— Gabriel Garcia Marquez,
"Love in the Time of Cholera"
To the tune of “Do You Want To Build A Snowman”
Do you want to build engagement?
Come on, look at my page
I never see you anymore
Coz my feed’s full
Of paid sponsored content
We used to poke each other
And now we don’t
I wish you can tell me #why
Do you want to build engagement
But you want it all organic…
(Go away Anna)
Do you want to build engagement?
Or revise our content plans?
I think some scheduled posts are overdue
They got me started talking to
Those epals on the walls
It gets a little busy
All these apps are live
Counting shares, comments, and likes…
(click click click click click)
Please I know you’re in there
Why don’t you approve my content
You say “make it more hardworking,”
And I’m trying to, just put a budget in
We only have this many
You want a million likes
But you never tell me #why…
Do you want to build engagement…
In the workplace, ideas can be tested right away. For example - and I think this is true just about everywhere - it is thought that doing things in batches allows you to do them more quickly. The idea is that it is extremely inefficient to have someone handle one item at a time. People are convinced that efficiency and productivity improve when they repeat the same thing over and over.
I once observed the way a woman performed an inspection task. She took a number of items, lined them up, and then inspected them. She would not listen, no matter how often I pointed out that it would be easier and more efficient to take each item as it came off the line, inspect it, and then pack it in a box.
"Look," I said, "your method is fine. But, just once, why not do them one by one, the way I’m suggesting? I know it’s a little tedious, but I think you’ll be able to inspect more pieces with my method."
I had her try out the new idea for a day - a day in which she normally would not be able to inspect 5,000 pieces without running into overtime. By doing one piece every 20 seconds, she was able to do 5,000 pieces during regular hours. Even so, she could hardly believe such a relaxed method could result in such efficiency.
I suppose it is natural to succumb to the illusion that more is done if you busily gather pieces into lots, take 20 or 30 in one hand, and line them up in neat rows. But what happens if, as described, you inspect the items one by one? It is more like play than work. And if you play around with it and find that you finish during regular work hours, it means no overtime and less pay. So, while the idea seemed fine to me, it turned out to be a loss for the worker.
Inspecting the items one by one, however, made the task more relaxed and less tiring. What is more, the worker could accomplish the same quantity of piecework as before without going into overtime. After trying the new method, she was won over. This involved a relatively simple approach. Yet, surprisingly, simple approaches like this are often not put into practice in the workplace.
Let me tell you an old story from the postwar years, a story that takes place at Toyota Jiko. The job was to drill holes into round rods that is all we wanted to do. Now, it happened that this operation was expected to turn out 80 rods a day. A young worker fed the rods manually into the machine where the holes would be drilled. But why feed them by hand? Why not leave out the manual part of the operation so the worker could relax while the holes were being drilled?
Well, somehow, feeding the rods by hand seemed faster. If we fed them in automatically, the bits would break off lose their edge, and produce defective holes. The objection to automatic feeding was that you could tell how well the bit was cutting when you fed the rods by hand. Therefore, manual feeding was faster.
So I asked the worker, “How long does it take to drill each hole?”
"About 30 seconds," he replied.
"Thirty seconds?" I said. "That means you could drill two per minute, doesn’t it?"
The worker nodded.
"In an hour, then, you could drill 120 rods," I continued. But this time the worker did not respond. Why?
“I’m drilling these rods by hand,” he had said, “and because I work like the dickens I can do 80 a day.”
Now, however, the suggestion was that, with 60 minutes in an hour, he could drill 120 rods an hour. He stopped answering me because it was awkward being told that he could drill 120 rods per hour, when he had boasted about being able to drill 80 rods in 7 hours. Why would he need 7 hours to do 80 rods when he ought to be able to do that many in 40 minutes? That would mean that he was only doing 40 minutes of work a day!
"Look here," he said. "I’m working my tail off. What are you complaining about?"
"It doesn’t matter how hard you’re working or how much sweat you’re putting into the job.” I said, "You’re still only drilling 80 holes in 7 hours. Maybe we should just have you come to work for an hour every day.”
Don’t be ridiculous!” he replied.
Let’s think about this. If somebody is drilling by hand as fast as he can, he will have the impression that he is working quickly. Automatic feeding would take 40 seconds, but he can do it by hand in about 30 seconds. So he concludes that it is more efficient by hand. If he continues at that pace, however, the drill bit will overheat, lose its edge, and not cut as well. He must then take the bit to a grinder and re-hone the edge. He brings it back and drills about three more holes. Then the bit overheats and goes bad on him again. After two or three more holes he must re-grind the bit again, an operation he considers part of the job. He thinks that by really working at it, he can drill a hole in 30 seconds. But he is deluded when he assumes that continuing at the same pace will improve efficiency.
If he had to drill 80 holes per day with automatic feed, however, he would only have to process one rod every 5 or 10 minutes. Ideally, an appropriate cutting speed would allow him to drill a hole in 40 seconds, leaving 4 minutes and 20 seconds for the bit to cool down. The unit would again be at room temperature when it came time to drill the second hole. Whenever the bit gets a little too hot, you can either put it aside for 4 minutes or apply cutting Oil to cool it down to the temperature of the oil. This permits a bit that used to be sharpened between every hole to hold its edge for 30 or 50 rods.
What’s more, workers do not have their own whetstones. There is one whetstone with five or six people lined up to use it, each going through pretty much the same procedure. Lathe bits, for example, may also be used to the utmost which means that they, too, will lose their edge quickly - so workers who have to grind lathe bits will be lined up at the whetstone as well. So, even if in theory it only takes 30 seconds to do the grinding, with five or six other people in line, it ends up taking about 10 minutes to grind the bit and get back to the machine. When we consider that occasionally the new edge will not be good enough, forcing us to return and regrind the bit, we might end up processing only two rods in 10 minutes.
On the other hand, we might work through a number of rods one after another. If we find that the table of the old-style drill press is too small, we might take 10 or 15 unprocessed rods and line them up on the drill press stand. On the other side, we might have 10 or 20 rods already processed that we can place in a wire basket.
The worker doing all this is imagining he is working. So, while he can only process three or four rods every 10 minutes, the worker himself concentrates on the 30 seconds it takes to actually drill the hole and compares this to the 40 seconds it takes if a rod is fed in. The truth is that, if we only need one rod every 5 minutes, we can cool the bits for 4 minutes between each rod and get away with only taking the bits to be reground once a day. You can also take the bits to be ground three at a time. So in the end, while employees may be working up a sweat and thinking that they are working skillfully and efficiently, the shop is, in fact, operating inefficiently.
- From “Workplace Management” by Taichi Ohno. Mr. Ohno is the father of the Toyota Production System and “Just-In-Time.”