6 Ways to Mistake-Proof Your Business Process

By: Jason Hogeboom

Mistakes happen; it is a part of business. It’s also part of business to reduce mistakes as much as possible. At the very least identify them as close when they happen as possible. The earlier a mistake can be identified, the less costly the error may be. Finding an error that was made on the manufacturing floor will be much less costly than a customer finding it – this can result in a potential recall.

An important step when looking at your process is ‘mistake proofing.’ Some of the mistake proofing methods can eliminate the possibility of a certain mistake being made. Other methods are used to highlight that a mistake was made. Here are six ways to mistake proof your process with some common examples.

1. Elimination

Elimination is the most effective method of mistake proofing. It is also usually the hardest to identify and can be costly in time and money to implement. However, when done correctly it is a powerful method. This usually involves the re-engineering or re-designing of equipment. A common elimination of mistake proofing in day-to-day life is at the gas station. Cars are manufactured with a plat under the gas cap which prevents everything but the small unleaded-gasoline nozzle from fitting into the tank, eliminating the possibility of adding in diesel instead. A more recent example I have seen is the elimination of bicycle chains and replacing this with a drive shaft. Is this the future of bicycles?

2. Prevention

Prevention is a method that makes the mistake impossible. A good example comes from the automobile industry again. Most automatic transmissions will not allow you to place your transmission into reverse, or park without the car breaks being pressed and the car not moving. Manual transmissions will not allow you to change gears without pressing down the clutch. These are both examples of an interlocking design that assures an action is not done mistakenly.

3. Replacement

Replacement is a substitute to ensure a more reliable process is in place to improve consistency. The bicycle drive shaft I mentioned previously can also fit into this category, as often times solutions may fit into more than one category. Another good example is replacing humans with coin machines in supermarkets. More often than not, the machines are more accurate and more reliable to give the correct amount and type of coins than if done manually. Maybe the future will have us eliminate coins all together?

4. Facilitation

Facilitation uses techniques and step sequencing to make mistakes less likely to occur. This does not guarantee nor always remove human error but it can greatly reduce it. A very common example of this is witnesses at ATMs. Most ATM machines now have you take your card before it dispenses the cash; this was not the case in the recent past. People tend to have cash on their mind when going to the ATM and are likely to leave the card behind after receiving the cash. This change has facilitated and helped to solve this issue. Really, the card would typically be worth more than the cash being withdrawn.

5. Detection

Detection is identifying an error before further processing or damage occurs so that the user can quickly correct the problem. This can be a quality control sample, an expected outcome check, or a warning system. A good example of a warning system circles back to the automotive industry. There are tons of warning lights and sounds for things like low oil, high temperature, low gas, door ajar, and so on. A good example of expected outcomes can be seen in cooking. Recipes often include expected outcomes such as when roasting chicken the juices should run clear when fully cooked.

6. Mitigation

Mitigation is the last resort of mistake proofing. This is when the error is likely to happen but can’t be completely controlled to stop or detect beforehand. I tend to think of carrying a spare inner tube when I go cycling. There are things I can do to try and reduce the possibility of a flat tire by avoiding questionable riding conditions and proper tire inflation, but eventually that flat is going to happen. I can mitigate the effect it has on my ride by having the tools and replacement parts on hand so the error may be quickly resolved.


Jason Hogeboom has worked in Biotechnology Manufacturing for over 25 years. During his tenure, he was trained in Best Practices in Operational Excellence programs; he received a Lean Six Sigma Greenbelt and became a champion in leading the Lean approach across various functions. After completing an AACSB accredited MBA in 2017 and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in 2018, Jason made Operational Excellence a primary focus as he saw that these Best Practices can truly transform both people and companies. Jason will be joining us at OPEX Week Summer to discuss this topic further, find out more here.