Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Boys Botch Basics By Batching

Boys Botch Basics By Batching

My 15-year-old son Matt brought home a sad story last week of friends' final exams gone very, very badly.

Matt's two pals took an Honors Geometry final exam which consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions on several pages and one separate answer form, onto which they were to transfer the answer to each question. You know the kind...use a #2 pencil, color in the dot that corresponds to one of the five choices of answers. The kind of exam that us mere mortals called "multiple guess."

The boys decided to focus on the problem sheet and then transfer their answers to the answer form all at once at the end of the allotted time. But they both lost track of the time and, when they noticed the clock, they had less than 30 seconds left and had only transferred a handful of answers when the dreaded words "Pencils down" came.

Yep, they batched their work. Single piece flow says you color the dot after each problem is done. Even though they had worked out the problem, the final work was not completed for each problem until the dot was colored in. And, as a result, they nearly flunked the exam. Some rapid explaining got them away with this failed strategy but the sweat and tension in the intervening hours was real for them (and their high-pressure parents).

Do we need more examples of why batching is a bad idea? I wrote recently about flow vs. batch. Why single-piece flow is essential? Why having an excessive inventory of work-in-process is a bad idea? Why sudden surprises (like bad timing) can leave you stuck with a lot of unsalable (or ungradable) goods? This is just another story, one we can all identify with.

Pick out one thing and get it done this morning. Then get one more thing done this afternoon. Stick with it. Learn, now, what keeps you from getting it done. And fix that one thing.

I hope this is helpful. And perhaps a good story for your dinner table, as it was at ours.

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