Misapplication of Industrial Ideas


I have been fascinated by the creeping mis-application of industrial ideas into unrelated areas. These misapplications seem inevitably to increase costs and degrade service while simultaneously engendering a sense of helplessness on the part of the users of these services.

For example, here in Ontario we have been blessed by several successive governments saving us money through what they call ‘economies of scale’ such as forced amalgamation of local governments and collapsing the healthcare system into ‘regional centers of excellence’. Sure, if I were making adhesives a 10,000 pound batch could probably be made for less than two 5,000 pound batches. But with any organizational process making it larger increases the number of human interfaces and the complexity of management. So costs tend to go up, not down and the responsiveness of the organization degrades.

Similarly, we see what appears to be an adaptation of the ISO 9000 quality approach — in food safety, hospital operations and most recently transportation safety. In all these cases the role of the quality agency is reduced from actually inspecting the products to auditing the paperwork documenting the procedures. But the defect checking seems to get dropped by the wayside — so despite full paperwork compliance we get batches of contaminated food sold in stores and recalled only after people get sick or die. But some raving bureaucrat has the idea that this is ok so we persist. As long as the right paperwork is done and the participants hold the right certifications it is ok whether the output is safe or not.

The common flaw in all of this is the absence of a feedback loop to evaluate the efficacy of the new idea. To say nothing of backing away from a change if it turns out to be wrong. Just ignoring what is happening is no subsititute — despite the popularity of this management approach. But it would appear that our leaders are locked in a delusional world of their own making — and the social services that we all rely on are growing more expensive and dysfunctional.

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