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The Official Baldrige Blog

As the Holiday Season Approaches, Prepare Yourself for Three of the Most Dreaded Words in the English Language

do-it-yourself project

Having recently bought some furniture at a big box store, those three dreaded words were boldly printed on the outside of the carton: "Some Assembly Required." As I opened the box, I wondered what I would find. Would there be lengthy assembly instructions and many different screws, bolts, washers, and nuts? Could I ignore the instructions and use my powers of logic to assemble the furniture? (Real men/women don't read instructions!) If there were many small parts and I had to follow the instructions would they be in readable English? Would they be largely in pictures that clearly showed assembly sequences? Would they have diagrams of full-size screws, bolts, etc. so that measurement with a ruler would not be needed? Would all the parts be there? Have the pieces been cut/machined correctly?

In my case there were many different screws, bolts, washers, lock nuts, and cap nuts, so I opted to use the instructions. The first instruction is always to count the parts. I wasn't going to count all those nuts and bolts! So here is a brief summary of what happened:

  • I unpacked the box, scattering little static-charged Styrofoam beads all over the floor.
  • The instructions had clear pictures (for what they included).
  • On the third attempt, I put the bolts into a curved seat back in an order that worked (starting at the center and working out). This was not in the instructions, but only that sequence forced the outer edge holes to be torqued into place to line up with the holes on the matching piece.
  • One step from the end, I determined that I had three extra lock nuts and three too few washers. I could have called the manufacturer and had the washers sent with significant delay or I could go to the hardware store, purchase a packet of similar washers, and lose just an hour. I opted for the latter, mumbling to myself about the inability of the manufacturer to get it right.
  • I finished the assembly and spent 15 minutes clearing off and chasing Styrofoam around the floor and around the edges of the dust pan and trash bag.

After the experience, I tried to relate it to possible process failures from my perspective as a customer. While there are many questions in the Baldrige Excellence Framework Criteria that are relevant to the topic, I will highlight just a few of them to encourage the thinking of people in all organizations that interact with consumers (and customers in general):

  1. How do you prevent defects, service errors, and rework?
  2. How do you minimize customers' productivity losses?
  3. How do you observe customers to obtain actionable information?
  4. How do you manage relationships with customers to meet their requirements and exceed their expectations?
  5. How do you improve your work processes to improve products and reduce variability?

The question that particularly intrigued me was #3 about observing customers. I wonder how many manufacturers who use the words "Some assembly required" actually observe different "real" customers follow their instructions to check for obvious gaps or errors. How many have their experts who possess full knowledge of how the product should be assembled write and be the testers of the instructions?

While this blog posting relates to assembly of manufactured product, I encourage everyone to think about instructions they give (or don't give) to customers, students, patients, or colleagues. Are they clear and easy to follow? Do they lack detail or contain too much detail? Are they the instructions you would like to receive?

While you ponder those questions, allow me to return to the holiday spirit. I do wish you good luck, and......let the assembly begin!

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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