Thursday, June 23, 2011


So for a number of our classes we've done simulations to demonstrate concepts we're talking about.  I've found these really helpful in getting us interested, keeping us awake, and engaging with the material on a deeper level than I'm sure we would have otherwise.

In ESD.930, our Lean Six Sigma module, we've been simulating putting together lego planes; in 15.761 Operations Management we played the "beer game" (which involved no beer, just a simulation of shipping cases of beer), and in ESD.60 today we've been working on a paper airplane assembly line.  In the break in between the two paper airplane sessions, people have been throwing them around the room (how could you not??).

My biggest takeaway from these simulations so far is from ESD.60 - stick to the plan for a certain length of time, then stop and revise.  Rather than firefighting mid-stream, it's better to work in a pre-determined way for a certain length of time to see most accurately where problems occur.  Professor Spear phrased it as "stick to the process with absolute discipline...temporarily."  If people break role to help even things out, it's much harder to find out what's really wrong.  You can modify roles after that first trial run.

After identifying the 12 steps in making the four different types of paper airplanes we were tasked to make, we distributed those steps amongst the five people in our team.  Turns out that first distribution of steps created a distinct bottleneck during wing folding, so, for the following round, we decided to change that.  We also wanted to improve the material handoffs and plane tracking so people knew which one they were working on (we had to make 18 min five minutes - none of the 11 teams succeeded in the first two rounds).  In the third round, after making multiple changes and labeling the planes with what each station needed to do, we were able to complete 14 planes.  Some teams even got to 18, when, in the first round, no one had successfully completed more than nine.

Later in the class we also talked about the concept of viewing employees as a commodity that can be "bought" and "sold"/"returned" and "repurchased" again versus a scarce resource of trained people who know about processes and how to improve them.  There it all depends on company culture which is a bit of another story.

OK, paper airplanes are done - after lunch we'll get back to Lego airplanes and I'll get back to this later.

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