The folly of too many inspectors
I keep a list of potential column subjects on my smartphone. If someone asks a question that has an answer that can help others, I jot it down in the Notes section of my phone.
If you see me at a trade show, or anywhere for that matter, and have a question, it is quite possible that you’ll see it here. Sooner or later, it will end up on these pages.
And this is definitely a “later.”
Problem is, I never felt like I had too much to say about the subject, so I continually back-burnered the subject.
You undoubtedly all know how verbose that I can be at times. This ain’t one of those times, I guess. In fact, I’m loving that I have already used up over 160 words, simply typing this preamble!
Should you have a “double-checker” to give the final inspection — the final ok, the green light — to a shirt (or drycleaning piece) before its racked or sent on its way to a customer?
See. I’m done already. Just kidding.
Seriously, you don’t want to have someone to double-check your final inspector. I once thought that it was a good idea to have a “buck stops here” person, probably for the same reason that you might want one. It breeds calamity. Let me explain.
Quite some time ago, in fact longer ago that I want to admit, I had some sort of quality problem in my shirt laundry. I remember that missing buttons and misassembled shirt orders (this episode predates the Tailwind System) were a problem and I was about to lose some big wholesale shirt customers.
In fact, it was at the desperate stage: “one more issue and we will have to go somewhere else” sort of thing. I had just returned to my office from visiting an extraordinarily perturbed customer when someone presented herself and said, “Hi, my name is JoAnne. I’m a shirt presser and I want a job.”
In retrospect, I should have hired her just as a shirt presser, but instead, I hired her as the Final Inspector Nazi. The plan was simple:
When the Inspection/Assembly/Bagging department completed a group of orders, they went onto a Z-Rack which was wheeled into the… ah, Jury Room seems appropriate. There, JoAnne would lift every bag, double-check every tag and check every button.
Right from the start, she found mistakes. Often enough, I would see her pull a shirt out of an order and walk over to the button sewer. Great! Another customer saved! And, yes, she found assembly errors. Bingo!
This was great. And I saved ALL of my customers.
What’s the problem?
At first it was great. Then it bred problems because it took away the accountability. That barely needs elaboration or a footnote, but I’ll do it anyway.
Before JoAnne, Sandy, the person who inspected quality and buttons, did a pretty good job. Yes, she would miss something from time to time (I’ll tell you which buttons she usually missed in a minute — your inspector misses them, too). Generally she was meticulous, but once a double-checker was put into place, the sense of duty was removed.
Sandy, in spite of her dedication, wasn’t really responsible anymore. If a button was missed, was it JoAnne’s fault? Or Sandy’s?
Even I don’t know. This is because JoAnne wasn’t in a position to terminate, reprimand, retrain or even correct Sandy. She was there to protect the customer.
In fact, that is why I hired her. JoAnne’s very existence made the assemblers and inspector less proficient and less responsible! I didn’t see that coming. If any of them thought that they should work faster or rush through something, it didn’t matter. JoAnne would catch it. Hmm.
But wait! There’s more. How many mistakes were being made before JoAnne’s job was created? This is an unfortunate unknown.
There really isn’t a way to measure how many mistakes you make in your plant right now.
Some big companies have studied this and found that when a customer complains, it counts as 11 complaints because their research, for what its worth, shows that for every one customer that complains, 10 others do not. They either accept the mistake or simply never return.
Gains vs. losses
Regardless, it’s likely that the number of mistakes was, indeed, reduced. To what extent is apparently impossible to determine.
What is even harder to measure is the trend afterwards. Let’s set up a hypothetical situation. Let’s assume that JoAnne found one mistake every, say, 30 minutes. My plant did 400 shirts per hour. So one in 200 shirts had a defect of some sort - .5 percent. They either needed a button, a touchup or an assembly correction. That means that 199 shirts were fine.
This makes finding the mistake a bit challenging. Routinely, all is well. In fact, she would likely miss the same buttons that Sandy would miss: The one that is sometimes at the back of the neck (it’s been a while since this has been in fashion) and the small button on the tab on a collar that is supposed to button under a necktie (ditto).
JoAnne misses it for the same reason that Sandy misses it. But now, factor in the fact that Sandy and the assembly team are no longer quite as diligent and mistakes go up to a new level.
And remember that the lack of accountability is the worse outcome.
If Sandy had previously forgotten a button, you would, hopefully, approach her and inform her of her mistake. She would become aware of her error and try harder.
If you have a double-checker, do you go to Sandy? Or JoAnne? If you go to Sandy, she will, consciously or subconsciously, think, “Hey, JoAnne missed it, too!” or “That’s JoAnne’s job. I just do the preliminary checking.”
If you go to JoAnne, she thinks, “Hey, It’s Sandy job. It’s not my job to do her’s over again.”
Nothing is being accomplished here and both of the employees have plausible deniability and become proficient at pointing fingers. Furthermore, the problem gets worse because the employees get careless.
Stick to the basics. One person has a job and is expected to do it. If you routinely accept deviation, you aren’t a very effective manager. Save the cost of a Final Inspector Nazi and expect your employees to do their jobs as prescribed.
“If you do what you always did, you'll get what you always got!”