Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Down 'n Dirty with the Theory of Constraints -- Day 3

We continue in collaboration on Theory of Constraints with Hal Macomber and Frank Patrick. What happens in this framework when one resource is needed by multiple people at the same time?

Hal writes well today on what TOC calls "Resources in Contention." In our company, one of our RIC's has a name; he's called Loren. Loren is a highly talented civil engineer who works closely with our sales force to do all the structural analysis of building solutions we propose to customers. Because he is so good, his days are punctuated with phone requests to "just do this little favor, I have a customer sitting right here." In so doing, some other "urgent" request is not worked on. Loren has to ramp up on the new project, do that work, then go back to the previous job and re-ramp up on it. We only have one Loren.

We are so used to such multi-tasking that we often don't see it. Enter TOC and Lean. Both systems of thought treat single piece flow as a fundamental. Start one task, finish it. Start the next task, finish it. Nothing new here, yet none of us seem to do it well. Why? Because there is a paradigm constraint, an unwritten rule that says "I'll satisfy every customer at the moment he/she asks."

The key? Making work ready for Loren to work on it. We have instituted standards for him to work on a request. No specs for the loading of a roof?? No truss analysis. Wow. That's a shock to the system of those who were used to calling and letting Loren work on unclear requests. But it is vital. If we have a true constraint then there must be a queue of ready work in front of him.

The foolishness of thinking otherwise was recently parodied in Dilbert. We laugh because we know it is so true.

Seeing a RIC as a paradigm constraint, rather than just "life is like this" allows us to make inroads to a solution. It allows us Loren to say to a salesman "I will deliver the estimate to you in two days, but I can't look at it until then." Calling it an unwritten rule allows us to talk about why that rule is there and why we think we want it to be there. Calling it for what it is allows us to speak openly about the hidden assumptions than sit underneath our actions.

Frank states well today that a good response of the RIC is "What DON'T you want me to work on?" Single piece flow demands that type of conversation and managerial support.

We hope this is helpful. Check out Hal and Frank for their views as well. Email me with your comments.

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