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Scott Ginsberg

Customer Care

The Cardinal Rule of Process Documentation: Read the Comments

A simple tip to improve your frontline communication

Published: Wednesday, December 14, 2022 - 13:03

We’re told the cardinal rule of the internet is, “Never read the comments.” This catchphrase is used to warn users of the toxic parts of the internet. One minute you’re sharing an article, photo, or video that you’re proud of. The next moment, dozens or even hundreds of comments snowball into a whirling mess of meanness.

I’ve published my writing online for more than 20 years now, and I can attest that reading the comments absolutely has the power to make you doubt yourself and lose all faith in humanity.

True story: I remember one of my readers commented that I was “nuttier than a bag of trail mix.” That destroyed me for an entire month.

However, communicating within a manufacturing company is a different arena.

When your goal is to continuously improve, empower frontline workers, and transform the company for the better, one of the best habits to get into is reading the comments—not in suggestion boxes, sticky notes, dry-erase boards, or clipboards, but with accessible and engaging digital devices.

Dozuki has always believed in this aspect of frontline communication. The habit of capturing improvement insights is embedded into the source code of our software. We ensure that our users are able to tag each other, have an open dialogue about their workflows, and make suggestions directly within the procedures. And we make sure managers are set up to be notified when someone has left feedback for their review.

In one case, a customer and pharmaceutical manufacturer was telling us about their old feedback process, which was either on paper or via word-of-mouth. The problem was, their operations manager noticed many frontline workers didn’t have the confidence to share their comments. Obstacles such as power dynamics, situational pressure, language barriers, social norms, and personality differences would keep operators from speaking up.

Which meant their valuable knowledge got lost.

In our experience, when you open up those lines of communication so everyone can feel heard, continuous improvement insights surface naturally and prolifically. Unlike posting videos on your favorite social media platform, reading the comments at a manufacturing company helps people understand where they fall in the range of perspectives about a particular process, task, or procedure, and how to make the work better.

Joseph M. Reagle Jr.’s book Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web (MIT Press, 2015) argues that such conversations can tell us much about human nature and social behavior. He writes:

“Comment is a characteristic of contemporary life. It can inform, improve, and shape people for the better, and it can alienate, manipulate, and shape people for the worse. The negatives can seem more potent than the positives, but there are many benefits to today’s comment. Comment is with us, and we must find ways to use it effectively.”

Here’s another use case from one of our food manufacturing customers. According to their director of manufacturing operations, they had 30-year-old procedures with steps that simply didn’t make sense anymore because the work instructions were more applicable to older pieces of equipment. Unfortunately, their frontline employees would say, It’s not my job to change the procedure; I’m just an operator.”

And yet, these team members should be given the ownership to do just that—not only read the comments, but improve upon them.

Together we helped our customer during a period of many months to build out a forum. The Dozuki platform gave frontline workers a place to feel comfortable, regardless of age, experience, or tech savvy, to just go in and, in real time, drop a few lines and make a useful comment. Those were micro contributions, but they added up quickly.

Reading the comments can be quantifiable. We learned from our client that every improvement suggestion they received led to an average savings of $127. With hundreds of processes and hundreds or even thousands of workers, comments can accumulate quite significant cost savings each year.

Digital transformation is an evolution, not a revolution. If you want to improve your frontline communication, follow these three simple words of advice:

Read the comments.

Get into the habit of capturing improvement insights. Use digital tools to create a space where dialogue happens organically. Enable the feedback loop between authors and the floor. When frontline workers see how valuable their feedback is, they will keep the improvements coming. And with every suggestion workers make within your procedures, the manufacturing operation gets incrementally stronger.


About The Author

Scott Ginsberg’s picture

Scott Ginsberg

Scott Ginsberg is the content marketing manager at Dozuki. He’s spent more than 20 years writing books about wearing nametags, conducting corporate training seminars on approachability, and leading knowledge management programs at tech startups. Text him right now at (314) 374-3397 with your favorite emoji.



Process Improvement

Good article Scott.  I have been out of manufacturing for nearly as long as you have been involved in it.  But prior to that I worked in manufacturing for nine different companies in eight different industries, a total of ~40 years.  My work was as Technical Director, Quality Assurance Manager, or Consultant.

We didn't have cell phones or computers at the start but it always paid to listen to comments.  Comment: "We tried that it doesn't work".  Response: "Show me the report, something may have been missed".  Or comment:  "Why should I listen to you? I've been here 20 years and you will only be here two or three."  Response: "I am in a position to run trials that may help you or make your life miserable.  So we should talk, in advance, during, and after the trial."  Or comment: "We tried something similar.  I have some notes in my locker, let's go look".  Response: "Let's go if now is convenient".

Then came ISO and a few of my companies proceeded to register after documenting procedures.  This was a step forward as long as shift supervisors could assemble a team which had trained on all the procedures for today's orders; or know which team members would need help today, with which specific procedures, and could find the procedures if it required a computer search.  Or an auditor asks a sixth grade graduate for the strength testing procedure which neither of them could find because the person who wrote the procedure didn't use either the word Tensile or Instron.  To make matters worse in this instance, they came to me for it.  I had discovered a full text searching algorithm, found the procedure in seconds; but was written up by the auditor for not using the proper method of finding the document (which he had written and I had been unable use to find the Tensile Testing procedure either).

But enough, modern communication technology for documentation, making, reading, and using comments should help.  I say should because if cell phones are the mode, keep in mind they can be terrible distractors to operators and readers alike.