Did Ford Have a Better Idea?

Last week I talked about how Henry Ford had benchmarked other industries (in particular the slaughterhouses) to come up with new ideas on how to make things run better in his own industry.  Two innovations from his observations were brought to bear on the factory floor – bringing the work to the workers and the specialization of workers on very specific tasks. 

You may want to go back and read through the post one more time. Because, as I was putting it together, I began to wonder if there might not be something else there for Internal Audit. I’m not going to go so far as to say a lesson to be learned; but there is definitely a question that should be asked, even if we all decide the answer is no.
 
To repeat a Ford quote from last week’s piece, “The man who puts in a bolt does not put on the nut; the man who puts on the nut does not tighten it.” Such focus ensures that every single task is done correctly. It ensures that the final product, made up of those small tasks, comes out better. It results in a faster process. And it ensures the customers get the same thing (with any luck, the thing they supposedly desire) every time.
 
Thinking it through, you can quickly see that this doesn’t necessarily work for every situation.
 
In your mind, imagine the cook at one of your favorite restaurants. (Can you tell I’m typing this just before dinnertime?) It doesn’t matter if it is Le Chalet Couteux or the Hungry Heifer or McWenderKing’s. Just imagine that you are ordering a steak (or the restaurant’s reasonable facsimile thereof). The restaurant does not have one person in charge of pulling the meat from the refrigerator and one person in charge of putting the meat on the grill and one person in charge of seasoning the meat with salt and one person in charge of seasoning the meat with garlic and one person in charge of flipping the meat and one person in charge of removing the meat from the grill and one person in charge of plating the meat. No, there is generally one expert (top notch chef or slash house slinger) whose cooking expertise leads to him or her handling most or all stages of fixing that steak.
 
Why doesn’t the factory line work here? First, cooking is a skill set where craftsmanship is generally desired. The skills the chef brings to the entire cooking process are what set the restaurant and the dining apart (yes, even at McWenderKing’s.) Second, the cost of throwing all those bodies at the process is prohibitive. Now, the more expensive the meal, the more hands may actually be involved. But there is not the specific “put on the bolt, screw on the nut” specialization. It is still a job for a craftsperson. Third, it may be cliché to say that too many cooks spoil the broth, but it is definitely true that too many cooks will get in each other’s way. Too much specialization will slow down this particular process. Finally, there is nothing in it for the customer. That is, adding all the specialization provides no enhancement of the overall dining experience – at least as it concerns the taste of that cooked steak.
 
And now we get to my question. Why is it that we insist auditors become experts at every step in the internal audit process? Why is it that we expect them to be interviewing experts and meeting planning experts and risk assessment experts and documentation experts and control evaluation experts and testing experts and reporting experts? Have we done it wrong when we say “every auditor needs all those skills; it is what professionals do”?
 
I’m not sure. 
 
Is there a better process that involves a group of internal auditors - experts in different aspect of audit - who work together, each handling one part of the audit? Experts in specific portions - writing, reporting, testing, interviewing – working together to more quickly build a better product? Does our profession actually require craftspeople – individuals who can build an entire car or an entire meal or an entire audit? Or are we a profession that needs higher levels of skill at each specific task in order to provide even greater value to our customers?
 
I really don’t know. But I look at the four reasons for not having specialization that I’ve listed above, and I look at what we are to deliver to our customers, and I’m not sure I’ve got convincing arguments against specialization. Of course, I’m not convinced my alternative is the answer, either. But that may be as much the result of my mind being trained for the last 30 years to refuse to believe anything different might be better.
 
What do you think?

Posted on Aug 27, 2012 by Mike Jacka

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