Do It Right the First Time

Tuesday July 5, 2016 comments

Do It Right the Fist Time. Sounds good. Why do rework when it saves time and money to do things right the first time? Why spend money on warranty work, returns, or lost productivity if organizations can prevent all that?

People hear the phrase “Do It Right the First Time,” and assume that refers to the output of a person, and perhaps the attitude of that person as he or she approaches work. If work wasn’t done “right” then the worker was at fault. Such an assessment is an after-the-fact evidence of failure rather than an assurance of success that the phrase was meant to convey.

Philip Crosby, the Quality Guru and best-selling author who coined that phrase, also used to say, “People can’t ‘Do It Right the First Time,’ if they don’t know what the ‘It’ is.” I would add, people can’t “Do It Right the First Time,” if they don’t know what “Right” is. The goal behind the phrase was to encourage meeting the requirements on time, the first time, every time. And that responsibility lies with leadership who sets the tone for quality, defines the “It,” teaches what “Right” means, and specifies the ways of the organization.

Want to see things done right the first time? Here are 7 ways to get there:

  1. Leadership Commitment. Leaders can lead and pave the way into a culture of doing things right the first time. They can also undo any commitment to do things right the first time with one email, one text, or one sign off approving something that isn’t done right the first time. People follow the leader.
  2. Treat Work as a Process. Anything that needs to be done is a process with defined inputs, outputs, relationships, tools, methods, authority, and parameters. If you omit some of this definition, the person doing the work has to fill in the blanks. Assumptions will look bad on both of you.
  3. Be Clear and Unambiguous. The best employees may be able to figure out vague requirements; others may take a “that’s close enough” approach. It won’t be. Specificity is your friend.
  4. Define the Time Frame. Be specific about when things must be done by. When there are multiple conflicting priorities, it is crucial for leaders to help prioritize by defining expectations about time frame and deadlines. When there is no time frame, there will be assumptions. The hassle created by those assumptions when work isn’t done when needed will take time off your clock. Set the expectation that work will be done on time, but then define the “when.”
  5. Define How. Values, norms, ways… every organization has them by intention or by default. Unless an organization wants to be generic, its leaders should know who the organization is, what sets it apart from others, how it will behave, how it will not behave, and how to attract and keep those wired the same way. If you fail to define the “how,” you condone all kinds of means to the end result of the work promised. That may not look like your marketing message on your website. You don’t want that.
  6. Measure. We pay attention to what we measure. Define what will be measured and what success looks like. Then do. Don’t leave measurement to the realm of sales and finance jobs. A major complaint that employees frequently have with performance appraisals, is that they have no idea what they need to improve. Fix that by teaching people the value of measurement. Involve everyone in meaningful measurements of their job success.
  7. Celebrate. Don’t only use measurement to see where you’ve done right and where you need to improve; use it as a reason to celebrate. It’s the best. Another major complaint employees have with performance appraisals, is that they don’t get recognition for the good things they do. Change that. Celebrate the small wins, the big wins, and even the effort that went into the ones you didn’t win. Everyone loves to hear, “Well done!”

“Do It Right the First Time” was never intended to mean that people never make mistakes. The goal was culture change from one of expecting errors and measuring the accepted allowances, to one of prevention. It also gave everyone a common understanding of a performance standard, and a common language. And when people in an organization all start talking the same language and having a common understanding, watch out world!


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