Lucy, the Chocolate Factory, and Quality Management

One of my favorite episode of any sitcom ever is the chocolate factory episode of “I Love Lucy,” where Lucy and Ethel get a job at a chocolate factory as part of a bet with their husbands about which is more challenging: working at a job or keeping up a household.

The women spend a day working at Kramer’s Candy Kitchen, and quickly find themselves in over their heads. In the most famous scene, Lucy and Ethel are tasked by the line manager with wrapping the individual chocolates as they come out on an assembly line. The manager leaves the room to manage the conveyer belt, and as the line speeds up, the women can’t keep up with the pace. They end up stuffing unwrapped chocolates in their mouths, hats, shirts, and laps in order to hide the evidence of their incompetence. A whole batch of chocolates goes to waste, the line manager is furious, and Lucy and Ethel are fired.

Chocolate factory, candy assembly line

Let’s set aside the outdated gender politics inherent in the episode’s premise and the fact that Lucy and Ethel found themselves in this predicament because they lied about their candy making credentials to get the job.  What’s important about the chocolate incident is that it exemplifies a failure of the factory’s quality management system.

Quality management is a fancy way to describe the steps taken to make sure that the work being performed in any workplace is consistently done the way it’s supposed to be done. It includes making sure that all staff members have the skills and receive the professional development they need to perform – and continuously improve in – all aspects of their jobs. It includes checking that the outputs of their work, either the services provided or products produced, are completed as intended and have the desired impact. Quality management also includes detecting any defects in either the processes or the outputs as soon as possible and making the necessary corrections to minimize the negative consequences.

In the case of Kramer’s Candy Kitchen, there were a number of Quality management failures.  There was no system in place to identify the point at which the conveyor belt was moving too fast for Lucy and Ethel. The manager was not in the room to supervise the process, nor did the assembly line technology have any sensor to recognize that the volume of successfully wrapped items did not match the volume of chocolates coming down the line. The operation also did not seem to have any sort of mechanism through which Lucy and Ethel could notify the belt operators that the pace was unsustainable.

It is important to have quality management systems in place in every workplace – not just in manufacturing and production. Managers should regularly check in with their teams about pace and workload, all reports or deliverables should undergo review by someone other than the main contributors, and back-up systems should be in place to correct any mistakes or deficiencies. Otherwise, you risk the workplace equivalent of an overwhelmed team that compensates by stuffing chocolates into their mouths, hats, shirts, and laps.

Would you like to learn how you can improve quality management in your workplace? Contact me!