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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Overthinking Quality




I took a little time to do some journal reading over the holiday break and found an interesting short article in the December 2012 edition of ASQ’s Quality Progress.  I want to thank all the authors who contribute and the editors that regularly put together a good read, even if I don’t always agree.

In this particular story, the author, a Master Black Belt in Lean Six Sigma is in a store where there is a huge amount of last minute shopping going on and all of a sudden the retail computer system fails thereby causing all credit card transactions to freeze.  Needless to say the mass of customers goes through the normal and predictable hostile reaction which pretty soon gets ugly.

The author standing helplessly and hopelessly second in line with a single small item in his hand, scans his knowledge and experience and Quality expertise, and comes to the conclusion that the best solution is to allow those people who are prepared to pay cash to come to the front, make their cash transaction and move on.  

That should be the end of the story, right?  Unfortunately is it not.  First he discusses this with his partner (aka wife, spouse), who does what partners tend to do, and informs him that his idea is nuts and is never going to happen.  Maybe this is a relationship between two Master Black Belts, because for reasons unclear, he decides to agree and then yammers on about how he was just being selfish and not thinking of all the other people like the information technology (IT) folks who are internal customers and might have a problem with cash transactions and a loss of tracking data.  I had had enough.

The reality is that he was right in the first place.  Had the store had a strategy of providing their customers with a variety of ways to pay for goods (cash, credit, debit, cheques) while the inconvenient crash probably would have occurred anyways,  a sizable portion of the crowd would have kept moving and the unruly mob would be been contained.  Some folks who were primarily intending to use plastic probably would have gone back to the old fashioned way of paying with cash.  While there would be some with major purchases who would have been upset, they could have been calmed down perhaps with some free juice or maybe a promise of a small discount when the register was again working.   Some folks would have been angry, some likely would have given up and walked out (swearing never to return!), but for most folks the whole mess would have been a non-event.  This would have taken some of the pressure off the IT technologist who was tasked with getting the mess back up and running.  The bottom line would have been instead of 100 percent of folks inconvenienced and angry, the truly perturbed probably would have been reduced by 80-90 percent, maybe even more.  

To me the answer was easy.  So why did author feel compelled to overthink it, and make a simple problem complicated.  What happened to KIS(S) (Personally I have never thought that adding the word “stupid” to the end of “Keep it Simple” was much of an enhancement!).  And more importantly what happened to all his Lean training and expertise.  

In the medical laboratory we sometimes have an analogous situation when the laboratory information system computer has a problem.  In that situation, it is really easy to focus on who is the customer,  what is the problem and what is the solution.  The point of the laboratory is to generate accurate information in a timely fashion so that clinical decisions can be made.  The tests continue to be performed, the information is gathered perhaps by pencil or maybe an off-line computer, faxes and telephones convey the information until the computer is up and running again.  Yes it means some extra work and cooperation and pulling together, but that is all part of the laboratory’s culture of Quality and culture of Community.  

In many respects this story addresses the true core of the Quality movement.  Quality Management reminds you of who your customer is and Risk Management and Preventive Action strategies highlight where bad things may happen that can have a negative impact on that customer.  Lean principles show the path to simple and direct solutions, and Culture development keeps your staff pulling together for mutual benefit of customers and organization success, and personal and collective  job satisfaction.  

Message to the author, not everything your partner says is a pearl.  You were right and your partner was wrong.

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