The Unwritten Specification — Where Common Sense Can Go To Die


I’ve recently experienced two examples (one professionally and one personally) where the concept of the ‘Unwritten Specification’ has become brutally evident.

When we manufacture technically complex products, a fair amount of effort goes into drafting a well written and comprehensive specification. These documents include critical, major and minor features to verify, AQL (Acceptable Quality Level), inspection techniques, photographs of the product, packaging format, international standards, etc.

Our specifications help a great deal in defining product acceptance standards and assist in making the “tough calls”.

What the spec doesn’t do is help with the common sense aspects, or the “easy calls” when clear thinking should rule.

So, when we inspected a lot of urinary catheters and found a raised burr on the business end (YEOW!) we immediately rejected the lot. The manufacturer (not one that was selected by EastBridge) protested, stating that “The specification doesn’t mention anything about burrs on the tip of the catheter. It’s not a rejectable defect”. Our team offered the option of field testing several of the discrepant catheters on the factory owner to confirm acceptability.

On the personal front, we purchased a car last August and recently discovered that it rolls backwards on hills when you take your foot off the brake. Not an inch or two, but all the way down the hill. And yes, it’s an automatic transmission. And yes, it’s in ‘D’ when this happens. The car dealer told me that “That’s what this model does. You should have asked when you bought the car”.

Beyond the absurdity of the dealership saying that it’s my responsibility to inquire about a safety hazard that no experienced driver has ever encountered, this reinforces that not everything can be captured in a written specification.

At EastBridge, we put a lot of effort into selecting vendors where common sense has not died. We believe in forming personal relationships with the management team, embedding our engineers on site and maintaining a dialog that allows us to understand production techniques, material characteristics and the unwritten spec. This is more work, but we feel that it’s needed and makes a difference for our customers. We think that you should do the same.


Jack Daniels

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