The idea of delivering a Project Plan in just a week looked like a “no brainer” to all those who had been involved in last weeks’ VSM exercise. Yet for those who hadn’t been there, it didn’t seem logical at all.
So, I teamed up with the JV again and joined their preparation of an introductory Leadership Training for the leadership team. The leadership team consists of all managers involved in projects, both at the Firm and at the JV. I thought it would be nice to use this upcoming event to get the leadership team on the same page regarding the core philosophy of project execution in a lean environment: working in single piece flow.
Single Piece Flow
One of the main issues in current project execution is that most engineering and construction specialists are busy with a huge number of projects simultaneously, both at the Firm and at the JV. Some specialists indicate that they work on as many as 26 different projects at a time -in many different stages of project execution-. As a result, it’s very hard for everyone to get the specialists’ input when they need it. The specialists are always under strain, busy with some other project, or in review meetings. Since no one likes to wait and to be idle, the logical response for the others is to pick up some other project too. Leading to yet another project in the teams’ overall workload.
The single most important response to this system condition, is to move to Single Piece Flow: To start working on one project, finish it and only then move on to the next project.
The Leadership Team objected that moving to Single Piece Flow is not feasible, since it’s necessary to deliver so many different project at the same time, with different clients and different requirements. So, I thought the second most important concept to introduce would be TAKT time. TAKT Time is the time lapse between two consecutive client requests for a product. It’s calculated as:
available working time / customer demand
The available working time is calculated by taking all working hours, subtracting training time, meeting time and breaks.
So, I asked the leadership team to take only the net working hours. They concluded that construction cannot take place during six weeks in the summer when many people enjoy their family holidays -mostly in different three week periods-. Also the Christmas and Easter periods are inappropriate for construction projects. So, the available time is a total of 10 months.
Then I asked about the customer demand, the amount of projects per year. This revealed not to be an easy number to reproduce. There was no agreement as to the specific number of projects to be done per year. This is the consequence of large amounts of work in progress: Some projects are nearly finished, some are only starting, others are in the middle of one of the most labour intensive periods, or only waiting for permits or materials to come through. After half an hour of discussion, we concluded that the amount of new projects launched every year is 20.
Now we were able to calculate the TAKT time, dividing 10 months (or 40 weeks) by 20 projects. Concluding that the organization faces a TAKT time of two weeks. In other words, the Firm and JV would be successful if they would be delivering one project every two weeks.
This was quite a revelation. Delivering a project every two weeks sounds close to impossible for a team that works on many different projects simultaneously, and which is used to lead times of a year or more.
Understandibly, this conclusion immediately raised a lot of concern:
- How can we ever deliver a new production line per two weeks?
- How do we go about the huge variation from one production line to another?
- How will we ever find the time to complete everything, knowing that all specialists are always busy doing other things?
- How can we cope with conditions beyond our control, such as changing requirements, client schedules, input from suppliers, weather and traffic conditions?
Leadership team members objected that the business of building production lines is uncomparable to the assembly industry, to software making or o the construction industry: Our industry is totally different from those, seemed to be the common understanding. At a certain point during the discussion, one of the managers asked why we would bother in the first place?
A key question indeed! I went on to explain that TAKT time is used not so much to state that every project would have to be concluded in two weeks only, but yes, that every project stage or work station would have to be designed in such a way that it can conclude their part of the job within a time slot of no more than two weeks. TAKT Time is a design principle, leading to independent workstations with relatively equal workloads. The novelty for a project environment is that the lean design of the organization leads to an irreversible project flow. Teams move on to the next project, after their completion of their work. They’re not to be involved in future stages, except if being a full time team member later on.
Then leadership team members understood that projects can also be placed on hold, between different two week time slots. So, one team could work on a project for two weeks and hand it over to the next station. This next station might start working on it only after a month, or even two, yet for a period of two weeks. Then a third team might pick up their part of the work, only when all external impediments have been resolved…
Seen this way, the leadership team started to grasp the possibility of working in flow and on TAKT time. And then it started to dawn, that the work force is probably capable of doing much more than just one project every two weeks: Team members will have easy weeks, with lots of spare time too. So, we decided to give it a try!
This blog is part of my LAPM Implementation Journal: