An ambitious quality manager knew statistical process control (SPC) software would be an essential tool for his company’s goal of reducing manufacturing costs, improving quality and increasing competitiveness. He drew up a detailed plan for a successful launch. And while the process started off well, a few weeks after the SPC software implementation launch, problems became evident. Data collection activities were being skipped, expected corrective actions and notes were not being recorded properly and whispers of negative feedback started coming from the shop floor.

What went wrong with this launch? Despite his best intentions, the project manager failed to secure the support and buy-in of the floor operators as part of the project. The operators saw the introduction of the new system as an added burden to what they were already doing. Because he didn’t involve the operators who were called upon to execute the plan, they didn’t take ownership of the outcomes or see how their role in the project related to the success of the company.

This hypothetical quality manager is facing an all-too-common reality. No matter how good an SPC software system is, or how substantial the benefits to the business from implementing it will be, if shop floor operators are not involved early and often in planning the implementation, there is likely to be a negative reaction. For operators to accept a new system implementation, managers must design the SPC software implementation with consideration for the motivations, needs and problems of the operators.

With this shop floor involvement in mind, here are six ways to promote engagement of and support by shop floor personnel when implementing a new SPC software system.

1. Define the business need for SPC

Management has to justify its goals for implementing an SPC software system before it can expect personnel on the shop floor to accept and use it. Clearly defining and communicating the reasons for the SPC software up front will go a long way in engaging the front line stakeholders, particularly with operators who have experienced prior quality initiatives that did not receive shop floor support.

If the business motivation for management-driven initiatives is not adequately explained, operators may become needlessly suspicious. If the motives are not defined in clear terms, the situation can lead to a variety of resistance issues for operators, including fear of losing control over their work, fear that the new tool is meant to monitor their work, and, by extension, fear of losing their jobs.

Such perceptions can be overcome if management sets the right tone. One way of setting the right tone is encouraging the operators to communicate the top 10 problems that prevent them from improving quality. Management can then engage in discussion of how this project could assist in overcoming some of the issues.

Operators need to understand that without SPC software on the floor, problems will not be prevented, and therefore costs associated with scrap, rework, assembly issues, customer problems and poor reliability will negatively impact profitability. Without adequate profitability, jobs will be lost to those companies who invest in preventing such problems.

Not only does the alignment from these discussions promote operator buy-in, but the operators’ feedback provides valuable data to focus the implementation on issues viewed as the most pressing by shop floor personnel.

Here are some tips on how management can validate the “whys” for the implementation:

  • Identify the “pain points” in the plant that SPC software will resolve.

  • Define the value proposition in terms of business impact and results for the company.

  • Explain how other work groups and departments would benefit from the implementation.

  • Describe how the new system will improve existing processes.

  • 2. Formulate a plan to assess resistance

    For the implementation to have a greater chance of succeeding, management will have to critically assess the barriers that prevent operators from embracing this change as their own.

    A suggested method is to use a scoring system such as the one created by David Gleicher and Richard Beckhard, two pioneers in the field of organizational management. They created an expression to assess the likelihood of achieving a proposed change: D x V x F > R.

    The formula can be described this way: if the dissatisfaction of the current situation (D), the clarity of the vision to enable change (V), and the clarity of the first steps required to achieve it (F) are greater than the perceived psychological resistance (R) of the employees to accepting those necessary steps, then change is possible.

    Quality managers should take into account the economic and the psychological cost of the change they are going to undertake. Most managers can quickly undertake a financial analysis, but do they critically assess the real impediments to change? Have the actual success factors been identified?

    The success factors do not necessarily require scoring by a team of analysts. One can simply stack the identified factors according to the size of the effort and the relative risk to the outcomes. That is the fundamental lesson from Gleicher and Beckhard.

    To simplify something that sounds as intimidating as D x V x F > R, address each factor from the operators’ perspective:

  • Dissatisfaction. What fundamentally drives operator dissatisfaction? Can those factors be collected and ranked according to their importance? Listing and ranking what the operators believe is their greatest pain should be illuminating. But if the list looks like one management would have made alone, the involvement of the operators was inadequate.

  • Vision. Is there a clear path to achieve a universally understood vision? Will the operators take ownership of this vision? Can the same be said for the operator’s team leader? Are the outcomes and measures part of this vision?

  • First Steps. Are the steps needed to make the transition clear and straightforward? Do all involved parties understand these steps as well as the project creators do?

    After analyzing the “why, how and what” of the project, the second part involves evaluating how the plan will stand up to the anticipated resistance. Give an honest assessment of what the hurdles to achieving the prioritized elements will be, how they will arise and the real costs to mitigate them. Investing in this level of introspection can significantly increase the understanding of the steps and highlight trouble spots before they become reality.

  • 3. Allow operators to define shared goals

    Armed with an understanding of the motivators for change as well as the natural resistance to it, the next step is to empower operators by giving them a leading role in defining the goals for the project. To instill operator ownership, real authority and participation in setting project goals is a necessity.

    For example, an operator goal may be to reduce the steps per cycle to run a machine. If this operator goal is in harmony with the other business objectives of the project, then it should be incorporated as a key design factor for the implementation. This is important even if it was not part of the original objectives. The non-intuitive part of the change process-allowing the operators to define things that are more important to them than to management-cannot be underscored enough.

    In addition to establishing these common goals, management should develop measures and incentives for meeting goals that align operator interests with those of management. The incentives should include the goals that were promoted by the operators, such as reducing the number of machine cycles. But these incentives also should be tied in to other business objectives that will be achieved as part of the same effort, such as improving first pass yield and reducing cost of order delivery. Operators achieving the goals they have set themselves also improve the results for all stakeholders.

    Front line employees can offer unique insights that bring about sustained results. In working with operators to develop shared goals and rewards, management should encourage the operators to:

  • Focus on the “as is” condition and what they believe needs to change.

  • Be an active part in the process of defining solutions to potential problems.

  • Develop practical ways that would support the goals and create incentives.

  • Engage peers (other operators) to look for ways to assure continued improvement.

  • 4. Establish an effective training program

    Once common goals have been established, shop floor operators must be given the tools needed to succeed with the new system. The first of these is adequate training on the software system to reinforce the changes that are being implemented. But the problem with many training programs is that the focus is on the training experience, not on how the new skills and behaviors will be integrated in the workplace.

    An established four-pronged training approach that incorporates application of the new skills into the actual working environment will better ensure a lasting learning experience and successful system usage.

    1. Before operators are trained on SPC software, the supervisor should identify the new behaviors and skills that the training is to enable.

    2. During the training, operators should demonstrate that they have learned the software using real-world examples that mimic or mirror the same kinds of data and processes they will experience in their roles.

    3. After the training, the supervisor and the employees should discuss and agree on what will be done differently on the plant floor, basically documenting how the operators will incorporate the new skills and behaviors on the plant floor.

    4. After the supervisor-operator session, the supervisor should integrate the new skills/behaviors into the company’s performance evaluation process.

    With training focused on the activities operators are expected to perform, early success and acceptance are far more likely. To further bolster acceptance, consider a recognition program for operators who have demonstrated success learning the new skills. Simple rewards such as certificates of accomplishment for achieving some level of expertise can be issued and go in an employee’s record. These signifiers of achievement often serve as strong incentives for performance.

    5. Ensure SPC is applied correctly

    No amount of SPC software training is going to ensure operator buy-in if the basic rules of proper SPC theory are not followed. Misapplication of SPC on the shop floor not only lessens the benefits of implementing the system, but also results in loss of support from the front line users.

    Three common SPC mistakes often hinder success and result in operator pushback:

    1. Using the wrong chart or an inadequate sample size. This usually causes a process to appear to be in control when in fact it is not.

    2. Incorrect interpretation of control status. Not recognizing signals of costly variation, leading to scrap and reliability issues, even in processes that are not exhibiting control violations.

    3. Using control charts as pass/fail indicators. SPC is designed to expose variation in a process and determine whether the process is in or out of control; it was not designed to assess whether a particular product is within specification.

    To prevent these mistakes, before rolling out a new SPC system, the project manager must do some homework: review sampling plans and SPC charts to ensure proper alignment; model the manufacturing process to predict performance and create realistic benchmarks to assess improvement efforts; make clear the expected benefits from SPC monitoring and be prepared to defend the goals that are set. Importantly, these preparations cannot be made alone in a vacuum. Plans and approaches should be discussed and honed with input from those who will be operating the system.

    6. Assure ongoing involvement with shop floor personnel

    Pursuing support from shop floor operators will be wasted if management does not show much interest in the program. If there is a lack of interaction between operators and management, it can quickly lead to low morale and apathy on the plant floor. When that occurs, it is difficult to recapture enthusiasm for the project.

    The most effective way to maintain momentum is by keeping operators engaged in their jobs. Encourage and empower operators to provide suggestions and criticisms. Reinforce with operators that they have an important stake in whether the use of SPC is a success or not.

    Here are some ways to keep shop floor personnel engaged:

  • Conduct frequent review sessions with operators to examine critical data. Having operators explain charts to colleagues is an effective way for them to remain engaged and sharpen their SPC skills. These reviews do more than help management monitor critical inputs and reporting; they reinforce the value of the system for everyone.

  • Form a steering committee comprised of management, line supervisors and operators to review and establish procedures and policies based on input from plant floor personnel. Operators in the committee can be instrumental in establishing ongoing performance metrics for their colleagues on the plant floor.

  • Celebrate milestones. If certain quality benchmarks are met, consider a gathering that is right-sized for the event, such as a barbecue before the end of a shift. Periodic luncheons that highlight testimonials from core customers boost morale and confidence. Events may also recognize individuals or teams. Size the reward to the achievement.

  • Consider operators as on-demand trainers. Invariably, every plant has operators who grasp new technologies and processes better than others. Employing the best operators to provide individual instruction to assist peers may be a more diplomatic alternative to management’s perceived heavy hand.

    Ultimately, gaining the support and respect of the operators is well within the grasp of any quality manager. But following the perfect project plan will not be enough if, like the ambitious quality manager suggested above, the needs of shop floor operators are overlooked. Q

  • Tech Tips

  • The primary purpose of SPC is to reduce variation in the process, thereby preventing things such as waste, rework and defects.
  • For operators to accept SPC, management must take an active interest in the work of shop floor personnel and provide effective, ongoing training by qualified instructors that are well-heeled in statistics.
  • For the implementation to have a greater chance of succeeding, management will have to critically analyze the psychological and financial barriers that prevent operators from embracing the change as their own
  • To encourage user ownership, have operators take a leading role in defining the goals for the project.

  • Quality Online

    For more information on SPC, visit to enjoy the following:

  • Case Study: “SPC Automates Quality Control”

  • “Making the Case for SPC”

  • Q-Cast Podcast “An Overview of SPC and Justifying a Software Expense”