Another Sad Example of Gaming the System: Validation Engineering

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Back to my original post about gaming the system, there are three ways people can respond to pressure to improve:

  1. They can work to improve the system
  2. They can distort the system
  3. They can distort the data

I got an email from an old friend — I'll keep his name, company, and industry confidential, but he said I could share this story. It's a major company with a long history, a company that should really know better, but they've lost their way, apparently.

“We have a position here called validation engineer. They are responsible for getting all the components of a program to ‘pass' all of the required functional tests by a certain date set by program managers. They have no design input or ability to change it, a limited budget, and low part familiarity.”

So the first thing that jumps out is the “job description” or purpose for that role. I'm sure it's not the official description… but you'd think someone responsible for testing (or inspecting quality) has the right and authority to either “pass” or “fail” an item. Their job shouldn't be to pass items — or why have the validation job at all? Is it the role of a production inspector to pass everything? Of course not.

The fact that a program manager “has” to hit the date requires that they get designs that can pass the validation, not to pressure the validation process to be skewed or rendered worthless.

“Literally when we find a failure their response has been ‘we can't report that, I need the part to pass or I'll be fired'. Needless to say there is high turnover rate and they are all hunting for jobs right now but the impact on every part of product development is affected.”

There's the example of gaming the system… are people being pressured to fudge results or to cheat? Of course they are. Since employees aren't allowed to work with integrity, no wonder they get frustrated and want to go to a job where they can work with integrity. It doesn't rank high on the “respect for people” scale when you force them or pressure them to give up their integrity in exchange for a paycheck. If people find other job options, they'll take them. I really feel bad for the employees who are placed in this position.

My friend later admitted:

“They addendum is that I am frequently asked to lie. Often I have to make a judgment call. My integrity is the price that I pay, but I always try to remember that deception is only a short term gain. Someone may lose their job immediately but we'll may all be out of business if recalls are too high and we lose business. Or the other case, they go to another outside test lab who will give them a pass.”

No wonder my buddy has been figuring out how to find a new job or a new industry, and he's been learning a lot about Lean (which only leads to more frustration with his non-Lean environment, although he's taking steps to make improvements).

Sad situation. Management is actively encouraging the distortion of the system and the distortion of the test results rather than working to improve the quality of the product designs. No wonder this company is struggling. They have to do better. When my friend gets a new job, maybe I can blast the company publicly, by name.


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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