I think the Container Store ("managing by the numbers," January 2007) has been sold a flawed bill of goods. In the 1960s when I received my degree in industrial engineering, measuring employees against engineered time standards was a "best practice." That era has long since passed.
Dr. Deming had something to do with the change in thinking. He is famous for attributing 85 percent of process failings to the management system. When the pickers' or picker-loaders' performance is below standard, the most likely reasons would include: shortage in pick location, pick item found in wrong location, pick item not in any location, pick item found damaged, pick list illegible so had to run off duplicate, cube does not fit in trailer, pallet jack "borrowed" by someone, and two dozen other common and uncommon failings of the system. Measuring output against standard overlooks these factors and is unfair to those being measured. And it is likely to result in poor corrective management actions, such as admonishing "slow" pickers.
Process management calls for keeping track of all the causes of delays, stoppages, errors, defects, rework, scrap, and lateness. Instead of measuring the workforce against standard, process management has all employees recording every cause— on a flip chart, white board, clipboard, or handheld unit. Doing so is not only the sure path to improvement, but also cathartic for the employee, who realizes that recording the true causes— and getting them fixed—"gets the bosses off my back."
This is not to say that time standards are obsolete. They are essential for planning, scheduling, balancing the work, preparing bids, evaluating alternate methods, and for make-or-buy and go/no-go decisions. But to use them in a management-by-metrics system (instead of a management-by-data system) is to take several steps backward.
Richard J. Schonberger
The writer is the author of Best Practices in Lean/Six Sigma Process Improvement, to be published by Wiley later this year.