Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Observing Objectively

A number of other timeless principles have hit me since our most recent Blitz, about which I wrote last week. A key principle is that of documenting the gains. An example.

During the blitz, I had an idea about material flow during one step which I thought would cut the cycle time by almost half. We had measured cycle time in the "current state," observing the lowest repeatable time in 7 cycles. I discussed my idea, the guys liked it and decided to try it.

We then checked the cycle time. We were all disappointed. After doing another seven cycles, accounting for the brief learning curve, we only shortened the cycle time by 30%...not the 50% we had expected. We paused and wondered "Why wasn't it as good as we had hoped?"

It became obvious as we talked that we had (mentally) counted the productivity gains which we thought were pretty cool and had (mentally) ignored the less-cool added steps required by the idea. Yeah, a 50% boost on the cool stuff, at a 20% cost.

What I learned: The net gain was great; 30% is nothing to sneeze at. But since we stated clearly what we thought it would gain, measured the actual gain in real time and then sought to understand why it was less than expected, we learned even more. The demanding taskmaster, Reality, taught us more than we would have learned otherwise. It forced us into more and better proposals for improvement which we tried on the fly, right there.

A lean motto is "Document Reality." It works.

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