Built in Quality Means Having Your Cake But Not Eating It

There was an interesting bit of news from the BBC about a Honda factory in Swindon, England. Apparently the management there have placed restrictions on the sorts of cakes, fruit and chocolates the workers can eat in their break rooms. There is a tone of muted outrage, or at least incredulity in this comment by John D’Avila, a member of an organization called Unite which represents the workers at Honda:
“They’ve barred things like fruit or any product with a biscuit in it so it’s got to the ludicrous state where a Mars bar is ok but a Twix bar, because it has a biscuit base, isn’t allowed.
“Frankly they’ve lost the plot. The vast majority of people just can’t believe that the company are being so picky in what they’re doing.”

The workers are not being told what to eat, only what not to eat while at work. On the one hand people should be free to eat what they want within what is legal and sensible, during their breaks. On the other hand, companies place restrictions all of the time on smoking, drinking (non-alcoholic beverages) in the workplace or eating during work as it affects the health of other workers or the quality of the product. This seems to be the case at Honda. According to a Honda spokesman:

“Our overall objective is to always deliver the highest quality product and we cannot compromise on achieving this.”

And also, “Therefore our company standards are an essential aspect of our business.”
It is my speculation that fruits, biscuits and cakes somehow result in reduced quality to the product that Honda manufactures due to the introduction of foreign matter, namely sugars or starches from these snacks being on the hands or clothes of the workers returning from break. The response by Honda management is a reasonable one if it is an attempt to prevent defects at their source. In this case built in quality means the workers can have their cake, but not eat it at work.
A true learning organization would use this as a problem solving opportunity by making a clear link the chain of causation from discovery of defects to the root cause of undesirable food matter being introduced into the production process. An organization that understands that quality is built in as part of every person’s job everyday would spend much more time on communication and consensus – making sure that people understand why the new restrictions and standards being introduced.
The important thing is that there is a perception of unfairness and arbitrariness concerning this standard set by Honda regarding foods workers are allowed to eat during their breaks. From a completely logical point of view, the break rooms at Honda are not public places and they have every right to set standards and limits, and if certain types of snacks have been outlawed due to contamination or quality issues, likely this is not arbitrary but scientific. In all fairness to Honda, they may have done everything right and it may simply being a case of some disgruntled workers taking their story to the media in an effort to get their cakes back.
The lesson we can take away from this in terms of lean management is that when it is necessary to establish standards where there have been none, and when these standards are unpopular due to a perception of unfairness, arbitrariness or simply a loss of freedom, it is critical to communicate the storyline of how and why this decision was made for the best interest of the customer and also the long-term security of the workers so that countermeasures are based on consensus.

2 Comments

  1. David Moles

    April 21, 2008 - 3:20 am

    I’d be interested to know how many formerly non-biscuit-eating workers have started leaving the premises during their breaks solely in order to eat whole packages of McVitie’s Digestives, and what effect that’s having on quality.
    It’s a shame Honda’s spokespeople apparently can’t give any more specific reasons that would actually make sense the policy. Though maybe reporters just need to be trained to ask “why?” five times…

  2. mike

    May 1, 2008 - 9:18 am

    What about getting choclate on your hands from a nonbiscuit bar? Why all this nonsense cant people wash their hands after leaving the break room?