Lessons from Packaging Boxes in a Japanese Company for 1 Day

Last Friday we got the first lot of our user generated LEGO set in the office.  We spent the whole day unboxing, wrapping and reboxing them for shipment to fulfill the pre-orders.  It was an interesting experience… especially when compared to America. (I spent one summer assembling Preston snowboard bindings in Preston, Washington.)

First off, our department, 7 people spent 6 hours in a meeting one day the week before, just to talk about how to do the work come Friday.  6 HOURS!  No work, skipping lunch, just plain talking about plans and how we may do work in the future.

Friday morning, the “leader” announced his plans out loud, assigned who stands where and do what very specifically!  One person opens the box and inspect the individual boxes, bring the boxes over to the table, where 3 people will do the bubble wrapping, one person cut the tape and prepare the bubble wrap and finally one person to bring the wrapped boxes over to be stacked at the other side of the room.  Every minute detail had to be spelled out!!  Like, “flip the box upside down and put it like this on top of the bubble wrap, then wrap this side and that side, tape it, then do this and that, tape, done, then stack it over here.” …etc etc

Once we were done with the wrapping, our dear leader announced we were to take a 20 minutes break, while he plans how to do the next step!!

OK, 20 minutes gone, everyone gather around!  Now, one person sits here and cut the mailing labels, match the name on the mailing label to the name on the invoice (we’ve printed out ALL the invoices here), and then pass it over 2 other people.  These 2 people than check the names matching again (it’s very important that the names match!!), then, put the company thank you note together with the invoice and fold them at the printed dot, then together with the mailing label, pass it over to the next 2 people.  These 2 then, once again, make sure the names match and put the invoice into a plastic sleeve, taping the mailing label to the front, and organize them into different batches based on how many boxes the person bought.

Around a quarter of the way in, I noticed something strange with the total amount on the invoices.  Aside from the ones who only ordered 1 box, the rest all had their total amount multiplied twice by the number of boxes ordered!  This finding broke the entire, well planned “perfect” system!!  Chaos ensues…

Some more break time while the 2 programmers fix the program that they wrote (!!) to print out the invoices.  (Why reinvent the wheel here?  I have no idea!)

New invoices printed, back to work.  After we finished, the leader said something I didn’t quite pick up in Japanese, and then he said 「やっぱ失敗だった」”in the end, we’ve failed”.  Really?  So after hours, even days of planning, we still failed huh?  Ha…

Finally, on to the boxing part.  Same thing, specific instructions on how to put things inside the boxes, tape it shut, stick the mailing label where, put the finished boxes where… etc etc.  Well, for those who bought 4 or 5 pieces, our small box fits only 3 and the big box fits 10… so what did we do?  We wrapped them in bubble wrap and taped it outside of the small box!!  I’ve never seen anything shipped like that before!

The whole thing was really interesting to me ‘coz all of the above that happened in one day, became a perfect metaphor of how waterfall management fails!  It’s like, do you really need to waste all 7 people’s 6 hours, so 42 man hours of time, to do that planning?!  Do you not trust the people you work with enough to let them figure out what’s the most efficient way to do the work?  ‘Coz when u give such specific instructions, you effectively asked those people to NOT look at the bigger picture! (Hence nobody noticed the wrong dollar amount.)  And why not work through the whole process to produce a small batch of shippable product first, that would avoid getting stuck knee deep in some pre-planned, “stack of wrong invoice” shit that gets really costly to fix in the middle of the project!  With waterfall management, you aim to be perfect from the get go, but that’s simply impossible as there’re too many unknowns!  Without actually trying and failing hands-on, what you’ll end up with is… ultimately… complete failure of the entire project!

Seriously, I’ve been telling people in this company over and over again since I came here.  Agile!  Agile!  Agile!!!  But I’ve come to realize now, as long as the current top-down chain of command doesn’t change… (so basically, as long as I’m not able to call the shots ;), we won’t succeed!


Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

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One comment on “Lessons from Packaging Boxes in a Japanese Company for 1 Day
  1. bijoux_moe says:

    Well, for those who bought 4 or 5 pieces, our small box fits only 3 and the big box fits 10… so what did we do? We wrapped them in bubble wrap and taped it outside of the small box!! I’ve never seen anything shipped like that before!

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