Jinjer wrote in comments under Nameless #6 -Troubleshooting:
I just read The Machine that Changed the World and it’s fun to see you applying some lean logic to your posts. But a question that’s been bugging me while I read the book bugs me even more now. If you don’t run a factory, but subcontract, how can you expect the sewers to be looking for mistakes and trying to make improvements?
Unfortunately, failing to correct mistakes and failing to make improvements is not limited to subcontractors; it’s more pervasive than that. In fact, the dynamics leading to failures in problem prevention are already present in nearly everyone’s organization, subcontractor or not. The underlying problem is probably the biggest problem in any manufacturing facility, anywhere and in any industry. Still, I’m not a generalist and I’ll explain the depth and issues of this as applied to sewn products.
However unlikely the analogy, I found some great reference material in which to frame the question more appropriately in an article about nurses in Why Your Organization Isn’t Learning All It Should by Tucker, Edmondson and Spear [courtesy of Harvard Business School -get a free subscription here] (all excerpted material is from the latter). I think the biggest problem is framing the question properly. Toward that end, the authors make an important distinction in that they describe “first order processing” as fixing problems in the immediate (a work around) and “second order processing” as “diagnosing and altering root causes to prevent recurrence”.
First-order problem solving allows work to continue but does nothing to prevent a similar problem from occurring. Workers exhibit first-order problem solving when they do not expend any more energy on a problem after obtaining the missing input needed to complete a task. Second-order problem solving, in contrast, investigates and seeks to change underlying causes of a problem.
Yet according to their research, nurses -in spite of being relatively empowered and comparatively powerful when compared to sewing operators and better educated too- are no more likely to engage in second order processing than are sewing operators. In sewing factories, failing to report problems is endemic. In my experience, it’s more likely that a stitcher will say nothing no matter how much you beg them to tell you of problems and in an outside shop where you have little if any control, I can only imagine the response is worse.
For our purposes, here are some barriers that must be addressed in order for stitchers to report problems (assuming the stitchers are valued and encouraged to report problems):
Let’s pretend you’re merrily stitching along and you find that the back lining pivot point is off 1/8″. Well, you’ve got an entire stack of these to sew up and you know that while the problem is significant, there is no way that anybody can immediately provide you with a stack of correct back linings. Rather, the error represents a significant loss to the company if you cannot devise some sort of work-around to complete the seam. You know it’s not an imperative to the extent that the company will reorder lining fabrics, correct the pattern, re-cut the goods and then provide you with a compliant stack of goods in the matter of time that you need them. Your work-around solution is the equivalent of first order processing. Your immediate alternatives are to either devise a work-around or to report the problem (leads to second order processing). Let’s assume you’ve decided you’ll do no more shoddy work arounds (first order processing) and follow the simple mechanics of attempting second order processing to improve the product. The barriers to reporting your problem are these:
1. Obviously you have to stop sewing. However, since you’re paid by the piece, anything you do here on out, is unpaid work. Unpaid work is illegal and against company regulations (and it is). Therefore you must clock-out for piece work and clock in for hourly.
2. To clock out and clock in, you must first stand up. Immediately -before you’ve had time to leave the machine- you’ve attracted the attention of not just your supervisor but every other stitcher in the sewing line. Everyone is watching you. It is highly unlikely you’ll ever make it over to the time clock (on the other side of the plant) before the supervisor catches up with you which means you’ll have to explain to your supervisor why you’re punching out. It is similarly unlikely your supervisor will “allow” you to proceed as your failure to complete your bundle will really gum up the works affecting every process following your own. In making the move to punch out, you’ve basically slowed the entire process to an eventual halt, meaning that every stitcher staring at you won’t be pleased that your actions will be limiting their income. Do that very often and nobody will want to eat lunch with you, not matter how valid your complaints are.
3. Let’s say you’ve successfully run the gauntlet of supervisors and peer approval to make it to the time clock and punch out. Congratulations! Your reward is a 50% paycut! Even in 1995, the average stitcher earned $9.73-$11.27 on piece rate and clocking out means you’re now earning minimum wage. Do that too frequently and you can eliminate frivolities such as daycare and utilities from your family budget.
Considering the above, one can understand why stitchers will never report problems. Rather -like nurses- stitchers will devise a work around. Tucker, Edmondson and Spear state:
…we discerned a pattern of first-order problem solving that characterized the majority (92%) of nurses’ responses when confronted with these obstacles. The pattern was comprised of two heuristics, or rules of thumb, that were embedded in the work system, and can be seen as guiding-either alone or in combination-nurses’ problem responses for all but ten observed problem events. When nurses responded to problems using Heuristic #1, “Do what it takes to continue the care of the patient,” their behavior was characterized by concern for securing the information or material they need to do their jobs and not on understanding what caused the problem to occur. After the nurses were able to resume caring for the patient, they did not expend any further effort on the problem, including communicating that it occurred…
Tomorrow I’ll discuss further barriers to second order processing (eliminating the root causes of problems) which is one of the best ways I can think of -bar none- for a stitcher to get fired, complete with real-life examples. And, I also tell you about a friend of mine and how he ran his plant. He didn’t have these problems. If I do my job half as well as I intend to, maybe you’ll end up more like him.
In the meantime, read the original article. The conclusions there are not to be missed. Lastly, I can’t recall how I discovered this article; it was probably a link through Curious Cat, Lean Manufacturing Blog or Panta Rei.