Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Election Day Constraints

It's probably hopeless that I'll ever quit seeing things like this...but it happened again, early this morning.

At 6:30am, on my way to work, I stopped off to vote in our local municipal elections. Walking into the school, I was pleased to see a line out the door of the voting room. "Great to see so many people voting so early!" I said to myself. Then I saw the reason for the line. And it had nothing to do with a lot of people showing up to vote.

Looking through the door, I saw that only two of the four voting booths had voters standing in them. Immediately, I looked for the constraint. And there it was: a chaotic and disorganized process to sign-in each voter. Two harried poll-workers were flipping crazily through three-ring binders with the voter rolls in them; one with A-M, the other with N-Z. At the same time, three other poll workers were standing back, just observing.

And few people were actually voting. And isn't that the point of this exercise in democracy?

See how this illustrates constraints? How any improvement to the process had to happen at the constraint? That there could be no improved throughput (which here means ballots cast per hour) without expanding the constraint?

So what could happen?? What could we suggest??

  • Create a third notebook to look up names; go to A-G, H-P, Q-Z.
  • Add sticky notes to the binders to make it easier to find major letter divisions
  • Allocate one of the other poll workers to help the folks looking up the names.

Of course, since I'm a very non-political guy, I'm only looking at the physical constraints. We may well have a "policy constraint" here, literally. There may be regulations stating both a Democrat AND a Republican have to observe the looking up of the names in the book. Therefore, policy prohibits going to three books. If this is the case (I don't know that it is...just postulating), then only changing that policy will impact the throughput of voters.

Why do I go on? Because simple things like this illustrate how we approach bigger issues of throughput and improvement in our companies. I hope this helps you to see a little better.

Feel free to forward to a friend. Email me

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