Don’t design for failure
“Don’t spend time and money designing for failure” That was a favourite expression of the manufacturing director of a food manufacturing company I worked for. He was very much a visionary person and prepared to challenge the acceptance of failure as the norm. In fact, his message was quite clear; rather than waste time on complex systems which was the failure of the primary process, it is better to spend the time on getting the primary process perfected.
Designing for failure is wasteful as it allocates resources, departments and all of the associated complexities to something that could be avoided if the process was made right first time.
Designing for failure, or at least the acceptance of, is everywhere; here are some examples:
|Where||Typical approach||Impact||Different thinking?|
|Food manufacturing||The installation of equipment to reprocess confectionery bars which are misshapen or do not conform to the required dimensions||Increased investment, increased operating and maintenance cost||How to make the process right first time so that the product is always correct|
|Water Industry||The installation of several back-up pumps in case of failure of the primary pump||Increased investment||Eliminate the causes of failure of the primary pump or detect the onset of failure of the primary pump|
|Manufacturing||The allocation of maintenance resource around the clock in case of plant failure||Significant increase in operating costs including shift allowance and management time||Eliminate the causes of failure. When an aeroplane flies for 12 hours there are no maintenance resources required|
|Air travel||Lost baggage services for when bags are mishandled, delayed or lost||Departments and resources employed to deal with the issues, compensation paid, reputation damaged||GPS tracking of all bags, real-time information for all passengers|
|Factories||Cleaning teams to clean spillages from floors||contractors or internal resources spending time cleaning||eliminate the source of the spillages by better design|
|Manufacturing||the existence of warehouses to store finished product in case of fluctuations in supply or demand||money tied up in stock and rent of warehouse space||accurate demand forecasting, more reliable processes|
|Manufacturing||a start-up period for adjustments of processes until they reach a stable state||Lost production time and the waste of materials||Eliminate the sources of fluctuation. Most modern cars start with the push of a button|
|Manufacturing||The use of expensive inspection systems to detect for product contamination or defects||Large capital installations requiring investment and maintenance||Eliminate the sources of contamination|
|Equipment||The facility for the operator to make many adjustments to allow for variation in raw materials||lots of adjustments made meaning reduced productivity||eliminate the sources of variation in the raw materials|
|People||The facility for people to be paid over time rates to work extra hours to make up for losses during normal production time||the acceptance of failure and increased labour costs, more expensive products or reduced margin||no overtime but more rewarding rates for achieving targets within the prescribed time|
To the majority of people, acceptance of failure is so normal they find it difficult to see that there is an alternative solution. To make it visible requires visionary leaders. Visionary leaders set challenging goals and create a belief that these are attainable. These challenging goals are paradigm-shifts in thinking.
A paradigm-shift in thinking is something that people may find it ridiculous to begin with but, in fact is only impossible due to artificial constraints in people’s minds. Here are some examples of paradigms-shifts in thinking:
- In 1950 it took 67 seconds to change the wheels on a Formula One racing car. Today it takes less than 3 seconds.
- It is possible to refuel an aircraft mid-flight yet we have to stop our production processes for several hours to change from one product to the next.
- Most ice cream factories need to stop daily to defrost. Yet, as proven by others, through the elimination of the water from the air, it is possible to run for up to 4 weeks without defrosting.
- It is possible to operate equipment continuously without failures. Aircraft do this, day in, day out. “I want to achieve Zero breakdowns in our factory”
- If the process is reliable we can remove the need for all raw material and finished goods stock. “I want to run our processes with zero stock”
- “I want to be able to change from product A to product B without stopping the production process”
- “I want to eliminate all non-value adding waste from our process”
To make a step change in performance, visionary leaders need to set a paradigm shift in thinking as the goal for the business and create a belief that it’s possible. In fact, not only that it’s possible but that there is no plan B. To bring this to reality, they need a change agent who is often described as a “first-follower”.
The first follower is a person who is prepared to follow the leader, to risk their reputation, to stick their neck on the block by demonstrating a commitment to this paradigm-shift in thinking. But, by doing this inspire others to follow and achieve the goal.
Watch this video to see more about the role of the first-follower