The good ol' folks down in Georgia have a way of nailing things right on the head. This from Alan Barfoot with the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Center.
Thanks Alan …..
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. Small variations in the environment (which can't be controlled in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed across the line so that customers all the way down to the supermarket don't
get mad and buy another product instead.
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 $8 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 zero 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 an inquiry 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, 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 off 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"'.
I really needed this story. It made me laugh this morning as I was drinking my coffee. It is so true, “common sense is not very common”. Have a great Christmas holiday.
Jill Jusko says
Bill Waddell says
Thanks Chuck. I had the same reaction when Alan sent it to me. Have a great Christmas yourself.
A similar tale from the electrical world:
It helps to know what’s available, and think simple first…
Michele Brami says
Awesome story! But that was the first solution I figured out reading the problem, I swear it!
John Buzolic says
Oh come on Bill, you can’t expect us to believe that’s a true story? Bloody funny though!
Bill Waddell says
If the boys in Georgia say it happened that way that’s good enough for me. You’re not suggesting an American southerner would tell a tall tale are you? I thought only an Australian would do such a thing!
Have a wonderful Christmas yourself!
Erik Nordin says
Great article and nice reference to Georgia Tech! The one omission from the article is that you failed to quote your blogging partner, Kevin Meyer, with one of his best lines: “Remember, there’s a brain attached to that pair of hands.”
Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas!
Read more: http://www.evolvingexcellence.com/blog/2011/04/laying-off-hands-losing-brains.html#ixzz1gWiQBBhn
at Evolving Excellence
Allen Roberts says
Loved the post, and fan story. It hurts to know it is true, sad as it is I have seen stuff just as dumb, as so called “management” stands around and worries about how they will manage to fit the high priced process engineering consultants into their budgets.
Merry Christmas, and keep up the great work.
Absolutely hilarious and a great reminder for all of us, especially the engineers and consultants, to not overcomplicate a simple problem. And many times the best solution comes from the front line workforce…all you have to do is ask them.
Dave Tufte says
I did like this, but it isn’t as dumb as it sounds.
The workers did not see or solve the quality control problem on their own. It was only after management spent the $8 million that the workers found the $20 solution.
So the $8 million isn’t so much a bad decision, as it is a sunk cost.
It’s actually similar to the old aphorism about a street artist that can do your portrait in 10 minutes, but charges you $100 for it. The buyer complains about the $100 price for 10 minutes work, and the artist points out that the cost was 10 minutes of work and 20 years of training.