This story was sent to me via e-mail. I haven't checked the veracity
of it, but even if it's fictitious, it's still funny and makes a good case for the KISS
(Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle.
(You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate this story but it helps !!!! )
A toothpaste factory had a problem: they sometimes shipped empty boxes, without
the tube inside. This was due to the way the production line was set up, and people
with experience in designing production lines will tell you how difficult it is to have
everything happen with timing so precise that every single unit coming out of it is
perfect 100% of the time. Small variations in the environment (which can’t be controlled
in a cost-effective fashion) mean you must have quality assurance checks smartly distributed
across the line so that customers all the way down to the supermarket don’t get ticked-off
and buy another product instead.
Understanding how important that was, the CEO
of the toothpaste factory got the top people in the company together and they decided
to start a new project, in which they would hire an external engineering company to
solve their empty boxes problem, as their engineering department was already too stretched
to take on any extra effort.
The project followed the usual process: budget
and project sponsor allocated, RFP, third-parties selected, and six months (and $8 million)
later they had a fantastic solution — on time, on budget, high quality and everyone
in the project had a great time. They solved the problem by using high-tech precision
scales that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box would weigh
less than it should. The line would stop, and someone had to walk over and yank the
defective box out of it, pressing another button when done to re-start the line.
A while later, the CEO decides to have a look at the ROI of the project: amazing
results! No empty boxes ever shipped out of the factory after the scales were put in
place. Very few customer complaints, and they were gaining market share. “That’s some
money well spent!” – he says, before looking closely at the other statistics in the
It turns out, the number of defects picked up by the scales was 0, after
three weeks of production use. It should’ve been picking up at least a dozen a day,
so maybe there was something wrong with the report. He launched an investigation, and
after some work, the engineers come back saying the report was actually correct. The
scales really weren't picking up any defects, because all boxes that got to that point
in the conveyor belt were good.
Puzzled, the CEO traveled down to the factory,
and walked up to the part of the line where the precision scales were installed.
A few feet before the scale, there was a $20 desk fan, blowing any empty boxes off
of the belt and into a bin.
“Oh, that,” says one of the workers — “one of the
guys put it there ’cause he was tired of walking over every time the bell rang”.
- Kirt Blattenberger
RF Cafe Progenitor & Webmaster