Unfolding plans 13 – I’m railing against the machine

I’m ranting again.  I’m railing against the machine.  I’m banging on and on about those issues that keep tripping us up, the rocks in the stream that disrupt our flow, the sand in our shoe which causes us to limp and the pea under the mattress that gives us a restless night’s sleep.

We had our Senior Project Leads, our Project Leads and our Senior Leadership Team meeting today.  Let’s call it our management team.  The bulk of the meeting was given over to the kind of structure and organisation that we are working towards.  We talked about how far we’ve got with a couple of initiatives to smooth the flow.

This is what I mean by rocks in the stream.  Water flows.  It takes the easiest route it can.  Gravity is its driver.  A brook babbles and gurgles.  The noise it makes is a complaint against the process.  It grunts and groans and slaps against the pebbles and rocks and boulders that stand in its way.

Our work should flow.  It should take the easiest route from demand to fulfilment.  We should make a noise every time that we come up against something that gets in our way.  Unsuitable tools, procedures that don’t join up and lack of access permissions, these are the kinds of things I am thinking about.  We need to get them out of our system.

These are things that we should have learnt a long time ago from the experiences of the Toyota Production Model, the Virginia Mason Hospital group or our own Optimisation programme.

The meeting was at EDC in Spennymoor and if you ever need an example of what I am trying to get across then look no further than their coffee machine set up.  The self-serve machines are set up in a corner of the main room downstairs.  When the building is busy then a queue forms.  It is a very British thing to see.  What goes wrong though is that the order in which the peripherals are arranged does not make sense.  It goes waste bin, cups, sugar (and biscuits) then machines.

People get their cup, choose their beverage, nip back into the queue to get some sugar (and a biscuit should they be so inclined) and then say excuse me to throw their spoon in the bin.  When the pressure is on, such as during a break in a conference, it all goes pear shaped.  It is a melee and we are handling hot liquids.  It could be very dangerous.

The order needs to be cups, machines, sugar, biscuits and bin.  Perhaps biscuits should come before sugar.  The queue would flow better.  People who don’t need sugar could get out of the way more quickly as there would not be anything to throw away.  The queue would not need to snake in and out of itself.

Yet every time I come to EDC I queue patiently and think how there could be a better way.  I couldn’t leave it and went to speak to the centre management.  They’d tried everything.  The machines were plumbed into the wall and the nearby serving hatch had to be kept clear for lunches.  I didn’t make the change but at least my conscience is clear.

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