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Dwight’s Doomsday Defect Prevention Device on “The Office”

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On last Thursday's episode of The Office, Dwight Schrute  installed a software system that he called an “accountability booster,” aka the “doomsday device,” as it was referred to by the rest of the office staff. There had been a number of errors made (late deliveries, accounting errors) – you could call those process defects.

Dwight's system detects and tracks errors – if the entire team makes five errors, then the system forwards a negative consulting report and all of the critical emails they've written about the new CEO, Robert California, to him. I apologize that readers outside of the U.S. can't view the clip.

As would be expected, the staff becomes very cautious when they fear all losing their jobs if the “doomsday device” is activated. Kevin, an accountant with a reputation for being dumb and error prone, is given a make work assignment of researching where paper comes from – no work equals no errors.

It's a matter of pointing out the obvious that Dwight is not a Lean thinker. Rather than looking for the root cause of errors (such as Oscar, another accountant, doing math in his head instead of using a calculator), he tries to use fear to motivate people.

Of course, the team makes five errors in the FIRST DAY, and they scramble to convince Dwight to turn off the device. You can watch the whole episode on Hulu in the U.S.

There was also an episode in the past few months(which I saw again on a plane last week), where the new manager, Andy Bernard, institutes an incentive program after the CEO asks them to double sales growth. The responds to the goal by saying things like, “If we could snap our fingers and double our sales, we would have already done it.”  Andy offers a set of prizes and the staff react by saying things like, “This is insulting” and “how about if you want us to work harder, pay us more!”

Lots of great “how not to manage” lessons from this show. Wouldn't it be nice if we could eliminate healthcare and patient harm by just threatening to shut down the hospital? Nope, the world doesn't work that way! That's why we have to look at processes and systems to understand why errors occur. That's our only hope to rally people around improvement.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent book is an anthology titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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