Saturday, July 05, 2008

P. 1. Quality, Wives & Furniture Moving

I work in a custom manufacturing environment; for the sake of this topic, we simply make customized widgets based on specified customer needs. There is a base/standard widget of course, which all customized product is derived from. So for example a customer may want to change feature A, B, C, D…… so on.

Within a manufacturing environment today there this idea of “Continuous Improvement”; what this essentially entails is continuous changing of a process for the sake of added quality and productivity bonuses. The interesting thing about this whole process is the salaries paid to the individuals (continuous improvement engineers) and the manner in which they attribute the improved quality and productivity.

For example: An engineer may decide to change the flow of a line or workstation due to a given quality problem (lets say that the standard widget was seeing manufacturing issues with feature “A” every 100000 per million, or 10%). So the eng. Gets the operator/assembler some new tools, re-organizes the workstation and like magic, quality gets better, not to mention increased productivity from that cell/work area. The engineer proclaims that the additions and changes he made improved quality as a direct result of specific things he did. This tool helped fix this, moving the manufacturing line in this manner helped improve that. This is all vary vague I know, but simple enough.

I say, this is strait bullshit on the part of the engineer, yet it is scooped up heartily by manufacturing managers and the like. The fact of the matter is, no one really knows what’s going on, although they think they do.

Wives and furniture moving:
Like most wives I suspect, mine likes to rearrange our furniture from time to time. I suppose she simply gets bored of it after a while, and the change adds a new freshness to the house. I can’t rightly disagree with this I guess, as funny things tend to happen to me the weeks following the move. Like the birth of a new man I become tidier, picking up after myself where ever I leave a mess. The change tends to awaken in me a sense of the way things were when first moved in I suppose. Having the changed perspective of the television on another wall, the smell of pledge and some fresh pictures of the children tell me we need to keep this neat.

It never lasts though, as time passes by the freshness that once was passes and we (mostly me) fall back into my usual patterns of untidiness.

The Hawthorne Effect:
After thinking over these things I came upon this study, which was done at a plant called Hawthorne Works. In effect the study entailed going into a manufacturing facility and making mundane changes; perhaps it was dimming the lights, brightening the lights, shortening the work day, and then changing it back. It didn’t matter whether the change was positive or negative per se, any change would increase productivity and quality.

The conclusion was essentially that, A.) People felt that they were being treated special, B.) They had a supervisor who cared, C.) Perhaps they’re being watched.

The vary act of paying attention to individuals, changing they’re environment, is a refocus and an added freshness. This has great psychological impact on an individual and they simply, most often unconsciously, do a better job. Or in my case, keep my messes cleaned up.

So back to my manufacturing environment:
The engineer is doing nothing but paying attention, or in the least giving the impression that attention is paid. You could hire a good babysitter and back patter for far less then $80,000 a year. I could even send my wife over to move some furniture around I suppose.

The issue at hand isn't so much that there's something wrong with the process of doing something, but that we're dealing with people. of course people, unlike machines, get bored, lazy, and psychologicaly battered in the repitition of the day to day. In manufacturing we're carefull not to deal with and blame people. It's always stated that there's something wrong with the "system", and when that's dealt with and improvement is seen we all feel justified that it isn't the people.......

P.2. The System in the Woods, Memory and Intuition

I once remarked to my boss after he stated that we needed to make some changes to our system due to failing quality, "So was there a guy just wandering through the woods one day when he tripped on a System?"........ TO BE CONTINUED

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