If an action generates no paperwork, did it happen?
There are many actions taken every day in Acme that do not generate paperwork, but they are the illegal immigrants, the crucial illigitimate pillars of our factory. Anything which does not result in some numeric aggregate does not officially happen.
I am supposed to work 7 am to 4 pm. But there is a daily meeting at 7:40 which requires fresh information from a report that takes me 30 – 40 minutes to generate and about 10 minutes to transcribe to the set of whiteboards. Yesterday I did not put the finishing touches on this report until 4 pm.
Meanwhile I was busy. I canceled order line items which, unbeknownst to the computer system, could not be sent out. I investigate open work orders that should have been receieved at the shipping department long ago, but did not thus appear on the system. I interpreted a string of obscure e-mails, the result of which was to find that our factory was obliged to cancel some large overseas orders that were in error through no fault of ours. This took most of the day due the ambiguity of the e-mails concerning what needed to be done by us in particular, and not one of the countless other recipients of the e-mail.
I had to investigate misshipment complaints from customers, personally recieve the work orders for some special tools for special customers, collect data on why other tools would not ship on time to another special customer, participate in a conference call to express my ignorance of the cause for the aforementioned delay. I did not have time to see why an odd 475 parts had not gone out to one of our sister sites.
None of this work has a measured effect. None of it, then, happens, in the full sense of the word. You can tell for yourself that all that business is snipping out problems that have come full bloom. To justify the resources to nip those problems in the bud, I would need to have each problem fully measured and its impact translated to dollar amounts.
It is as if I am too busy beating out flames to judge the number of square feet burning, or the dollar value being consumed; and while I can easily reach the fire department on the phone, they decline to come to my aid unless I can give a rational measure of my emergency.
Six Sigma is part of the problem, I think. The program stresses measurement and statistical analysis. I assent that if we always address a problem by the guidance of instinct, we will probably spend more effort to accomplish less than if we understood the problem and dealt with it systematically. Any problem that occurs as an interruption to the daily work could very well be dealt with best with the precision of Six Sigma.
But my situation is one of neverending problemsolving–firefighting, as we say–and in such cases it seems prudent to make great changes with the best faculties at hand, and save finessing with precision instruments for a time when breathing is permitted.
There are about three ways to look at it: either my situation is objectively not as bad as I think, which is not likely based on the general concurrence of more experienced persons; or it is relatively not as bad as I think, which is very likely based on the nonchalant ignorance or cynicysm of more experienced persons; or the situation is headed toward black disaster, which in falls halfway between the other two in probability.
The heroes and legends of Lean production or the Toyota Production System consistently speak of taking direct, immediate action when the situation is obviously bad, and relying on clever measurements only when things appear at the surface to be well off.
But when you cannot beat a problem unless you measure it, and are too busy fighting the problem to measure it, you are not positioned to succeed.