeks preparing for an audit, you can now easily pull data with just a couple clicks.

Much of the data does not need to be entered in by the people using it – it is either pulled directly from systems or is created by Connected Worker technology through date and timestamps and individual worker data. You can gain access to a detailed digital record of what happened leading up to an audit. Management can access on-site evidence and information captured, including photos, voice notes and data points – all stored in a data repository. 

Organizations need a way to not only capture data in real-time, but to produce insights and feed those insights back into work – driving continuous quality improvement. With Connected Worker technology, your organization now has access to more data, which allows it to holistically make better decisions. 

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