Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bad Management or Excellent Engineering?

One client that we have at Aspen Research has a product that they first started manufacturing 50 years ago. Yes, 50 years ago, and they still make it and sell it. [1] There is however, a fly in the ointment and a colleague and I are in disagreement about how to interpret the situation surrounding that fly.

Over the past 50 years, the production yields have gradually fallen to the point that yields are just a few percent. I see that as a total failure of management, that they would let things slip away like that for so long, a perfect example of the boiled frogs analogy [2]. My colleague on the other hand, thinks the story is an example of engineering excellence: the original development of the product was completed so well that it took 50 years of lesser competence to destroy what was originally there.

What do you think?

[1] I'd love to tell you what it is, but confidentiality reigns here.

[2] The "boiled frogs" analogy is that if you take a frog and put him in a pot of boiling water, he will immediately jump out and save its life, but if you put him in a pot of cold water and turn on the heat, the discomfort for the frog gradually increases but the slow increases in discomfort are never enough to cause him to jump out. He ends up being boiled. I have no idea if frogs would actually behave like this, but I find the story does provide a useful analogy regardless. There are way too many examples of situations in business and life where conditions gradually worsen to the point that if you were put in it anew, you would immediately leave, but because the conditions worsened at a slow rate, you tolerated them.


Frank Van Haste said...


In re: boiled frogs, this:

(You'll like Fallows.)



Anonymous said...

Why can't it be both?

Curryworks said...

What materiel is worth producing at only a few % yield? Management seems to have fouled up the issues may be bad monomers or equipment breaking down etc.

Eric F. Brown said...

I second Frank's comment.

Chemjobber said...

Ack -- Frank beat me to it.

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