Pass the shift baton effectively

Put formal handoff procedures in place to prevent “good shift gone bad” syndrome.

By Paul Borders, Life Cycle Engineering

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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 of 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 of his folks were in place to turn over the shift. He quickly ran the numbers from the prior shift and found that they had exceeded the production target – a promising indicator of what he could expect to 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 tantrums from annoyed operators, Eddie was able to shut down the mill. 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!” Ralph exclaimed. “I even called Pete on the shift before you to remind you!” Eddie resigned himself to the fact that his shift wasn’t going to be a good one because of a lack of good communications from his prior shift. “A good shift gone bad,” sighed Eddie, “and none of it was my fault.”

Prevent misfires with a shift handoff procedure

Over time, people gravitate toward 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 important in addition to understand that tools and procedures need 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. At 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 handoff from one operator to another 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 procedure included with this article shows the items that the supervisor in our scenario could have reviewed with the outgoing supervisor.

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” displayed by Pete, the outgoing supervisor. 

In addition to the above document, several other documents should be part of a broader handoff 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. 

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