I know in my last posting I said I was going to discuss more throughput accounting metrics, but today I went to vote early and I had an experience to tell you about. When my wife and I got out of our car, there was already a very long line of people waiting to vote. As I stood in line watching the long queue of voters and how incredibly slow it was moving, it occurred to me that they (the poll workers) could use some help. As I stood in line every so often a “batch” of people was moved into the voting area, probably around 10 at a time. I’ve written about batching before on my blog and how ineffective it is. I was sure once I entered the area where the voting machines were that I could help them speed up this process….or so I thought. I had imagined that the poll workers waited until 10 voting machines were available and they would summon the next batch of people. Figure 1 is a drawing of the actual voting process, but all I saw initially was a long line of people and the apparent batching of voters.
Step 1 was my wife and I exiting our car and getting into a long line of people waiting to vote. Steps 2, 3, and 4, which I hadn’t seen yet, were a series of steps in place that had to be completed before you could vote. I thought to myself, I’ll bet this process would be ideal for Drum Buffer Rope or even better, Multiple Drum Buffer Rope that I have written about before on this blog. I just knew that I could speed up the voting process if I could just get anyone willing to listen to me.
For those of you who have read my blog, you know what Drum Buffer Rope is. For those of you who don’t know what it is, here’s a basic explanation. The drum is the constraint in the process and one of the things we know about the constraint is that you can never let it sit idle. In front of the drum is a buffer of whatever it is you are trying to move through the process which in this case was voters. When something exits the constraint, there is a signal (i.e. the rope) sent to introduce more raw material (i.e. voters in our process) into the process so that the process is very well synchronized. Before I entered the voting room, I had envisioned that the voting machine was the drum (i.e. the constraint) and since I knew they had multiple voting machines, then what we had was an example of multiple drums. Yes, multiple drum buffer rope was exactly what the poll workers needed!! I was getting excited to be able to speed up this voting process. The batches kept moving slowly until finally I entered the voting room.
What I saw when I entered simply amazed me! What I had envisioned was a batching type arrangement where when 10 voting booths were available, the poll workers would bring 10 more voters into the room, but such was not the case. What I saw was a very well synchronized flow with multiple drum buffer rope in place. I’m certain that none of the poll workers had ever heard of the Theory of Constraints, but they were definitely using a version of it. As seats emptied in Step 2, one of the poll workers would summon people to fill those seats immediately from a queue of people waiting to enter the voting area. As places in line (a buffer of sorts) became available in Step 3, these same poll workers would position voters to take their place, again immediately. Step 4 was definitely an example of single piece flow since as one voter finished registering, another voter immediately took their place. The poll machines, all 12 of them, were, in fact, not the constraint as I had imagined. The constraint was actually Step 2, people filling out paperwork, and the poll workers had that covered with a buffer and a rope!
As I was leaving the voting place, I stopped and told all of the poll workers that they were doing a great job and everyone one of them, without exception, told me that nobody had ever told them that before. When I exited the building, I turned and blessed them all and made them honorary Jonah’s. Isn’t that what Eli Goldratt would have done?