Thursday, February 08, 2007

Self Flagellation

I’m back

One project launched and in mad and busy use. It has been a hectic week, far too much so. I’ve spent the last days with little sleep and lots of adrenalin. In between re-prioritising my teams and fighting all the fires I have kept asking myself what did I miss?

When I did my MBA I learned a lot which is frankly, pretty useless. Some things though dropped into my mind as core truths and drive how I work, how I behave. One was a bit of old quality theory. Deming was an American academic who wasn’t paid attention to in America. So he went to where he was listened to, Japan. There he spent the later part of his life developing a pretty solid base of manufacturing and management theory.

In his early studies he examined factory work lines. When something went wrong, he spent a lot of time tracing it back to root cause. His result was a view that 98% of all errors could be put down to management. Yes, Joe Blogs might have fumbled putting a bolt in poorly, but he may have fumbled because the bolt he was given was the wrong size, or the last bolt he had to put in made him move 20 feet to put this one in, or he had too many bolts to put in at once.

Interestingly, what I liked about his theories was that he didn’t remove individual responsibility for error, what he was saying is that often management decision removes the ability of an individual to work in a quality way. His theories where the basis of Kaizen workforce management and transformed manufacturing. It’s a rare factory you go into today that doesn’t use small workforce teams to monitor their own quality, and use continuous improvement to improve quality.

Another of his theories was to bust the previous thinking that quality product cost more to produce. Curiously, if you reduce the number of errors in production, if you build a better product, it costs less.

So, I’ve spent the last few days cogitating at what went wrong. I can point to the mistakes. Yes, some of our team made a few real grade A f*&% ups, but if I trace back, if we’d done just a couple things differently they wouldn’t have made those mistakes.

Ah well, we’re over the hump. Our product is now humming smoothly, and in general impressions are good. Now a bit of a breather, then its time to catch up on all the other work we’ve ignored and get a couple of other projects back on track.


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