Friday, 27 January 2012

Two Wongs ……

I was watching television last night when one of those inane commercials for air fresheners came on. My family and I have always laughed at these commercials because if you don’t like the way your house smells, it seems obvious to us that rather than hide the offending odour with another scent, you should be trying to locate the source of the offending scent and remove it from the house. I wondered how many people actually go through life “covering or masking” in other areas of their life or daily existence finding the most expedient “Band-Aid” solutions without actually trying to find the root cause. I know that this occurs in organizations.
One organization I worked with employed about 100 but had over 800 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). That was the tip of the iceberg. Each SOP had an at least on form to record the job described by the SOP or capture data generated by that operation. So there were a minimum of 800 SOPs and 800 associated forms. SOPs may be range from 3-7 pages long, the average SOP is however 4 pages. Each data capture form may be 1-5 pages long, the average form is 2 pages long. So, there were 3,200 pages of SOP and 1,600 pages of forms. In total, there were about 5,000 pages of documents or about 200 lbs (90 kg) of paper and that only accounts for the master copies! When the number of copies in circulation is added to it, this number explodes! The Document Management group literally was buried under the weight of all that paper! There was a requirement to review each document every 2 years. Assuming that they did not all come due at the same time, and are evenly spread out over the 2 years, about 33 SOPs and their associated forms were under review each month. The reviews often resulted in revisions and updating of the documents which inevitably caused a significant bottle-neck of outstanding revisions in the Document Management group - a literal paper-jam! How we managed to resolve that may be the subject of a different blog. How did things get so bad?
This organization was the victim of legacy systems, old habits, poor training, staffing turn-over and Quality Systems that were not integrated. Whenever a problem arose the easiest and quickest remedy was to write an SOP to cover the activity related to that event. No root cause analysis was performed to determine the source of the problem. This in itself created it own set of problems. The Quality department was so overwhelmed chasing all that paper that they had no time to catch their breath, sit back and go back to basics with the seven quality tools! They were hoping to get it right with two wrongs.
So you ask, “What does this have to do with the title – Two Wongs”? Once I was telling my friend whose last name is Wright about how I was told as a kid that in Chinese culture, there’s a strict taboo in two people bearing the same last name (represented by same ideogram) from marrying because they are likely descended from the same ancestor. She quipped “Two Wongs don’t make a Wright!”