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Attention to Detail

Mar 8th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Baseball season is here! I’m a little soured on professional baseball at this point – I’m a Red Sox fan and last year was a pitiful year for the Red Sox. I have enjoyed hearing about A-Rod’s connection to the Florida PED factory. The problem for A-Rod is that even PEDs aren’t helping him anymore. The baseball I’m excited for is junior baseball, specifically the Midget Division (9-10 year olds), which is where my youngest son currently plays. Last night was the second day of try-outs and we all gathered in the frigid cold and fielded grounders and fly balls and did some hitting.

There was some disorganization with the try-outs. They brought in players from the local college to evaluate the kids for an impartial assessment of skill and ability. In junior baseball, within each age group are three skill levels and kids are placed on teams according to skill level, and then they play only teams at that skill level. Well, college players aren’t necessarily the most detail-oriented of people and they had some missing data on their evaluation forms. This caused our league board some distress until I pointed out that if a player forgot to circle a score and didn’t realize he had forgotten, you might end up with the last kid with no score and no idea where the scores in the column were one off. Then they were in serious distress.

I guess that’s one reason why you have a second day of try-outs with coaches and board members evaluating. It’ll all work out. I have to give great attention to detail in my line of work. Earlier this week, my best customer ordered ten 0306564 Threaded Aluminum T-Handles and I sent him ten 0302648 Angle-Cut T-Handles. He uses both on his units, but they obviously are different. Luckily he called me when I emailed him the invoice and I sent him out the right ones the next day, so we only lost one day and we’ll eat the return shipping.

It’s really a struggle, I think, for an organization like a junior baseball board to successfully give great attention to detail. Board members are all volunteers, they all have kids, so their lives are already crazy and they deal with a lot more drama and politics than anyone should have to deal with. At the parent meeting earlier this month they had an information sheet on a table as you walked into the high school cafeteria where the meeting was held, and it had information about try-outs. I picked one up. During the Q & A, about six different parents asked questions about try-outs that were answered on the sheet. Everyone needed that information and you had 10 board members sitting at a long table waiting for the meeting to start, and just placing one or two at the door to hand out the papers would have saved everyone a lot of time and anguish as we had to listen to people who don’t listen to other people ask questions that were already asked and answered.

They probably would have asked them anyway, even if they had the paper read to them.

A few days later the board sent an email to everyone reminding them of the try-outs and it had a link to the page on the league website with try-out information. I casually clicked on the link, and sure enough, the times didn’t match the times they had given out at the meeting. I emailed the league secretary and she had to get hold of the “website guy” and four days later they ironed it out and sent out another email.

What happens when you witness these types of excusable errors? Your faith in the competence of the person or group in question weakens.

At our three sister companies, where they build somewhere around 30 tow trucks per month, there is also a great need for great attention to detail. You would not believe how difficult it is to get accurate information from a customer to a salesperson to a production department to a parts department back to a production department and end up with a finished product that is just what the customer ordered, so to speak. It requires about 14 sets of eyes going over data again and again and even then there is typically mad scrambling near the end to get it all straight. And even then, the customer will find something amiss within 30 seconds of getting their new truck. You would think it would be easier but it’s not conveyor-belt assembly being done by robots. The only way to ensure something close to 100 percent fluid success throughout the process would be to assign a very observant person to follow the information all day, every day, as the truck is being sold, designed and built, and even then it wouldn’t be foolproof, because as the truck goes into production, at least two or three different people are completing some related function at the same time.

At our parent company, where approximately a dozen different managers come together once a month to share ideas, solve problems and troubleshoot, communication about the meeting itself is largely telepathic and some of us don’t pick up the signals. Someone might work for hours on information for the meeting and then it is cancelled without notice at the day and time it was scheduled for because three managers are on vacation.

I don’t know exactly how these different things are related, but there are ideas out there – ideas I did not come up with – that many of you have heard such as “measure twice, cut once.” Whether you are dealing with a junior baseball board, a parts company, a manufacturing operation or a management group, you are dealing with human beings and human beings are very busy and prone to error. When these errors occur, it’s valuable to sit back – once and for as long as it takes – and analyze what could be changed to reduce the chance of the error happening again. Measure the problem twice or three times and then cut – execute the change. As an example, let’s take a look at the try-outs handout. If you had handed out the paper to each person as they walked through the door and then read it aloud three times to the entire group it would have taken less time and prevented more screw-ups. If during try-outs, after each youth player completed a task that was to be scored by the college players, you asked the college players, “Did you record your score for player #__, doing ,” you would have used more time (replacing time that ended up wasted) but saved a lot of heartache.

It’s about creating a system that sets people up for success, which is what we all want, and continually refining it.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper