Quality Tested

Everyone who has done any job for a while has a few ‘war stories’. It’s even a standard management technique to throw a few techie-tales into the conversation to bolster credibility with the geeks in the platoon. That can go badly wrong but that’s a story for another day.

Because some of my tales from the trenches were acquired while contracting, I’ve felt bound by client confidentiality and only shared them with a small number of trusted colleagues but surely a good yarn has a statute of limitations, if it is told for the good of society. As this one is more than 20 years old and the company has changed ownership at least twice in that period, I’m going to risk it. The facts don’t reflect badly on any individual, only on a manufacturing culture that had unwittingly survived beyond it’s sell-by date.

A group of Japanese businessmen were being guided around a luxury sports car manufacturer’s engine test facility to show off the company’s recent massive investment in robotics. The company had experienced a long-standing problems with cars being delivered to customers or showrooms, only to be returned because of significant oil-leaks from around the engine-block.

In the new system, each engine arrived in a wooden box which was unpacked and delivered on it’s pallet to a testing station where an operator attached oil, water and electrical connectors. Each engine had a bar-code attached so that it could be tracked throughout the manufacturing process and the foreman knew who was to be blamed for any error. Each engine was filled with oil and water then started up and run through a number of test cycles until the operators had either made minor adjustments to get the engine through the tests or had failed and been sent back to manufacturing for complete re-work. No more sub-standard engines would be put into cars and sent out of the factory gate to damage brand reputation.

The UK managers turned to the main Japanese visitor, glowing with pride that for once they were ahead in the race to manufacture the most reliable cars. The visitor hesitated then said, “That is very impressive but what I don’t understand is: why did you decide to build some of your engines with leaks?”

I dedicate this story to my Agile & Lean friends whose tests are built into their manufacturing process and I offer it as a warning to those who throw their software onto a transporter for delivery to Engine Test.

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