An overseas auto company purchased several special machine tools from one of the smaller American companies. All had unique features, but one was a first and a very complex and sophisticated machine. In addition, the order was accepted on a very aggressive schedule to allow the customer to hit a window of opportunity in his planning process. The aggressive schedule was accepted as a favor to the customer although he would not remember it that way when the chips were down.
The machinery had to arrive just as the new concrete floor was ready, following the removal of the old machinery, revamping of other portions of the process equipment and then be ready for production shortly after. The components to be produced had not changed, but the new process would be more cost and quality effective. In other words, the old equipment could still produce the components if something went wrong and if their removal was done in a way that preserved that capability.
In the final stages of completion of the new machines, it became apparent through the combination of the aggressive schedule, their complexity, and the technology stretch involved, that the committed schedule was becoming a very serious challenge. Still facing some unknowns because of the newness and not wanting to jeopardize the customer’s production deadline, it was suggested to the manager that care be taken in the removal of the existing equipment and even some contingency planning be done to restart it on a temporary basis in the event of a problem.
The position taken by the customer’s management was surprising. Their feelings were that any effort to provide a safety net for potential problems provided a reason to fail, and in fact, the likelihood of failure increased because of it. The safety net philosophy could make failure to achieve objectives an acceptable outcome which can then become ingrained in the culture of the organizations involved. Another effect can be that the bar is lowered in setting objectives for the next time out. The customer proceeded to scrap the existing machines.
Many of us, in that kind of situation, would have welcomed the comfort of that safety net. It seems so logical to have your backside covered in the event of a problem when the stakes are so high. However, that comfort will dilute the energy and urgency to “find a way,” the Yankee ingenuity solutions, for the unexpected challenges and problems encountered along the way.
While this is a business or industrial example the principle fits almost any setting and their challenges in everyday life. Should we always take the safe approach?
The machines were delivered and put into production, late by a tolerable margin, with no small amount of difficulty for all, but finished vehicles were produced as planned. Another effect of the success is that the bar may be raised in setting objectives the next time, by lessons learned and by confidence gained and become more competitive in the process.
The wisdom of that philosophy was not as apparent in the heat of battle and with its stress and extra effort as it was following the battle.