The High Cost of Having Low or No Standards

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Lack of standards affects various sectors, leading to costly consequences.  ILLUSTRATION: Image used for illustrative purpose/DREAMSTIME

If someone were to ask what it would take for Myanmar to grow like neighbouring countries, most people outside of the country would say ‘political stability’. Those educated and peace-loving groups would say ‘law and order’, or rather, the enforcement of it. In contrast, the terrorist-loving group would repeat ‘we want democracy’ without giving any thought to the meaning of it. I have decried the absence of law and order in many of my previous articles. At the same time, although the rules and regulations may be there in limited aspects of the commercial world, the absence of acceptable standards across the board becomes a major contributing factor and a self-fulfilling downward spiral on the development front.
There is no enforcement due to a lack of regulations or details, e.g., condominium law. Then why do we need standards or rules if there is no enforcement after all? There are no standards to enforce; hence, there is no enforcement. If there is no enforcement, then why spend time even coming up with standards in the first place?

Why standards are so important
Without having standards of behaviour, expectations, or otherwise, there is no way to see what improvements need to be made to improve performance or see the impact of changes that have been made. It’s hard to improve on a base of chaos. Just think of a simple application or complaint made to YCDC or a letter written to the government. Or, think of changing the land title names at the land registration office.
Taiichi Ohno, father of the famous Toyota Production System, once said the primary reason for creating standards is to develop and maintain standard work. Improvements cannot be made and refined without a standard baseline. If some departments or individuals do not complete work the same way, it will be nearly impossible to improve their processes. Standard work will lead to better quality and happier customers.

When it comes to standardizing work and service levels, there is a lot to lose by doing nothing.

– Adherence to best practices: There are many ways to get from A to B, just like Myanmar can move forward. Or how the government department should respond to applications, requests and complaints. However, the most efficient way or the best way is based on data currently available. Standard work ensures that each person who performs a task is using the best currently known method. Imagine paying bills at EPC, for example. It said you can pay by cheque on the bill, but actually you cannot!
– A shorter path to improvement, as stated above by Ohno. It is impossible to improve on a process that is not documented, inconsistently applied and not universally understood (i.e., if there are no standards or SOPs). Only by mapping out the current state of work can you analyze its opportunities for improvement and know if the improvement actually worked. Just imagine policies being altered at a whim based on the mood from above.
– More engagement and less stress: Imagine dealing with government offices. Without standard response time, the public is stressed out wanting to find out the outcomes of their correspondence; hence, they call up, break up, or bribe, stressing out civil service and eventually running away from engaging the people. Most government departments are working in this fashion.
– Reduces defects and wastes; Standard Work is a way of integrating error proofing into the process. Defects and low quality are often the results of deviating from the best practice. Standard Work seeks to eliminate these exceptions. Do you ever wonder why almost no government departments published standard waiting times, processing times, etc., here?
– Increased customer satisfaction: Customers are happy when they get quality products on time. That is probably the last thing on the minds of most civil servants.
– Better pricing: having standards ensures that products sold here can be compared directly with similar items in the neighbouring countries; thus, consumers do not get ripped off. Buyers beware, especially in online shops.
– Ability to grow rapidly: We can have the smartest, most experienced, and most qualified employees on the planet, and we can trust them to use their individual judgement. Unfortunately, that is not growth. As countries grow, they need to rely more heavily on great processes and less on extraordinary people. The collapse or abandonment of most standards set during President Thein Sein’s time probably caused the downfall of economic growth during the Suu Kyi era.
– More focus on strategic objectives; if the government does not have to worry about every little product error or service complaint, the leaders can focus on strategic priorities, good governance and other value-added activities.
– Reduce corruption: Having standards to comply with means that there is little room for negotiation or under-the-table arrangements to achieve better performance. A lack of standards simply encourages corruption. Do we really need examples here?

What products are costing Myanmar dear
Do you always wonder why everyone wants to open a goldsmith shop in Myanmar? Because even by buying pure gold from the shop (1 tical), the seller can make a lakh or two in profit. The reason for such arbitrage is not because the seller or the shop is so smart but because 15 Pear (content of gold in a tical) is being sold by selling 14 Pear 2 Yways content of gold. It’s talking about the whole country getting cheated every time gold is being bought.
The second product, which lacks standards across the board, is edible oil. There are good peanut oil and sesame oil locally produced, but they are priced higher than the not-so-healthy palm oil or palm oil disguised as peanut or other vegetable oil through the use of a flavouring agent. With no standards and zero enforcement, people with low incomes are sometimes left to consume drainage oil with a flavour added, forcing carcinogens into themselves that would shorten their life span through the increased probability of getting dreaded diseases.
In the areas of medicine and medical services, Myanmar is also paying high costs for low standards. The majority of doctors and specialist consultants have little respect for the patients by showing up always late at hospitals and clinics. Fake antibiotics and other medicines are available in many pharmacies. There are no standards and enforcement either. As a result, the rich ended up in Thailand and Singapore for medical appointments, depriving the country of hard-earned US dollars, and the poor ended up suffering in a lifelong hell of paying for lousy services and fake products.
Lack of standards in construction also means more injuries and unsatisfied customers. Myanmar contractors are infamous for being short on two things at least: waterproofing and keeping the work site clean during and after the construction period. The former leads to reworks through water leakages through the walls or the roof, especially during the raining reason, whereas the latter leads to an unsightly environment that reflects the poor standards within the industry.
As mentioned above, the lack of standards in civil service is also causing a major loss for the country, wasting everyone’s time and contributing towards corrupt practices across the board.
Lack of standards also has led to a lack of discipline among the population and fraudulent activities in every area of trade. Think of people spitting their nice-looking and hygienic betel nut leftover juice after chewing on online frauds and scams that happened out of border areas within Myanmar. Cheating on CVs and getting fake educational certificates have become commonplace, too. Employees all now have to be tested for competencies before actually hiring, adding to business costs.
Until standards start to be in place in all areas of trade and work, accompanied by strict enforcement of these standards, Myanmar will continue to be a backwater of ASEAN. One infamous leader of yesteryears once said that Myanmar would overtake Singapore in 20 years, and there are things that Singapore can learn from Myanmar, too. After you read this article, you definitely know that this last statement is all but nonsense!


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