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How to produce train timetables that are fault-free in six steps


October 21, 2012

How to produce train timetables that are fault-free in six steps

We have been producing fault-free timetables for six years now and want to share the process with you as it is the same process we use whenever we want to have a guaranteed, repeatable outcome.

  1. Identify everything that can go wrong.  Most people like to tell disaster stories so this is an easy step to tick off.
  2. Design a process that eliminates as many of those outcomes as possible. This is the biggy. Here you get to test different ways of reaching the same outcome and work out which option is the most bullet proof.
  3. Develop a checklist that picks up any errors that can’t be designed out of the process.
  4. Having reduced the potential for human error as much as possible in step 2, now list all of those dumb things people can do to screw up a job and how you are going to check for them
  5. Record the process in a standard operating procedure (SOP). Use screen recordings, step-by-step instructions, video – whatever works for you but make sure it is easy to understand and shows the desired outcome.
  6. Test on your newest staffer. Having a novice use the SOPs and checklists exposes any flaws in the process. Correct, fix, amend or redesign and test the SOP again. Get another novice to go through the process and see what happens.

We are just finishing off the November timetable update for Metro Trains Melbourne. This time we produced seven DL booklets totalling 398 pages, 279 station specific posters and line posters for seven lines. As usual we gave this job to our newest employee.

In this update we found a new way for a mistake to appear and amended the checklist to pick up that type of mistake. This is a good outcome as mistakes are vital to building robust processes so we are happy to find them.