Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Process-Control For Humans

A friend was bemoaning his lot the other day -- he works for some genuinely insane people, in a job with zero upward mobility -- and we came up with an aphorism: "When the only clear feedback you provide is rapping people on the knuckles when they do wrong, don't be surprised if you end up doing a lot of knuckle-rapping."

If in addition, excellent output and barely adequate output get the same response, especially if that response is "meh," guess what you'll tend to get, mostly? Yep. And it's 'cos you set the machinery up wrong. The only feedback is way out at the ship-or-scrap limits.

When I was very young tech and had bounced into factory work after a stint of the same kind of skunk-working I do now, one of the section foremen took exception to the Quality Control engineers: "You guys are always lurking around, trying to find bad stuff, slowing us up!"

"That's not what my job is," said the target of his ire, "I'm trying to make sure most of what we build is good! "

They never were pals but after that exchange, scrap from that section of the plant, which had been far too high, started dropping.

What kind of feedback are you giving the people around you?


Blackwing1 said...

There's another phrase for it, "Metrics drive behavior". If you insist on measuring some form of activity, and tie it to incentives, then no matter what else happens, the behavior will change to make that metric increase for them.

The problem is that a poorly-chosen metric will drive behavior that can have some really unfortunate unintended consequences.

Gewehr98 said...

I'm the head of Quality in my branch of a medical device company.

Friends? What are those?

But I can proudly say the FDA isn't knocking at our front door...

Joanna said...

What's worse is when the person in charge of quality checking has no real understanding of what she's looking at, so the metrics have little to no bearing on the activities ostensibly being measured.

Anonymous said...

I work in QC, so I laugh, cry or just nod my head in agreement with this post.

"Working in QC is like being a cop in a bad neighborhood. NOBODY likes you."