I really enjoyed this story and it has shades of council problem-solving techniques.
A toothpaste factory sometimes shipped empty boxes without the tube inside.
The company CEO assembled his top people and they decided to hire an external engineering company to solve their empty-boxes problem.
The project followed the usual process. Six months (and $8 million) later they had a fantastic solution – on time, on budget and high quality.
They solved the problem by using a precision scale that would sound a bell and flash lights whenever a toothpaste box weighed less than it should. The line would stop, someone would walk over, remove the defective box, and then press another button to restart the line.
As a result of the new package-monitoring process, no empty boxes were being shipped out of the factory.
With no more customer complaints, the CEO felt the $8m was well spent. He then reviewed the line statistics report and discovered the number of empty boxes picked up by the scale in the first week was consistent with projections, but the next three weeks were zero. The estimated rate should have been at least a dozen boxes a day.
He had the engineers check the equipment, they verified the report as accurate. Puzzled, the CEO went to the factory, viewed the part of the line where the precision scale was installed, and observed just ahead of the new $8m solution sat a $20 desk fan blowing the empty boxes off the belt and into a bin. He asked the line supervisor what that was about.
“Oh, that,” the supervisor replied. “Bert, the kid from maintenance, put it there because he was tired of walking over, removing the box and restarting the line every time the bell rang.”