Greater Than or Equal To

Posted by bob on August 20, 2013

Do you know the term favicon?  When you bookmark or set a favorite link to a web page in your browser, it usually stores a tiny icon in front of the text to help you identify the web location.  These can be very obvious, such as the G for Google, an “A” with a swoosh below it for Amazon, or the CBS “eye” logo for the CBS broadcast network.

You might have noticed that the favicon for is mostly a mathematical Greater-Than-or-Equal-To symbol something like this ≥ in yellow on a blue background.

It is absolutely reasonable for you to ask, “What in the heck is that doing there?”

This comes from a very simple idea: your solutions to any problem should be Greater Than or Equal To the problem.  This might be a literal measurement of size: for example, if we want to hide a hole in the wall, the patch or object we place over the hole should be bigger or equal in size to the original defect.  Otherwise, we still have the original problem, even though it might be somewhat smaller or different.  A drug that cures a non-fatal disease in half of the patients taking that drug—but kills the other half of the patients is probably not a greater-than-or-equal cure.  The cure is worse than the disease.

Many engineering problems do not have such obvious measurements.  A low-cost design that leads to 25% field failures in the first year would be very successful in a cost-reduction measurement, but horrible for a reliability measurement. 

Component substitutions often fall into this kind of dichotomy.  The Sourcing department says, “Hey, we are heroes. We saved the company $50,000.”  Meanwhile the Quality department says, “No, you just cost us $5,000,000 for a product recall.”  This can work the other way too.  Design insists on using a component that the Sourcing Department had warned could not be procured in time.  The company loses market share if the product is not available when the customer needs it.

Be careful that your organization is measuring all of these factors, including customer satisfaction.  It is a deadly trap when one part of the organization is graded only on limited factors such as direct cost without considering the quality impact.

Your solutions need to be Greater-Than-or-Equal-To the Problem in all aspects of your product or service.  It can take a lot of care and review to make sure this is true.