This is not my story. I heard it years ago, and there are several versions of it. So, I do not know if it is a true story or not. Never mind, it is too good not to be shared.
So, it all happens in a well-known toothpaste factory. Everything was going smoothly, except for one issue. From time to time it happened that the box filling machine would fail to fill the transport box with the products. As it was a fully automated packing line, the empty box will be packed into the pallet and shipped, without anyone noticing the error.
The clients were furious. They have seen it not as a mistake, but as an attempt to cheat.
They had to find a solution, quickly.
The CEO gathered his best engineers. After several meetings and discussions, they found a solution. The Company purchased and installed a precise scale between the box machine and the pallet wrapper. So, if the box is below the set weight, the line will stop and an alarm will ring. The operator will go to the scale and check the box. If the box was empty, he would remove it from the line. This equipment costs a couple of thousand, but everyone considered it as a smart investment. After all, the reputation of the Company amongst clients was at stake.
The CEO requested to have a detailed monthly report about the number of empty boxes discovered using the new system.
Month 1: 25 boxes
Month 2: 0 boxes
Month 3: 0 boxes
What is going on now? Did someone figure out finally what the issue is? His managers and engineers could hot answer. Everything was working, and the complaints from customers stopped. The CEO was confused.
So he went to the plant, and straight to the machine operator.
“How come there are no more empty boxes in the line? What have you done differently?”
“Well Sir, it is a real hassle for me when the line stops.
I have to go down, remove the empty box and restart everything.
Sometimes it takes half an hour before the line runs smoothly and I am able to sit down.
So I bought this $10 fan and adjusted it to blow at the boxes.
If the box is empty, it gets blown off from the line.
I then collect them at the end of my shift.
And I never have to stop the line.”
If you want to improve a process, try to put your laziest worker on it. He will aim to find the easiest way to finish the job.
I know it does not always work. But it is a nice reminder that a solution to the problem can, sometimes, be actually very simple. If only you look at it from a different perspective.