JP Rangaswami over at the Confused of Calcutta blog had an interesting post the other day on the dangers of the "inspection / repair culture." I hadn’t intended on discussing it but some of his comments really stuck in my head, therefore my only relief is to blather a bit. JP was attending an event at a large private school when he noticed something: there were no prompters to help the students present. The rationale and impact was interesting:
A simple decision — doing away with prompting — had a worthwhile impact on the talent and character of the students. They changed the way they prepared; they changed the way they responded when facing a problem; they changed the way they stepped in to help when others faced problems.
The prompters were a safety net that prevented a deeper understanding of the concept and the development of deeper presentation skills. Now apply this to general business… or even life.
We need to keep examining what we do: every time we promote an inspection/repair culture, we tend to implement safety nets; the safety nets encourage slipshod behaviour, and soon we find that all we are promoting is mediocrity.
Which is exactly what we’re doing on traditional production lines that have "QA Police" as the final step. There’s little inherent requirement, or even desire, for product to be perfect at each operation. Processes aren’t forced to be robust, people don’t need to be deeply trained, and a certain rate of failure becomes acceptable. But it goes further into the culture of the organization itself.
If achieving mediocrity wasn’t bad enough, we tend to make it worse. Far too often, the mediocrity attracts another foul behaviour, an audit culture where the measurement process becomes more important than that which is being measured. How else can mediocrity rise?
We’ve all been in organizations like this, where the robustness of the final QA inspection step is more important than overall product quality, where achieving a metric or goal is more important than really understanding what the metric means. And now let’s take it one step, one big step, further. Bill Barnett, who I wish I could learn more about, commented on the post from a more global perspective.
Our global sourcing models fly directly in the face of this movement. We are arbitraging labor markets, sending work far away to teams who are disconnected from our corporate cultures and imperatives, and finding that we can’t rely on them to deliver high enough quality deliverables. so we take our smartest, most skilled practitioners and turn them into reviewers and auditors. I’ve been concerned about this for while because we are outsourcing the roles from which we grow the next generation of experts — so it doesn’t seem very sustainable. but now you’ve got me thinking about the corrosive effect of transforming folks from doers to auditors.
"… we take our smartest, most skilled practitioners and turn them into reviewers and auditors." That’s what outsourcing is doing. While chasing very questionable cost savings around the globe, we are transforming the activities of the "core knowledge" workers left behind. No longer are they intimately familiar with the product being manufactured; they are now working to improve the systems that check outsourced product. The robustness of the assembly operation itself, the inherent quality of the processes and subassemblies, is left to the outsourcing provider, if it is done at all.
"… we are outsourcing the roles from which we grow the next generation of experts." The engineers that are designing future products are relying on third-hand knowledge of the processes, and the results of those processes, that create the product. A very difficult way to improve the inherent quality of a product during design.
That generational, or knowledge generational, impact of outsourcing could be monumental.