You’d think that ‘just checking again to be sure’ would be good practice. This phenomenon was first found in manufacturing. The more inspection you add, the more waste increases.

It is the same in service organisations.

Example: Loss adjuster

A loss adjuster was promoted from running a local branch to a position in the regional office. Along with her promotion came a drop in authority – now no longer the most senior person on site, her work had to be checked by a supervisor. The purpose of this ‘inspection’ was to ensure the work was according to professional standards but the majority of changes (improvements?) came down to style.

After a few months in the new job, the loss adjuster felt, at a personal level, just how much this regime had affected the quality of her output. She had worked ‘down’ to a position where she implicitly expected someone else to finish her work.

Example: Finance Director

A finance director was attending a meeting which was discussing the level of errors in an administrative organisation. The level of errors was high and rising. The discussion focused on how best to check the work for quality.

It was the finance director who first spotted that they had six quite separate checks at the moment. He realised that he had stumbled upon the cause.

Example: Insurance clerks

Insurance clerks were ‘quality controlled’ by their supervisors. The level of errors was constant. They changed the work design in the following ways: people took the next case (instead of being given batches by the supervisor); people agreed to take responsibility for their own quality (there would be no ‘quality control’); people asked for help when they needed it (training became ‘just in time’ instead of planned by supervisors).

Errors went down, productivity went up. People did more but they didn’t feel like they were doing more. Pride returned. Intrinsic motivation has a profound effect on performance.

Independent control of the work (or checking) increases errors. Is this why ISO 9000 has been such a disaster?