Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Simple Works

A friend emailed me the following (although as a brevity guy, I slightly edited it):

A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have everything happen with timings so precise that every single unit coming out of it is perfect 100% of the time.

Understanding how important that was, the CEO of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched to take on any extra effort.

The project followed the usual process: budget and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $2 million) later they had a fantastic solution - on time, on budget, high quality and everyone in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using high-tech precision scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the defective box out of it, pressing another button when done to re-start the line.

A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. "That's some money well spent!" - he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the report.

It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0 after three weeks of production use. It should've been picking up at least a dozen a day, so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He filed a bug against it, and after some investigation, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The scales really weren't picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point in the conveyor belt were good.

Puzzled, the CEO travels down to the factory(Jim's comment - at least he goes down to the floor), and walks up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed.

A few feet before the scale, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing the empty boxes out of the belt and into a bin.

"Oh, that," says one of the workers - "one of the guys put it there 'cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang".


At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Alex Revai said...

I love the story. It SO well characterizes our corporate culture. Committees, meetings, grandiose grandstandings, budget proposals, reviews, etc. Whatever ir takes to create the appearance of "activity". Cost what it may. Stop and think? Common sense? Forget it!

At 1:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh, so the simple minded worker just found the efficient way to solve the problem. Too bad it was $2 mil in engineer fees. Great story. Look forward to more in the future.

At 10:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This would be funny if it wasn't so commonplace. Walking down to the shop floor obviously should be the #1 priority and discussing with people on the line first, however, many people don't get their hands dirty.
But the reports always look good.

At 12:26 AM, Anonymous Jennifer W-P said...

Okay, that's pretty awesome. But sounds like a pretty expensive fan to me.

At 8:24 AM, Anonymous Free KPI said...

Thank you for sharing this story ! It is so true, nothing works better that simple and common sense solutions !

At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Friskin said...

I see variations of this often at work. The higher ups bought a jug turner to replace a temp position. It cost an obscene amount of money, rarely works, and ties up our maintenance guys for hours at a time. So now we've got a temp who turns the jugs as they come out of the jug turner...


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