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Confusing Action for Progress March 8, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Quality.
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This used to happen at least once a week at the factory in China: an unusual number of test failures or a negative trend in a quality metric would trigger a line shutdown. Ten-to-twenty engineers and managers would typically converge on the scene and work around the clock, desperately searching for a quick fix or adjustment. There would be enormous pressure to get the line up and running again in order to avoid a production shortfall, so the team tended to latch onto the first reasonable-sounding explanation. After sorting parts or doing a small process tweak there would be a short test run of units to verify that there was some improvement in quality, then full production would be turned back on again. Often the crisis required multiple “guess-fix-test” cycles before the team stumbled upon a real solution, or resigned themselves to a sub-optimal level of quality due to exhaustion. Engineering judgment, gut feel, and sometimes irrational management directives replaced any rigorous investigation and problem resolution processes that would have determined the actual root cause to a high confidence level.

I understand that “paralysis by analysis” is a bad thing. I’ve worked with people who can’t make a decision because they seem to never have enough data. There’s value in trial-and-error and rapid prototyping to test new ideas. But, isn’t it worth a little extra time to understand what’s changed, and then to brainstorm alternatives instead of racing off to implement the first proposed fix? Isn’t it worth the time to generalize the root cause and the solution to prevent the same problem from reoccurring elsewhere? Managers and leaders can help ensure better long-term solutions by clearly communicating the need to balance urgency and engineering judgment with critical thinking and thoroughness, and understanding the difference between random, Brownian motion and true achievement.

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Comments»

1. Dave Bennie - March 8, 2012

Reminds me so much of what Iv’e seen so many times.

When in doubt, run around and scream and shout!

So glad my training in the cockpit requires a more cerebral approach.

Cheers,

Dave B


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