How to Prevent “A Good Shift Gone Bad…"

By Paul Borders, CMRP, Senior Principal Consultant, Life Cycle Engineering

A good shift gone bad…

Eddie pulled into the parking lot at the plant ready to go back to work. As a shift supervisor, he was looking forward to a smooth, drama-free shift. All his best employees were at the plant this rotation and he could count on them to do a great job. As he parked his car, he saw Pete, the shift supervisor he was relieving, drive past him in a hurry.

“Leaving early again,” thought Eddie as he entered the plant and quickly assessed the situation.The hot mill was running and all his folks were in place to turn the shift over. He quickly ran the numbers from the prior shift and saw that they had exceeded the production target, a promising indicator of what he would experience.

About 10 minutes later, the maintenance supervisor showed up at his door, looking angry. “Why are you guys still running? You know we’ve got a major roll change going on and you’ve not even started to let things cool down on the mill! My guys are going to have to twiddle their thumbs while it comes down to temperature,” he shouted as he angrily stomped off.

After lots of radio communications and some annoyed operators threw their tantrums,

Eddie was able to shut the mill down. After a while, the crew was able to change out the roll and get the hot mill restarted. “Now it’s time to make some pounds!” Eddie exclaimed to his team.

“Not so fast, Eddie,” responded one team member. “I just ran into Ralph from R&D and he said something about running a trial with a new alloy in about 15 minutes.” Eddie then spied Ralph coming down the line with a clipboard and a laptop.“What’s this I hear about you running a trial today?” asked Eddie.

“We’ve been talking about this for weeks!!!  I even called Pete on the shift before you to remind you!” Ralph exclaimed. Eddie resigned himself to the fact that his shift wasn’t going to be a good one due to lack of good communications from his prior shift. “A good shift gone bad,” sighed Eddie,“and none of it my fault!”

Preventing shift-change misfires with a shift handoff procedure

Over time people gravitate towards the path of least resistance and it’s only natural that employees would shortchange something that occurs at the end of the shift when people are worn out and ready to leave. Shift-change misfires can be alleviated by using a basic tool – a shift handoff procedure. This procedure documents how a supervisor from the shift that is leaving interfaces with a supervisor on the incoming shift. A good procedure captures what your best people do already and organizational leaders can use it to define expectations for all shift handoffs. It’s additionally important to understand that tools and procedures have to be supported by a culture of discipline and execution. 

It’s a function…not a form!

The degree of complexity and risk of the work dictate how simple or how complex the shift handoff procedure needs to be. The most complex I’ve seen was in a hospital environment where patients’ lives depended on good shift handoff practices. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen many simple shift handoffs that have less than a half-dozen items to cover.

The scope of the procedure can also vary. For example, the procuredure could cover the hand-off from one operator to another operator on a single large machine or unit or it could apply at a departmental level with multiple players.

Creating the shift handoff procedure

All business processes should have an overall defining process and shift handoff procedures are no different. The example below shows the items our supervisor at the beginning of the article could have reviewed with the outgoing supervisor.

Shift Hand off chart

As portrayed in the opening scenario, all of the issues that created problems for Eddie would have been covered in this simple document. It could have also prevented the “cutting out early” that was displayed by Pete, the outgoing supervisor. 

In addition to the above document, there are several other documents that should be part of a broader management system. 

  • Shift handoff procedure - This document lays out the basic process on a single page in block diagram form. 
  • Step definition document - This document provides more detail on each step in the process and is used to lay out expectations for execution.
  • RASI (Responsible, Accountable, Supportive & Informed) document - This matrix document describes the roles and responsibilities in conjunction with the steps in the shift handoff procedure.

    In summary, the shift handoff form is not a document that lives by itself. It should exist as part of a process and part of your overall management system that needs to be reinforced by leader’s expectations and formal system audits. 

    A good shift handoff procedure facilitates discussion on the right things at the right time. For example, an up-to-date production schedule review is almost always an item on the shift handoff procedure. This ensures good communication on execution of the production schedule which is vital for a successful shift. Depending on the work environment and requirements, the procedure can be implemented in different ways. One can use a form as illustrated above but understand that written documents are difficult to manage and retain. It could be a special screen on a manufacturing system interface and archived or it can be part of a handheld program. Many places that don’t have document retention requirements use a whiteboard with critical hand-off items articulated on it. In all cases, the shift handoff function should be highly visible, auditable, and consistently done.

    Reinforce use of the procedure to ensure its effectiveness

    Managers need to periodically review the procedure and watch the shift handoffs occur. For example, a production foreman should examine 5-10% of shift handoffs and audit them for completion. This can include attending the shift handoff personally, reviewing the document that was completed, or interviewing one of the supervisors involved in the handoff. It’s critical that the people running the handoff understand it’s an important function, important enough that their bosses pay attention to how well it is working!

    People respect what is inspected!

    Don’t short-change the shift change

    Poor communication is a very common problem in industrial settings and it can cause significant frustration and operational issues when it gets in the way of smooth shift handoffs. So make sure you have a good shift handoff procedure in place, communicate the expectations covered in the procedure, and then audit a small percentage of shift handoffs to insure the procedure is being followed. You’ll eliminate a lot of frustration and improve operating performance.

    A Senior Principal Consultant with Life Cycle Engineering, Paul Borders has more than 30 years of experience implementing performance improvement initiatives in manufacturing environments. Paul has successfully applied LCE’s Reliability Excellence methodologies to sustain performance improvements by driving culture change to ensure new systems become a fundamental way of life. Paul can be reached at [email protected].

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