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Unconstrained Thinking
-- Stuck in the PIT

So here I am on a Continental Express flight, scheduled to depart PIT at 4:30 and arrive in EWR at 6:08. And it’s 8:20, still in PIT. No rain here. No rain in Newark, but a bit of storming up in New York.

The sad thing is that I’m accepting the situation far too calmly. It could be chalked up to a well-established sense of maturity on my part. It could be the alcohol being served by the flight attendant. But I think it’s really because I’ve gotten accustomed to the overwhelmed air traffic control system in our area.

But it also feels like a bit of déjà vu all over again. I was in Pittsburgh working with a client on their project management processes. They suffer from trying to do too much, just like Newark air space.

There is pressure in these kinds of dysfunctional systems to make the most use of their resources, be they system engineers or runways. Maybe your company operates like this as well, striving to keep everyone busy in the belief that an idle resource is a significant waste.

If it is, think about how sensitive such a system is to the inevitable run-in with Murphy’s Law. Like a too busy highway that comes to a halt when one person taps their brakes. Like Newark Airport anytime there are three drops of rain between the Mississippi and the Atlantic. Like my client’s projects that cascade delays from one project to another. Like some production operations I’ve seen that keep everyone busy creating WIP that clogs the shop floor and extends delivery times.

These systems and organizations are so brittle and so sensitive that even minor glitches throw the operation into chaos. Everything falls behind and there is no ability to recover.

That’s what happens when you try to put ten pounds of work through a five pound pipe. How big is your pipe, and how many pounds of work are you trying to squeeze through it?

Think about it.

©2001, Frank Patrick

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled. - Richard Feynman

This is one of a series of columns on improvement, TOC, constraint management, change management, systems thinking, uncommon sense, and whatever else comes into my mind. Suggestions for topics are welcome. - FP, 908-874-8664 or via the contact page of this site.

If you are interested in using these 1/2-page columns for your APICS, ASQ, or IIE newsletter, let me know through the same channels, and I'll send you the more easily usable MS Word versions.

-- Frank Patrick

Related links:

Unconstrained Thinking Index

Top 10 Sources of Project Failure -- A list you probably won't see on Letterman.

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