Friday, September 2, 2011

Status Quo? Never!

It's not a battle cry. It's a fact of life. Ever notice that your radio or iPod (tm) is louder in the morning than you want it? It hasn't changed over night. You have. Your tolerance for noise increased through yesterday's activities. Your tolerance this morning, after a quiet night of sleep, has dropped. Yesterday, you continued to crank up the sound. This morning you need to turn it down. I was reminded of this when my neighbor left for work and I could hear his stereo through the insulated metal shell of his car and the walls of my house.

Same build-up or increasing tolerance happens in business too. What was once the norm, or the status quo, isn't any more.

Production standards will include waste and excess time. They're reviewed periodically and they change, especially if 95% efficiency is acceptable. Pretty soon, based on the original standard, 85% is acceptable by adapting to 95% of 95% of 95%, etc. So much waste and inefficiency is built in that the costs have sky-rocketed and the product is tagged for obsolescence.

In a retail setting, stockers may notice that some product is out of place and re-shelve what they can in the time allowed. They can't get it all done. Pretty soon, more product is out of the assigned place. Now stockers get a little careless about where the product goes because shelving the product is more important than shelving it in the right place. In worst cases, product ends up in multiple places, and people assisting customers are clueless on how to help them.

Even quality standards slip, especially with visual criteria. A person can say that the result of their process is close to what it did last time. As long as it still passes, there's no correction of the process. The process varies again but the result is nearly the same as last time. As long as it passes, there's no correction. There's no correction till the results are classified as failures. If there are no clear standards, they may never get rejected.

This happens with training. Multiple sessions through various educators become like the kids' "telephone" game where the last person heard a message that's entirely different from the message that started. Even with a resetting of the message through training materials, the message is just enough different that expectations for the training have changed.

What's the fix? First, be aware that it happens. You have to decide how much of a deviation is acceptable. Nothing's perfect. However, accepting deviations is okay for the short-term but then effort and investment has to happen to correct it back to the original mark. For our ears, we have to turn down the sound. Decades ago, Taguchi tried to convince us that all product items within the spec were not equal. Those that deviated from the design standard were of less quality even though they still met spec. They wouldn't fit as well with other parts, work as well or last as long as the ones dead-on to the standard. What are your expectations? What does the process need to do to be centered on it? Can you reset the efficiency standards? The training standards? The stocking expectations? Sure, with a little work. It's easy to drift away from the status quo. Drifting is effortless. Paddling back up stream takes work. It's worth it though.

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