To help prevent errors, a construct translated as “make doing the wrong thing hard” has been around informally for many decades. It was formalized as part of the Toyota Production System by Shigeo Shingo and called poka-yoke in Japanese. This replaced the original name, baka-yoke, which translates as “idiot proofing.”
Many Lean Thinking professionals teach and incorporate this construct into processes. It was originally implemented in production systems. You see it in situations where two hands are required to run a machine, even though one would clearly be enough. By making the operator use two hands one can be sure that neither hand will be cut off by the machine.
I was reminded of its value recently while dealing with Amazon. Several months ago I attempted to buy a Scott stamp catalog from Amazon. It was not yet available, but I could pre-order, and it would be shipped when it was available in a “few months.” While waiting for the “few months” to go by, I got confusing updates as to when it would or would not ship. Finally, I was alerted that it was available to ship, so I went online to see if it was still on order so I would be sure to get it. I did not see it in my order queue. I assumed it had been canceled before so I re-ordered it.
I got two of them. Only needing one, I returned the second one. Amazon, as they do, promptly refunded my money. Well not all of it I came to find out. They charged me a 50% restocking fee on a $130 item that had been unopened. I get restocking fees, but I have never seen a 50% restocking fee.
I called Amazon customer service and the rep was polite, investigated, found I had made the error and told me she could not reverse the restocking fee. The conversation with her caused me to realize how I had made the mistake. Amazon provides your order history anytime you want to see it, but it is in history order. Unshipped items are in the queue based on when ordered. As the catalog had been ordered a few months before, it was way down in my queue and I had failed to see it was still there. (As an Amazon Prime member I am sure to order lots of items from them so I get my money’s worth from free shipping.)
In talking with the customer service rep, I made the suggestion that Amazon change their queue to show unshipped items first. She said she would pass it on. All done … well not yet.
I remembered writing a blog post about how Jeff Bezos reads emails sent to him and passes them on for action. I decided that he should know about my idea to make doing the wrong thing hard, so I sent him an email. The next day I got a response. Unfortunately, the response only focused on the restocking fee, which they decided to remove, but did not address my real issue, which was to change the process to make doing the wrong thing hard.
I thanked the person for removing my restocking fee, and reminded him that my real point was to have them make doing the wrong thing hard. We shall see if they take my advice.