Productivity is Job 1… or something like that

July 25, 2001

Every now and then Madison Avenue comes up with a slogan that really catches on. That’s how it was with Ford’s “Quality is Job 1.” It wasn’t long before the imaging industry adopted the idea. But slogans can backfire if the

Every now and then Madison Avenue comes up with a slogan that really catches on. That’s how it was with Ford’s “Quality is Job 1.” It wasn’t long before the imaging industry adopted the idea. But slogans can backfire if the substance isn’t there.

At a conference a few years ago, an imaging executive presented a stirring speech about quality as job 1. Commitment to the product, to service, and to the customer all rang true in his pie charts and bar graphs. Hoping for elaboration on a few points, I set an intercept course for this executive following his speech, but was beaten out by one of his company’s customers who had a few questions of his own.

“I couldn’t get away from you before I bought your scanner; now I can’t get ahold of you. Why won’t your staff return my calls? What’s it take to get a service engineer to make this thing work? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming out with a more advanced product?”

It was like watching a train wreck and feeling sorry for the engineer, while knowing that he and the others on that train should never have let it happen.

Today, thankfully, hardly anyone uses the “Job 1” slogan anymore. But business execs just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to catchy words and phrases. The current buzzword is “productivity.” It is all but impossible to find something that does not boost productivity. Multislice scanners, higher field open MRIs, digital radiography, PACS, ultrasound, PET/CT scanners-all are tools for increasing productivity, or so I’m told.

I’ll buy into the idea that these machines do some things faster. But increased productivity is a dangerous claim to make, because productivity depends on more than just a faster gantry, an ergonomic design, or two scanners put in the same box.

For increased productivity to have meaning, demand has to exceed capacity. Otherwise, boosting productivity will shut down sales. That’s what happened to the bone densitometry market. It reached saturation years sooner than expected when providers found that their machines could image 25 patients per day rather than five.

MRI, CT, et al are in little danger of this happening, as their sales depend more on new applications and advancing technology. But it illustrates a fact that customers will eventually recognize on their own: Claims about increasing productivity are tough to verify. If productivity becomes job 1, look out.