One of our supervisors recently began a very useful practice, its clear elegance being a model worth considering.
She was faced with a physical constraint in her area, in her case a particular piece of equipment which seemed to limit her group's daily production. But to what extent did it actually limit production? She launched a very simple experiment.
Each day, she asked her team if they could produce one unit more than the day before.
While the group (and the supervisor) thought the limit was 254 units, they tried 255. It worked. The next day, they tried 256. Hmmm. She then asked what they learned with one more unit. The group made observations. And tried 257. The process has continued over the past month. And they have discovered they do have a constraint but the limit is both higher than they imagined and also more manageable they they had thought.
Goldratt says the second step of dealing with a constraint is to maximize it. This is just what she did. Just as a skilled physician gently probes around the perimeter of an abdominal mass to understand just what it is, this team gently probed the extent of the constraint and, in so doing, understood it in a remarkably new way.
Please note, this only works with a system bumping into a constraint. If the customer is not asking for one more item, you only create waste by making one more item. But, to understand a limiting factor, this is a very quick, simple and low-cost method to learn much.
Probe gently. Probe well.
Click here to subscribe to Learning about Lean by email.