• Therblig analysis: If you’re superstitious, you’re going down the hill

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    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    TWO men are robbing a hotel. “Somebody has seen us and sounded the alarm. Now I hear sirens. Jump!” says the first burglar. “But we’re on the 13th floor!” his fellow thief protests. “Dickhead, this is no time to be superstitious!”

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    I met this guy Tony, a 58-year-old, superstitious, high-ranking corporate executive who works for one major corporation. I was in his office in Makati some time ago when we talked about his company’s total quality management (TQM) program, which he claims is not easy to copy like what you do if you attempt to steal office supplies from your company’s cabinet.

    After all, it was a product of more than 40 years of evolution and continued refinement by countless people, including the now-retired executives and workers who, if you’ll line them up along a stretch of EDSA, would extend to more than one kilometer.

    It appears that Tony was hired by the company’s founder to maintain the company’s strategy since time immemorial. Let me tell you what we talked about. It’s all about time-and-motion study (TAMS) that makes Tony extra proud. He’s a guy on an important mission. He’s trying to perpetuate his TQM program based on TAMS and is prepared to adjust it when different circumstances demand.

    “We’re ready to adjust,” Tony says with firm conviction. The trouble is that, even until these days, they’re still using the age-old Therblig Analysis, composed of 18 symbols to represent search, find, move, grasp, hold etc., when there is a more convenient, current alternative tool called Value Stream Mapping (VSM) that uses more than 25 easy-to-understand symbols to help discover and eliminate operational wastes.

    Since more than three decades ago when he joined the company, Tony’s company has been using Therblig symbols which were invented by American industrial psychologists Frank and Lilian Gilbert, who created TAMS and prescribed 18 symbols to help people discover how to become efficient and productive in their jobs.

    Therblig was invented in historic 1915 when Alexander Graham Bell tested the coast-to-coast long distance telephone using another invention called the vacuum tube amplifier.

    “Are you familiar with VSM, which is the improved and current version of Therblig?” I asked Tony. He was at a loss on how to appreciate it. I thought he was trapped in a time warp, if not suffering from autism. The point is — how can you boast of a dynamic TQM program when you’re still using Therblig?

    But Tony has an excellent defense that I’d like to offer him. Would you believe that even the Philippine government still prescribes TAMS? Check Republic Act No. 9485 or the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007, and you’ll be surprised by its Jurassic mindset.

    The point is that, as one best approach in any TQM program, understanding all tools for continuous improvement like VSM is what makes the world go round, like what industry leader Toyota is using with its Material and Information Flow Analysis.

    In any management program, TQM or otherwise, you should choose a recipe that is appropriate for the organization under current situations, and not at the time when it was invented. Of course, you may not need an elaborate dish if the one eating it is not choosy or picky. In certain circumstances, an ignorant person who decides to repeat himself will ignore anything new.

    So a dog will happily eat the same dog food even with the same formulation that was created in 1953, and still the dog will consider you to be the greatest person on earth, so much so that it will lick the ground that you walk on.

    The situation appears to be similar with Tony’s TQM program. He likes Therblig so much because it works for them. Fortunately, Tony is much better off than Danny, another Makati-based manager who, to my knowledge, has never in his life eaten anything outside of Chowking.

    If you will ask his recommendation on where to source your next Christmas party meals, he will not hesitate to say “Chinese lauriat!” At Chowking, they probably have one whole department exclusively devoted to Danny, which monitors his daily consumption and has a ready fleet of supply trucks ready to roll when they run low.

    I bet that when word of mouth of Tony and Danny’s monotonous style comes to mind, let’s hope they’re not superstitious about changing their mind.

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

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