“But, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to change the way they have been working. They get started, but after a couple of days, things are right back to the way they were before.” Matt sighed one of those Manager’s sighs. “I just wish my team was more disciplined.”
“Matt, discipline is nothing more than routine. Discipline isn’t harder than any other way of getting things done; it’s just not what you are used to.”
I spied a workroom on my way in. It was a small room with some simple tools and a work bench, good lighting. It was where people took things that needed fixing. Not broken things, but rather, product defects. The seam on the unit didn’t line up quite right; there was a burr on an edge. Rather than documenting the defect and looking for a solution, the team had, over time, assembled this little “fixing” room.
“Tell you what, Matt. Hide the tools and put a padlock on the room.” I could see his eyes grow wide. “Then, have a meeting and tell everyone that the fixing room is off-limits for 21 days. During that time, have meetings twice a week to talk about the new defect-documentation process. After 21 working days, you should have a new routine. Discipline is just a different way of getting things done.”
Matt was nodding, “So, after 21 days I can take the padlock off the fixing room?”
“We have a problem with consistency,” Donna said. “I think everything is going okay and then boom, we get hit with a warranty event that uncovers a whole batch of bad product. I have two people doing random inspections prior to shipping. Still, mistakes get through. I might have to add more inspectors, check everything, just to keep bad product off the shelves.”
“What do you do with the bad product?” I asked.
“Well, we can’t sell it and we can’t melt it down, so we throw it away,” replied Donna.
“Do you use bad product to isolate the problem production area?”
“Oh, we know the three areas where we have problems, but rather than pull bad product in three places, I thought it best to inspect just before shipping, so we can pull all the bad product at the same time, no matter where the problem occurred.”
I winced. “Donna, is the purpose of Quality Control to pull bad product, or to identify the problem and fix it? Consistency doesn’t come from pulling 3 percent of your production. Consistency comes from fixing your system.”
“You look comfortable,” I said.
“Things are going really well,” Jordan replied. “The market is good, new customer count is up, year over year revenues are positive. Yes, things are comfortable.”
“I noticed your accounts receivable ratio to new sales is above your threshold limit. And, that you rented a new warehouse to store some slow-moving inventory. Your revenue-per-employee head count is way down over the past six months. What gives?”
“Hey, when times are good, those things happen. More revenue, more accounts receivable. We set the ratio threshold during the last recession when things were tight, so it’s no big deal. And, yes, we rented another warehouse to give us more capacity. The new warehouse gives us a buffer so if we get a spike in sales, we can cover without having to increase production. But, you are right. I am a little troubled by our revenue-per-employee. It just seems it takes more people these days, and wages are increasing so our revenue-per-payroll dollar is even worse.”
“Jordan, when things are tight, we pay attention, we measure, we make moves. We don’t make our biggest mistakes when times are tough. We make our biggest mistakes when times are good. A little success can create a whole lot of overhead.*” -Tom
*Homage to Red Scott.