#159 from R&D
Innovator Volume 4, Number 5
We’re Being Consulted to Death!
My company is really
into improvement. It
seems that one consulting firm after another is coming to offer us
new ways to manage.
We try one, then
move to the next, sparing no expense to be certain our company is "doing the right thing in the right way
at the right time." If
dogma could produce profits, we'd be rich.
We should be
utterly confident about the future, since few of our competitors
spend so much time and money following the wisdom of the
management gurus. (Actually,
I never figured out why we pay so much for their services since
you can buy their books for a few dollars.)
As vice president
of R&D, I have to integrate my teams with the "management
style of the year." There
were several useful consultants, but most spoke generalizations
that were more appropriate to manufacturing or marketing than
R&D. The other
vice-presidents in the company seem to accept consultants’
recommendations, and don't find them especially burdensome.
just can't swallow many of these recommendations.
After one consultant convinced our company president of the
need to measure, and track, everything, our Quality
Coordinator informed us that all
measurement devices should be calibrated at least twice a
year--including ordinary lab thermometers and beakers (maybe the
glass would stretch from year to year?)!
It got worse.
We were told to keep better track of lab chemicals, just as
secretaries were to track computer disks and, presumably, paper
clips. Now, every
little bottle holding 100 grams of this or that must have a record
in a computer file. If
I remove 5 grams, I have to record it on the computer, which
brilliantly enough, performs the subtraction and reveals--that 95
grams remain. (By the
way, this goes for every
chemical--even sodium chloride.)
except for expensive or dangerous chemicals, we would just order a
new bottle when the container was almost empty.
Occasionally, someone would complain that they had to wait
a day or two because a chemical had not been replaced in time. But this was infrequent and involved far less imposition,
overall, than the requirement to always update the computer
record. (And guess
what? Even with this "efficiency device," we still
run out of chemicals because sometimes somebody forgets to update
Then we brought
in one of these brainstormers who taught us to "think
spent many hours with him; and he was finally satisfied when we
produced 30 solutions to a research problem in 30 minutes.
Did he care that the ideas were entirely impractical?
No. Yet many
in other departments raved about how great he was.
forward-thinking consultant convinced the president that the only
thing on a desk top or lab top should be what you’re working on
at that moment. In other words, when you leave your desk, it should be clean.
Yet the desk tops in my department typically hold a journal
not yet read, a notebook requiring some entries, a reprint to be
re-read, or a memo not yet answered. I frequently examine one item, put it down, then look at
activity stimulates my thinking.
Hyper-organization stifles it.
It's gotten to
the point that I shudder every time the Quality Coordinator knocks
on my door. He
doesn't seem to want to appreciate the special needs of R&D.
Why should he permit us any exemption to the rules?
researchers are naturally a bit more independent-thinking, and
tend to resist, resent, or ignore rules that make no sense—if
they don't laugh out loud at them, as my staff does.
R&D is a
relatively small department in my company, and my opinions usually
carry less weight than those of other vice presidents.
It's always, "You have
to adapt to practices that are necessary for our success."
Of course, what
this really does is erect an additional barrier between R&D
and the rest of the company.
People wander around thinking, “Why can’t those
scientists follow experts’ advice and become civilized, like
R&D is an
inherently difficult working environment—but the precious advice
of these outside experts only makes it worse.