The Electronic Sweatshop by Barbara Garson

Garson chronicles the expansion of statistical process control to non-factory work and its impact on the workforce. She interviews workers at: a fast-food place, an airline reservation call center, social workers, securities brokers, mid-level management, and the military. Even though Garson feels automation destroys humans, she attempts to portray both sides of the issue.

We have a computer in Oak Brook that is designed to make real estate surveys. But those printouts are of no use to me. After we find a promising location, I drive around it in a car, go into the corner saloon and the neighborhood supermarket. I mingle with the people and observe their comings and goings. That tells me what I need to know about how a McDonald's store would do there.
-- Ray Kroc (pages 36-37)

Systems design failed Kroc because either it failed to capture enough relevant data as to make it unreliable, or Kroc failed by not admitting that statistical control achieved what he could not. Essentially, Kroc uses his executive privilege to escape a system where:

... there is no such thing as a McDonald's manager. The computer manages the store.
-- page 39

Written in 1988, the familiarity of the problems means that the problem remains uncracked and most likely continue to plague workers for years to come. As part of my exposure to the US Army War College, I was familiar with C4 (Command, Control, Communications, and Computers), but was not aware of how C5 came into play. In Grenada, our military communications systems failed, forcing in field soldiers to coordinate using payphones; hence C5 (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Confusion). One doesn't have to look far into our past to find major examples of these problems.

People working with computers should definitely give this book a chance. It'll warp your mind, and they you'll have to unwarp it yourself.

"But the fundamental point is that the only thing in the world getting cheaper and faster is computers. People aren't getting cheaper and faster. So if I have to bet on anything, I'll bet on computers."
-- page 256

A few years ago, I was in a McDonald's (oh, the shame!), and as luck would have it, they were having a regional manager's meeting in the restaurant at the time. They were talking specifically about the sandwich computer, so I of course grabbed a seat within earshot. Pretty interesting stuff. Apparently they keep (or kept) statistical information on what sandwiches are ordered during which hours of the day in which restaurants. This gets compiled into trend and average information and linked with price, cost, and order-fulfillment-time information to tell the managers how many of each type of sandwich to have "on-deck" at any given hour of the day in their particular restaurants. The idea, of course, being to minimize both customer wait time and waste. I would love to get a look at the guts of that system. What I don't know is whether the information is produced as a means of providing managers with better information for subjective decision-making, or whether it also gets used as a metric for measuring the subjective decision-making ability of the manager. (John Henry vs. the Burger-O-Matic-2.0... Fight!) Somewhere in your to-read stack, you should insert "Trust In Numbers" by Ted Porter. Pretty interesting book on the use of quantitative information in public policy-making, along with some cool history of British actuaries. -- Liam
Garson's interviews seem to indicate that fast-food managers serve three main purposes: staffing failure stopgap (salaried managers don't get paid overtime), local contact for employees, and monitor for things currently not remotely monitorable. To do the book, Garson just walked into these places and talked with people. I bet you could drop by a McD's during a slow hour and chat with a manager to see how their marriage to the Burger-O-Matic-2.0 has been. --- I just queued up "Trust in Numbers" along with Garson's "Money Makes the World Go Around". -- Patrick.