• Can we error-proof Murphy’s Law?



    TWO scenarios: There’s a computer glitch in one bank, resulting in the double posting of credit and debit transactions, naturally triggering a major customer uproar. On the other hand, a hotel casino was damaged by fire, allegedly caused by a losing gambler, resulting in at least 37 deaths and injuries to dozens of other people. Both incidents are calculated to mean millions of losses, broken work relationships, damaged corporate reputation, and possible legal conflicts that may take decades to resolve.

    Considering all other options, defeatists (or pessimists, if you may) would defer to Murphy’s Law as the cause of it all – “if anything could go wrong, it will go wrong.” Management by Objectives (MBO) inventor Peter Drucker (1909-2005), my favorite business management expert of modern times, who is considered the consultant of all consultants, gave credence to Murphy’s Law when he said the complexity of management will mean one thing:

    “If one thing goes wrong, everything else will, and at the same time.” And that will be proven in this case soon, the moment Congress decides to continue with its investigation to uncover other related mistakes, even minor details like – why the hotel security was caught on CCTV camera wearing casual clothes and slippers.

    That brings us to another version of Murphy’s Law: “If there’s a possibility of all things going wrong, the one that will go wrong is the one that will cause the most damage.” That’s how it remains as the pessimist’s anchor. Never mind the optimist’s equivalent in Yhprum’s Law, where the name Murphy is spelled in reverse, to emphasize that “anything that can go right, will go right.”

    But really, can we avoid corporate tragedies such as those that happened to the bank and the hotel-casino? We sure can! How do we intend to do it (which is really the crux of the matter)? For instance, can we avoid the double-posting of debit/credit transactions on the same day and at the same time (with possible differences in few seconds) in a bank account, by adding this feature in the computer software?

    I’m not an IT expert, but I believe this can be done, unless of course, I’m proven wrong by those in the know. I can also surmise that it’s one low-cost, first option before one thinks of buying an expensive software.

    In a hotel-casino with an X-ray system at every entrance, and if a customer bypasses it, is it possible for an alarm to emit an irritating sound, similar to what they have in buildings when unauthorized persons use a fire escape, even if there’s no fire or similar emergencies? How are these possible?

    Further, I can see one low-tech system that can be immediately applied by the hotel. It is by simply making the door narrow but robust so that there will be no room for intruders to sidestep the X-ray machine. Everyone must pass through that tapered entrance.

    And of course, what happened to the dogs – the K9 unit? Were the dogs also sleeping at that time?

    By and large, the applicable buzzword solution here is none other than pokayoke – the Japanese word for mistake-proofing, which was invented by Shigeo Shingo (1909-1990) as an integral part of the much-vaunted Toyota Production System. Unlike the pessimist’s Murphy’s Law, pokayoke was the optimistic equivalent from its original term – bakayoke which means “fool-proofing” or to make stupid people follow the rules, even if they don’t want to.

    If you’re overly stubborn and ignorantly subjective to think that pokayoke is a monopoly of people from the manufacturing sector, then think again. Pokayoke is universal, and at many times low-cost and common-sense. Now take the following everyday examples:

    You’re alerted by your computer if you wish to “save,” “don’t save,” or “cancel” a command when you close a document. Your office printer stops printing when the paper supply runs out. Your microwave stops heating when you open its door and prevent splattering food in your face. Your flat iron stops electric consumption the moment it reaches a certain heat level. Also, you may have noticed the overflow drain (a hole) on one upper side of your toilet lavatory to avoid flooding.

    The basic rule in pokayoke is to eliminate options by intruders, malefactors, and even employees who would try to sabotage a system or machine. There’s only one way of doing things here and decision-making must become irrelevant with pokayoke.

    In conclusion, there’s no better way for us but to learn from the lessons of the bank and the hotel-casino. After all, we don’t have much time, money and effort to commit all those mistakes. We learn from mistakes, rather than successes that could even make us complacent. Just the same, by all means, don’t interrupt your detractors when they’re making mistakes.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random management thoughts on Elbonomics.


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