Pipeline Workshops: Compressing the Learning Curve

The intrepid, results-based consultant opened the portfolio, removed a set of game boards, leaned them against the conference room wall, and then opened her notebook carryall, removed the zippered pouches containing the poker chips and sets of six-sided dice, and placed them on conference room table.

Removing one of the tablets from its case, she handed it to the technician, and said, “Do me a favor.  Synch this tablet to the projector and open the Excel worksheet for the standard production simulation, the one with balanced system capacity.”  Then, handing a game board to the two closest members of the team, she said, “I need you guys to clear some space for this board on the conference room table.”

As those tasks were being completed, she explained what was about to happen.

“Change is a necessary condition to any continuous improvement effort.  You can’t expect to get different results by doing the same things the same way.  However, change is difficult, disruptive, time-consuming, and costly;  moreover, the effort can fail to produce the intended result.  We need to be able to figure production management out, without the cost, disruption, and risk of failure associated with doing it in real life.

“What we need to do, is compress the learning curve.

“The new approach that you will use to manage production – and to thereby improve operating and financial performance – becomes intuitive and simple in practice, but there is a lot to understand.

“It is an approach that is counter to what most of you have been taught”, she said.  “You will need to fight your natural tendencies, challenge your paradigms, begin to think systemically.  It can be hard to initially grasp.

“In short – it must be learned.

“That kind of learning is a harsh teacher when it occurs at the cost of real operating performance and actual business outcomes.

“So – we are going to simulate the environment in which production decisions must be made, and we are going to measure the outcome of those decisions, in terms of both operating performance and economic return.  It’s going to be competitive, the pace is going to be fast, the situation will change rapidly.

“There will be uncertainty, risk, and variation;  you will have to learn how to reduce it, and then, how to manage it.

“The purpose is to create learning based on what you experience and do, not simply what you hear and read.  The objective is to compress the learning curve.  The production situations we are going to simulate reflect the circumstances you encounter in the real world, but they will be simple, fast, easy to see and understand.  We will modify them and run them until we learn to see, until we understand how to apply the principles.”

“Here, we have a homebuilding production system,” she explained, gesturing to the game board.  “It represents the resources and tasks necessary to complete a job, i.e., one of your houses;  the chips represent the system’s work-in-process – the jobs/houses at various stages of completion, as they flow through the production system.

“Variation is reflected by the probability in the dice rolls.  The tasks in each resource phase take the same amount of effort on every job, so there isn’t any variation in the amount of work, only in the length of time required to complete it.  We find comfort in the false security of achieving an ‘average duration’, and this game reflects that tendency.

“Each game represents a full year of operations and results;  each round represents a two-week time period in that year.

“The tablet uses its Excel worksheet to accept all of the data for each round – resource work rate, work-in-process, and completions;  it calculates the operating performance – cycle time, productivity, inventory turn;  since it knows the cost of the production capacity that the system incurs, it just has to calculate the business outcome – Return on Invested Assets, and Net Income.”

“Put the money in the bank”, said one of the superintendents, looking toward the Vice President of Sales.  “Start making it rain, Chief.”

The intrepid, results-based consultant smiled.  She had heard it all before.

“We’ll see.”


NOTE:  This post first appeared on Escape from Averageness in March 2012 as an excerpt from The Pipeline, titled “The Game”;  it is adapted here to explain the type of learning that occurs in a Pipeline workshop.  The Pipeline: A Picture of Homebuilding Production is available on the publisher website (virtualbookworm.com), through the author website (thepipelinebook.com), as well as amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and booksamillion.com.

The first Pipeline workshop is being held at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on March 12-13, 2014.  Cost is $750.00.  Early registration (through December 10, 2013) is $600.00.  Delivered by SAI Consulting.  Sponsored by BuilderMT and Big Builder (Hanley Wood).

For more details:  www.buildervelocity.com