Posts Tagged ‘tolerance’

The sting (Just in time)

1/June/2008

I was driving in a shallow street, only three lanes wide, with the righmost allowed to park, so there were only two free for the cars. There was not too much traffic, but enough to fill both free lanes all the way. Suddenly everything started to slowdown a lot, almost to a full stop. After some minutes at near zero speed, there was the answer: a person parked ok the left; a taxi driver to be precise and he was with the emergency yellow lights turned on. He was for sure waiting for his passenger; in fact, we all were waiting for his passenger. Both of them, taxi driver and passenger, pissed me off.

I can assure, almost without a minor chance of a mistake, that there is in the world no city designed to support the number of vehicles in its streets in this days. But a lot of people, I assume, work everyday to redesign the traffic flows so the city, at least, doesn’t colapse. And is a very difficult task; and I know there are situations where people not doing his chores can ruin everything. Like the taxi driver and the delayed passenger.

This is a world of performance. There is so much distributed knowledge and is so easy to get that knowledge, that the competitive advantages a company can have over others will be effective only if they are doing their best in the most basic and commoditized areas. So, companies focus and spend a lot of time designing, redesigning and optimizing their processes, as the traffic experts do for the cities (I am not happy with the job done by the latters, but is not the point in this post). The production processes are so optimized that everything must go very smoothly; just in time, to add some theory. If something happens, it can crash the whole process.

I remember a professor in my last year in high school: he asked our team to design a platform that can be used to transport a car over it. When we where done, the question was: With what tolerance did you designed it? We asked back: Tolerance? And here comes the expert’s answer (the professor): did you expect that something four meters long will be built up to the millimeter? 

Today, some processes are build so tight, that a minor delay in one area can crash it completely. It can be human factor or mechanical or external, but there will be one. The responsibility of the process designer is not to have a backup for every situation, but to know all the significant situations that can occur and to have the impact evaluated for each instance, and to implement workarounds for those considered important enough. For the taxi driver example, probably the construction of booths where the taxis can stop to wait for a passenger will be enough to keep the rest of the traffic flowing smoothly. Another example: remember the movie The Sting? One of my favorites. The planner (Henry) decided to put a protection on a critical part of the plan (Johnny); he really didn’t know if it was going to be necessary, but the risk was so high that it paid by itself.

By the way: don’t forget to put the impact on the people, being them the company’s employees or the citizens affected, when evaluating the consequences. They are not just spectators; they area also your clients and investors, the people you live with. You do it everyday (add tolerance) when you add some minutes to the time you expect will spend for going from here to there to be sure you arrive on time. It is suboptimal for sure if you only take your time as the important factor in the equation, but is the correct one when you add the respect for the others as one of the factors. In a production process, you will probably size for 11 units if it is very critical to obtain 10; again, is suboptimal, but probably will be worst if something in the process fails and you can have only 8 o 9 units of output.

I am leaving; I have thirty seconds to get to a meeting two floors from here. I should take the stairs, just in case someone stops the elevator to chat with a person in the lobby…

Regards,

    Diego :D