Is it Really an Operator Error or Something Else?

Let’s face it, there are many situations in which products are used either incorrectly or just simply don’t meet an intended need appropriately. Would you agree that this is due to an operator (customer) error? Or do you believe it is due to a process defect or product discrepancy? All too many times, operators are blamed for errors in products that are not really their faults. In many situations, the error is actually within the product itself or due to a lack assumption should be reflected within the process to make the product.

How to Combat Operator Error?

One of the best ways to help combat operator errors starts within the design and process phases. When products are developed, a strong consideration needs to be made regarding both the design and instruction. A process designer must identify the needs a product is intended to meet, as well as how it could be used incorrectly by operators. A very helpful tactic would be to involve actual operators themselves in the process and product development stages. When operators are given the opportunity to utilize and manipulate a product they are able to share valuable information on how they would use an item, how they think others may use it, and share problems they experienced while using the item. The process designers can than take that information into consideration to rectify the identified problems or issues within the process phase of development, thus reducing the possible numbers of available errors for operators to find. A good design will take into consideration common human behaviors and create designs and plans appropriately while eliminating design components that may enable mistakes.

An Example of a Process Error

A customer goes out to the store and purchases a new power drill and takes it home to remove and hang new cabinet doors. The customer reads through the manual and understands how the drill works and that it also functions as a powered screwdriver. The customer than attaches the appropriate screw driver bit as explained in the instruction manual and attempts to remove the old cabinet doors to replace them with new ones. However, each time the customer tries to remove a cabinet screw the screw head strips out and becomes stuck into the cabinet. This happens several times and the customer does not understand why. The customer followed the directions, attached the right screw driver bit, is operating the tool in the right direction, and is using the tool as intended but the tool is not efficiently meeting the need. How could this be? The customer is upset, returns the tool and must manually unscrew each cabinet door and pry out the stuck screws using another tool. There are two different errors taking place in this example, first the operator is pulling in the operator trigger too tightly and using too much power at one time so the screwdriver bit is not able to adequately grasp the tops of the screw heads and in return they are stripping out. The second issue is that the manual did not mention anything about the speed of the drill nor does power drill offer different speed setting options such as slow, medium, or fast. This in turn puts too much responsibility upon the operator and opens up too much room for error.  This problem needs to be examined and remedied within the process and development stage at the power tool manufacturing facility.

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