It’s The Productivity, Stupid

I have some thoughts today on the real problem with the UAW, over at PJM.

[Update a few minutes later]

More thoughts from Mickey Kaus — from Taylorism To Wagnerism.

[Update a little after 9 Eastern]

Here’s an excellent piece on the same subject by Michael Barone.

[Afternoon update]

Jim Manzi has more thoughts on Wagnerism versus Taylorism:

…there appears to be a cyclical nature to these things. More-or-less the same, basically sensible, method for business operational improvement — carefully observe current work practices, think of them holistically and in light of the goals of the business, and then redesign work practices — keeps getting reinvented. Taylorism, “Goals and Methods”, factory statistical process control (SPC), Total Quality Management (TQM), reengineering, and so on are all just manifestations of this approach. Each is typically pioneered by innovators who have a fairly supple understanding of the often unarticulated complexity of the task. It drives clear profit gains, and many other people want to apply it. A group of experts are trained by the pioneers, who are also quite effective. There is an inevitable desire to scale up the activity and apply it as widely as possible. It becomes codified into some kind of a cookbook process that can be replicated. This process becomes a caricature of the original work, and the method is discredited by failure and ridicule. (Seeing this phase of reengineering at several companies in the 1990s, a close friend of mine once described it as “like the Planet of the Apes, but the monkeys have taken over from the humans”.) Within a few years, some new pioneers develop some new manifestation of the approach, and the cycle begins again.

Just before I left Rockwell in the early nineties, they had caught on to the latest TQM management fad. We all went to courses on it, as well as taking classes based on the management philosophy of Stephen Covey.

Much of it was absurd. There is no sensible way to apply statistical management process control to research and development, but they attempted to do so, having us set out the processes by which we did trade studies, etc. This senseless training was, of course, charged to overhead (i.e., it was included as part of the burden on our Air Force and NASA cost-plus contracts). Just in case you were looking for more reasons that space stuff costs so much.

3 thoughts on “It’s The Productivity, Stupid”

  1. I think the auto industry is noteworthy because of the destructive synergy of numerous factors. While we’re bashing unions here (rightfully I think) we have to keep in mind that management is remarkably incompetent. And the other interested parties (like long term stockholders and bondholders) have to be in a coma or casket to have ignored what’s been going on for the past 50 years.

    For example, as I understand it the number one long term liability is the pension funds. But the companies, especially GM, have a history of knuckling under to union demands. I suppose the executives of the time didn’t care what the company would look like in thirty years. And stockholders went along with it.

  2. When you’re building 10 million of widget X, all of the statistical process stuff makes sense. Maybe even on a car. Developing new products, forget it.

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