In this edition of Fun With Statistics we take on the lure of the convenient scapegoat. Let’s start with an example that is all the rage these days… global warming.
By now pretty much everyone agrees that some level of warming is occuring, and the more agitated like to pin the blame on humans. One only has to ponder the fact that Greenland used to be… green… and only a few centuries ago, to create some actual thought along those lines. Then when you consider that an average volcano eruption throws more particulate and greenhouse gases into the air than a couple years of human activity and you really start to wonder. And don’t get me started on cow flatulence. Which is why more and more scientists believe that the warming is simply part of a much larger cycle operating in geologic time, with some looking at data that appears to show the warming stopped a couple years ago. Who really knows?
Of course that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to reduce emissions and pollution. That is simply being a good steward of the Earth. What is interesting is how market forces are now driving green initiatives faster than regulatory forces.
But once we perceive a potential cause of a problem, it soon becomes a convenient scapegoat. Global warming, human-created or not, has become such an entity. A few days ago the "Warm List" began making the email rounds… a list of problems that are being blamed on global warming, with hyperlinks to the original new stories. At last count it was over 600, ranging from the Minneapolis bridge collapse to the tick population moving northward in Sweden.
However the point of this Edition is closer to home. How many of us take the easy way out in our operations instead of taking the time to really identify and then decimate the root cause? I know of one company that used to blame every conceivable problem on "material variability." Processes out of control, quality defects, the resulting long cycle times and high work order costs, the inability to set defined delivery dates… all due to material variability. I bet high employee turnover was also attributed to that misconception. Stacks of NCMR’s, hoards of people that did nothing except process exception documentation, offsite storage to hold all the paperwork. Dang material variability!
Costs were astronomical. Almost as high as the initial effort that would have been required to systematically find and nail the root cause, creating more robust and stable processes. Except that effort to deal with the supposed material variability was never-ending, while the effort required to do some root cause analysis would presumably only be required once per issue.
While looking around to find your constraint "Herbie" how about also keeping an eye out for convenient scapegoats.