Be Careful What You Wish For

A colleague, friend and lean leader in healthcare related a story a while back that I think is worth sharing.   Joanne Marqusee, COO at Hallmark Healthcare System, was standing in line at a grocery store checkout.   While she waited, Joanne recalls, she noticed that the cashier had added an unusual intermediate step to the scanning process:  As the customer in front of Joanne placed items on the belt, the cashier picked each item up, reorienting with the barcode facing up.  After all items had been re-oriented, the cashier then picked up a scanner and flew through the scanning process with lightning speed.

What do you think was happening there? 

Joanne wondered this too, since the checkout time was long – too long.  “Why make the customer wait for items to be organized on the belt?” she asked the cashier.  “What’s the point?”    The cashier responded, “My productivity is measured as the time between the first and last scan for each customer.  By lining up the bar codes, I can scan the order in much less time.”  There are a couple lessons in Joanne’s story: 

First, sometimes management will impose a measurement system that produces unintended results.  As Joanne noted, “Be careful what you wish for.”    The measurement at the cash register caused the cashier to behave in a way that delayed the customer, but was apparently efficient.  

Second, and perhaps more significantly, if the store manager were actually present for even an instant at the checkout, he/she would have realized the problem with the measurement scheme.   Direct observation – being there – is important for all employees.  But for managers, its importance is paramount.   No P-D-C-A for management decisions perpetuates crazy policies that impact employees and customers in regrettable ways. 

So, why are top managers on the floor so infrequently?  Send me your thoughts. 


This entry was posted in old lean dude, lean manufacturing, GBMP, Toast Kaizen, kaizen, hoshin kanri, TPM, 5S, poka-yoke, lean in healthcare, toyota production system, made in america, shigeo shingo, made in the usa, value stream mapping on December 13 , 2010.