Nothing Screws Up a Good War Story…

…like an (Experienced) Eyewitness

By: Becky Ferrell


Your function has been asked to complete a self-assessment (again). Whether the questionnaire is short or long, it requires one or more of your staff to spend precious time to gather any necessary data, complete the questionnaire, and submit it to the requesting entity.

No one wants to have to explain a bad assessment. It doesn’t matter if it’s for internal consumption or at the request of a customer. And, no one wants to spend any more time than absolutely necessary responding to a survey.

So, what happens? Well, if you’re honest, the survey is done with each question answered subjectively, often by someone who is “nose blind” to the way work is performed on a daily basis. Or performed by someone who does not truly understand the standard behind the question.


FIFO, sort of

Hmmm…. Example? Sure!

One of the standards in Lean Manufacturing is First In First Out (FIFO). Pretty straight forward: older material is used before newer material. Lots of reasons for compliance to the standard, which we will not go into here. The question is generally worded simply as a statement, “FIFO is practiced in all operations” or as a question “Is FIFO practiced in all operations?”.

Note to the uninitiated…These survey/calibration questions are intentionally worded so as to be answered YES or NO. There’s no room for a “but.”

For those who have been around for more than a few years, think about the movie Karate Kid and the quote from Mr. Miyagi: “Either you karate do yes or karate do no. You karate do guess so, (get squished) just like grape.” So, FIFO do “yes” or FIFO do “no”; there’s no middle ground if you want to pass the calibration! However, many sites have completed the calibration with a “YES” and slept reasonably well at night until the morning an outside calibrator arrived to review the self-assessment.


Then I talked to the parts

And thus it went at one of the plants I assessed. The response to the FIFO statement was marked “YES.” Things went well until we actually walked the plant floor and randomly watched operators perform their daily tasks.

At one station, I watched the operator walk to the lineside roller rack and retrieve the presented box of fasteners; the roller rack had been inspected and found to be in FIFO order. He returned to the trolley that rolled along the line with various component parts, opened the box, and dumped the parts into the designated user bin. It would not have been an issue EXCEPT for the fact the bin was not yet empty!

Hmmmm…. Wonder how old those parts were that were at the bottom of the bin? Turns out, they were several shipments old, easily verified by the fact the finish on the parts had changed when they changed suppliers.

This same pattern was repeated at several locations in the assembly operation, including the frame department where new frames were loaded on top of old frames…. each accompanied by an “explanation” as to why this should not be a problem.


Calibration & violation

Unfortunately, like the movie…FIFO done maybe or sometimes does not qualify for a YES on the calibration. It only takes one violation to create a spill that can be costly for the plant and its customer.

As I think about the years I’ve spent performing calibrations, I recall the wise words from one of my plant managers. When someone was caught violating a process or procedure, John used to say: “Nothing screws up a good war story like an eyewitness.”

While John’s statement was very true, it missed a very important factor. The eyewitness must KNOW what the correct procedure or process is before they truly understand what they are seeing and whether it’s right or wrong. People (employees, managers, etc.) get used to seeing a process done a specific way and may miss the fact the method is not compliant with the standard.

Based on my experience, I’ve amended John’s statement to:

Nothing screws up a good war story like an EXPERIENCED eyewitness!


Not sure where to go from here? Perhaps a fresh set of eyes or new perspective is needed. HVM has floor-experienced manufacturing and supply chain professionals ready to help find that next improvement to help you continue your journey to “best” and beyond. Give us a call; we’d love to help!


Did you enjoy this blog? Search our blog library for other topics of interest: