Friday, July 18, 2003

Trystorming vs. Brainstorming

In a meeting this morning with our crack Supply Chain Management Group, we openly addressed a recurring material shortage. It seems that our supplier had a consistent 4-6 week lead time for this key structural building component and even that was hard to meet.

As we started to ask "Why?", Sue pointed out that this supplier had a very similar product, in stock, for 3 day delivery. It was not only available, but also cheaper and stronger. Immediately, several of us asked "So, why don't we use that product instead?" Well, it seems there was one key dimensional difference between the two. The next question: "So, why can't we design around that?" Randy and Ernie, the most experienced of our group with this component, recited the problems but then began to think about how we might work around them. It sounded promising but the details began to fog, at least for me.

At which point I asked "Will someone either put some drawings together or build a model?" Ernie looked around, grinned and said "Yep, I'll have it done by Wednesday next week." That was about 11:15am.

We adjourned. I took a late lunch and as I walked back in around 1:30pm (cringing somewhat, my hamstring is still bugging me) I saw Ernie.

"Hey, Joe, it's done," he told me. My leg hurt...I didn't even realize what he was talking about. My puzzled look told him I was, once again, clueless.

"You know, the model we talked about this morning. I built a prototype. You wanna see it?"

Suddenly my hamstring didn't hurt so much. I had to hustle to keep up with Ernie as we walked out to the area we have set aside for prototypes.

And, as he promised, Ernie had found some scrap portions of the component we wanted to change and built a model of how we could change the design to use the supplier's alternately (and available) dimensioned part. Two hours after we had first talked about it. Why wait till next Wednesday? Ernie just jumped in and did it.

What happened next? The model attracted interest. Other people key to the redesign came by. They could look at it, touch it, bang on it; in short understand the proposal. Action leads to further action. We can make a better, quicker decision with this model in front of us.

Ernie practiced "trystorming". Different from brainstorming, trystorming is the rapid construction of a prototype out of anything that is available. It allows people to visualize, touch and further improve on an initial idea. It also models action rather than talk. As my friend Mary Pat Cooper of Wiremold is so very fond of saying "Ten minutes of trystorming is worth ten hours of talking." I think that ratio is about right.

So, go build something today. Out of paper, Styrofoam, plastic, duct tape, wood...anything. Don't make it pretty. Make it visual. Observe others' reactions. Put your proposal into three dimensions.

I hope this is helpful. Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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