How Punctuality Affects Production

authored by Mike Kimel

Earlier this month, I wrote a post noting that countries where punctuality is more highly prized in the year 1999 tend to have higher GDP per capita in both the year 2000 and in 2015.   I would like to follow up with a bit about how that happens, which I had I intended to post in the comments to that piece.

My sister is currently in Northeastern Brazil, which is not unusual.  By my reckoning, she has spent between twenty and twenty-five years in the country and has a condo in Natal.  She loves the country and the people.  (As do I, I might add.)  At the moment, she is helping a Brazilian friend rebuild/expand a small hotel he owns close to the beach.  

I get periodic updates via “WhatsApp,” including videos of geese and pictures of monkeys.  A lot of her stories being told would surprise the average American.  To a Brazilian, or anyone with experience in South America for that matter; it is the usual litany:

1. Almost nothing happens on time.  Most of the crew is late every day.  Sometimes hours late. 

2. Less periodic events (e.g., delivery of materials) are also usually late.  Sometimes by more than 24 hours.
3. The result is there are always people standing around, which results in wasted capacity and resource.  You need the crew there in case the cement mixer rolls in; but in reality, it might not actually arrive until the day after it was scheduled.  Or maybe, it may arrive the day after that.  Of course you plan around it or have contingencies; but no matter what, the result could be less wasted time, energy, and resource if everything happened as planned.  Put another way, the lack of punctuality reduces the amount of work being done and production produced.    

As I noted last month, my wife is in a similar line of business . . . she buys, rehabs, and rents-out residential rental properties in Northeast Ohio.  She also deals with crews and the schedules she builds always have contingencies and room for such events as painters not showing up or electricians arriving stumbling drunk and belligerent.  The reason tor the contingencies is because it happens.  (In the post describing that, I contrasted with my own white collar world, where in twenty years I never once had to plan around whether someone was going to show up drunk, and my failure to plan for that eventuality has never mattered.)   

And yet, my wife alternates between horrified and humored by my sister’s stories.  For my wife, a person or delivery showing up late enough or material being defective enough to affect the workflow usually happens once per job. (As an FYI, it takes between two to six weeks to rehab a single family home in Northeastern Ohio, depending on the state of the house when we buy it.  I cannot imagine a similar timeline happening in Northeastern Brazil.)   

In my sister’s world, that’s how things are all the time.   It is the difference between standing on the pier and being a fish.