Playgrounds, Checklists and Making Things Idiot Proof

idiot proof
Playgrounds, Checklists and Making Things Idiot Proof

An article in the New York Times from July of 2011 entitled “Can a Playground Be Too Safe?” discusses the trend over the past few decades of making playgrounds safer.  By reducing the height of sliding boards and monkey bars and replacing the old pavement with rubberized or softer surfaces, it stands to reason that we’ve made the environments safer, right?

Safer playgrounds?

Not necessarily.   Some studies have shown that it has not reduced the number of injuries.  Because we’ve made playgrounds so safe, children feel a false sense of security with the improved safety.  They are more willing to take bigger safety risks and end up injuring themselves just as often.

In the business world, we talk a lot about processes.  We particularly like to design repeatable processes.  If we can standardize processes to the point of being idiot proof, we hope to create an efficient workforce with consistent output.

Is idiot proof good?

It all sounds great theoretically.

But what do you do when non-standard things occur in the middle of these standard processes.  Sometimes processes are established with flexibility to deal with these situations.  Sometimes it has to be escalated to a senior manager for decision making, delaying the standard process that was designed to be so streamlined.

It’s been said that if you make something idiot-proof, they’ll just create a better idiot.

Consultants are known for implementing “process improvements” that make their clients more efficient and run leaner.  They are successful in many cases.  Software applications can be built that reduce the number of manual tasks, enabling companies to process more information faster.  Even well-designed processes can make a team work faster and more efficient.

See my related post: Good Manager, Poor Leader. What’s Missing?

But designing processes without allowing people the ability to think, make decisions and call an audible when exceptions occur is a dual waste of time.  Time is wasted designing the system and time is wasted following the flawed process and figuring out what to do for exceptions.

Fundamentally, if you make a complex process so easy that a moron can do it, you’ll end up with a staff of morons.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms. 

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