I often ask my classes 'If we follow our procedures to the letter, do nothing more and nothing less; would we optimize our system productivity, safety and reliability?' The answer is NO.
If anyone on this forum has ever worked in a union environment in the manufacturing world, they will attest that doing this (follow the procedure only as written) is a common negotiating tactic when it comes time to vote for deciding whether to strike or not. Why is this to their advantage, why is it an effective tactic?
Because no procedure could possibly cover every eventuality that could occur in the course of doing the task. There has to be a degree of judgment permitted and expected in any procedure, as expressed below by Wayel and concurred by others.
The gray area becomes when too much leniency is given for the 'judgment' portion and unsafe practices result (workarounds that deteriorate into an unsafe zone - normalization of deviance). Policing our procedures for proper implementation and obsolescence is the continuous improvement challenge.
Awareness and education about this cycle is a key to identifying when our systems are becoming deficient and eventually will be detrimental to accomplishing their purpose. A high reliability organization (HRO) would recognize this deterioration of standards and take proactive actions to implement systems to review and update our procedures and on periodic basis.
We all know that many of our procedures are written for legal purposes. We ensure that we have specific procedures in place to pass our audits and maintain compliance.
However, how confident are we that the end users of the procedures possess the knowledge and skill to apply them effectively?
How confident are we that the procedures in place are appropriate for the service they are in?
Do we adequately update our procedures for the inclusion of new technologies?
Do we ensure that the end users demonstrate the appropriate skill to apply the procedure (as opposed to just knowledge/in service)?