Racing to the bottom

Every once in a while I get to thinking that Acme is about as backwards as a manufacturing company can be and still be in business at all. Then I hear a story that makes me realize that a lower echelon still exists; the supplier of ours heating the plant with trash barrels and handling internal communications with post-it notes, for example.

Or this most recent story about a factory where a particular department that my friend works in is considered the bottleneck on the whole facility. They were required to work overtime. However, none of the other operations were. Before the required overtime was completed there was no more room to put the finished work and no more unfinished work to work on.

The efficiency was not up to standard in this department. I do not remember if it was for the entire department or just for the second shift. The first shift was doing all they could to help out by overlooking all the small-run orders, including small quantities expedited for urgent customer needs, and only running the higher efficiency large jobs. The efficiency problem in the department, by the way, was not based on how many upset customers there were, but simply on how much was produced–quite apart from whether it was wanted or needed.

For some reason the bozos on second shift were either unable to figure out this game or unwilling to play along. They got stuck running the small and dearly needed orders, to the detriment of their productivity. Their efficiency was so awful that the management announced their would be a layoff if productivity did not improve. It did not, so people were laid off.

Then the management came out and spent about 20 hours observing the department work. I am not sure if they caught on to the difference between running huge batches of product (the quality of this product degrades over time, by the way) and running small customer orders. But they did catch on to one thing: They decided that the department needed more people! They are even going to hire more than were in the department before they laid off anybody.

That could sound like good news, especially to someone like my friend who is running by himself a machine that requires two operators to be efficient. But there is nothing to suggest that the management actually learned that their processes and attitudes were horribly wrong, so there is no reason to think that a solution that sounds better will be well implemented or kept long enough to make a difference.



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