Pushing to Failure
When testing a product, I was taught to test it until it failed. When it fails, learn why it failed and make the product better. Instead, we test the bare minimum. What are the specs we need to pass? When we pass those minimum requirements, stop testing. The product is consider a success at this point. There is no need to go any further. Then it is used in the field in a way that was not anticipated and it fails. Whereas, if we tested the product to failure, we might have seen this and prevented it from happening. Then the product is used in the field in the unanticipated manner but it is still successful.
Why isn’t that approach taken more often with our processes or our thinking? Push our process or thinking until it fails. When it does fail, use it as a learning opportunity to improve. Looking back, the failures I had were some of the best lessons I have learned.
When I was in the auto industry, two of us were tasked with training and implementing a plant wide pull system in about 6 weeks. Neither of us had ever implemented a pull system. We had to develop the training, and then train 550 employees 6 at a time. We got to check the box, but we had some big issues with the system itself. We fixed the system as we went and it ended up working well. That initial system failure and learning has been invaluable as I have helped implement other pull systems at other companies.
This way of thinking ties in with Toyota Principle #1: “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.” If we are practicing this principle, then a failure now that causes significant learning for the future will help us develop processes that are more efficient, robust, or just plain better for the future.
I believe that more than ever we need to pushing our processes and thinking all the way to failure. The ones who do this best will be big winners coming out of the economic downturn as well as receive more business that is returning from overseas. Why? Because the companies pushing the limits on their processes and thinking will better understand their capabilities, processes, and people more than the ones who didn’t push themselves.
Why don’t we push our processes and our thinking to the point of failure? Are we afraid of people perceiving us failures, instead of innovators? There is a lot of pressure put on us to succeed and succeed quickly. But are we getting the opportunities we need to push the limits? How do we overcome the fear of failing……….and the perception of being a failure? How do we get our companies to embrace failure as good thing? If and only if we use that failure to learn and improve so we can push our limits further.