Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Probing the Perimeter

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.

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Chet Frame said...

Great post. She deserves the recognition! What a great practice.

Anonymous said...

Since this effort was driven by the supervisor and looks like the operators bought in - this looks like a great experiment. Thank you.

Robert Drescher said...

Hi Joe

Probing the edges of many problems even if they are not constraint related can help you find solutions that work. But doing it takes a willingnesses to experiment with a risk of being wrong. It means you may make some added mistakes, but in the end you should have learned far more, and have found a better solution.

Probing is an action of looking closer at anything. So when you probe you will naturally always find something requiring some type of action.

David said...

Be sure you have identified the actual constraint. Improving a non-constraint will only increase the bottleneck at the true constraining area.


Ari Krause said...

I appreciate the thought: "probe gently." Too many Lean implementations and culture transformations fail because leadership has unrealistic expectations and demands that estrange workers from the process rather than buying workers into the process. Awesome example. Thank you!

Robert Welain said...

There is always more to learn, so please, click on this link and read an interesting article on a topic.