Good People Can’t Override a Bad System

If a system depends on the right person or people being in power, it is a bad system

On July 28th, 1935, the first prototype for the B 17 Flying Fortress bomber made its maiden flight. Boeing had won the contract from the U.S. Army Air Corps, beating out Douglas and Martin. They were to produce 200 bombers. The plane had exceeded all U.S.A.A.C. expectations.

On its second flight, the crew had forgotten to remove the “Gust Locks.” This caused the plane to crash, killing the pilot and copilot. It was after this tragedy that the “pre-flight checklist” was created.

Prior the B 17 crash, there was no structured system for making sure the plane was airworthy and correctly set for flight. Pre-flight prep was up to the judgment of the crew. The pre-flight Checklist is standard procedure today and mandatory before takeoff for all fights.

How many other planes had crashed before this and how many more would have crashed had the pre-flight checklist not been created and made mandatory? The B 17 crashed because of a bad system; a system that did not include a pre-flight checklist.

We rely on systems. The computer I am writing this on has an operating system. The OS controls all functionality of the computer. It is the interface between hardware and software. I don’t understand most of what it does, but I do notice when it stops working.

Systems improve our experiences when they work and frustrate us when they fail.


We Rely on Systems

We interact with many systems daily without much thought or attention. Systems we may encounter as part of our routine include:

  • Transportation systems (car, bus, train, etc.)
  • Communication systems (Land line, cell phone, tablets, the internet, etc.)
  • Shelter systems (Housing, office buildings, apartments, etc.)
  • Social systems (Family, community, state, nation)


In business, we make use of:

  • Billing systems
  • Information systems
  • Management systems
  • Document Management systems
  • Payroll systems
  • Production systems
  • Supply chain systems
  • Business operation systems
  • Maintenance systems

Even our body is made of many systems; Cardiovascular system, Pulmonary system, Immune system, Muscle/Skeletal system, etc.

We can define a system as a group of components or activities working towards a set purpose. A set of connected parts forming a more complex whole. For our businesses to operate at world class levels and meet customer demands while remaining profitable, we need to make use of systems.

When a system is robust, all users benefit, when it is flawed all users suffer.


Classroom Exercise

Exercise Part 1

In classes I have taught on system design, we would set up a mock factory based on a design I gave the class. It was meant to fail. I could have had a class full of Albert Einstein’s, and they still would have never met the goals I requested while using the system I gave them.

Exercise Part 2

After the initial failure with the mock factory. I would give the class the chance to redesign the factory, using what they had learned about efficiency tools. A better system was designed that was robust and easy to follow. The new systems always guaranteed success when followed. This is the goal in all system design.

What systems does your company use? Do they ensure employee success? Do they cause frustration? Do they ensure customer satisfaction and good asset utilization?


Systems 101

Good things in life and business rarely happen by accident. If we want good systems in place, we must identify the need and establish the system. You may notice I said establish and not create. Why reinvent the wheel? There are many proven systems that can help us accomplish what we need.

Step 1 – Identify all activities

Identify all systems your using and all activities that are unstructured. Negligence is our enemy by not taking time on a regular basis to evaluate what we do and how we do it. I was once part of a large project to correct inefficiency in shipping and uncovered standard practices that had not changed in over sixteen years!

The for mentioned project was helping improve foreign and domestic shipping of products for a large company. This was a perfect example of good people not being able to handle a bad system. It was so dated, much of what they did was inefficient.

We redesigned the system from receiving a customer order to the point where the customer receives the product.

Capture all activities your employees engage in. Leave no activities uncovered.

We rely on people and processes. We need trained, empowered employees using processes that ensure success in all they do. We embrace activities that make life easier. Employees will help with system identification and improvement if it has a positive impact on how they work. We love succeeding; we love wins. Help employees have many wins. We want them to get addicted to winning.

Step 2 – Structure all activities

Once you have identified all activities needed for your business, we need to make sure systems are in place. These will be the processes that ensure wins for our employees, suppliers and customers. We never want employees shooting from the hip. This is not fair to the employee. We do not use systems to tie their hands; we use systems to guarantee success. Employees, suppliers, and customers should have the opportunity to challenge systems shortcomings and suggest improvements.

Everything has a shelf life (remember the 16-year-old procedures with the shipping project?) If we are not improving and updating, we are falling behind and becoming less efficient.


Use Technology and Experts

Using software such as that offered by Nektar Data can highlight needs for systems and provide the data that systems rely on to stay relevant and robust. Don’t reinvent the wheel. What systems are used as industry standards for your type of company? These can provide a baseline to start with. All your doing is giving the best structure to needed activities.

Reach out to vendors that supply your machinery for maintenance and operation systems.

The more structured we are at how we act, the less often we will need to react. The goal is to be proactive and not reactive.

Listen to your employees. They are experts at what they do. You are arming them to win at work and be successful in all they do. This is very motivating and will encourage engagement. We love sharing our expertise. We rise to the occasion when we are valued.

We need to stop blaming employees for mistakes and start thinking them. A mistake made; is a flaw in the system. If an employee makes an honest mistake, we can make two assumptions; they are not the first to make that mistake and unless better control measures are put in place, they won’t be the last. This is when we use error proofing.

A system in place is a structure and a framework for success. Systems can be audited and improved. They increase our confidence. Does your business run on systems or are you still shooting from the hip?