top of page
header.jpg
  • Writer's pictureHillel Glazer

Queuing Elephants

Previously we saw how speed of response was the seed that started the entire “lean” movement that sprouted many of today’s well-known management methods, including “Six Sigma” and “Agile.” We went back in time to visualize how a simple concept on a loom grew to disrupt entire industries more than a century later. Concepts include: faster alerting to the presence of defects, empowering the workforce to act on all symptoms of suboptimum performance, evolving into aggressive automation, and so on.


Although already “proven” in the marketplace, these business management concepts are validated in math and science in the field of queuing theory. Originally associated with manufacturing, traffic, and waiting in line, queuing theory has been demonstrated more recently to be just as relevant in business services, IT, software development, and every facet of daily life. In fact, every “agile” approach to project management and product development is stealthily rooted in queuing theory.


Is this going to be a math lesson?

Luckily, there isn’t enough space on this page to make it a math lesson. Instead, we’ll focus on a few visible pieces that any business leader can grab and go.


Let’s start off with a few things business leaders can see with their eyes: work not getting done, products not being delivered, and customers not paying because value isn’t showing up on their doorstep.


These visible indicators of “something’s not right” don’t tell us much by themselves. A little digging reveals a surprisingly counterintuitive cause that’s rather visible when you know where to look: “batches.” “Batches?” Our managerial instincts are to organize Luckily, there isn’t enough space on this page to make it a math lesson. Instead, we’ll focus on a few visible pieces that any business leader can grab and go. Let’s start off with a few things business leaders can see with their eyes: work not getting done, products not being delivered, and customers not paying because value isn’t showing up on their doorstep. These visible indicators of “something’s not right” don’t tell us much by themselves. A little digging reveals a surprisingly counterintuitive cause that’s rather visible when you know where to look: “batches.” “Batches?” Our managerial instincts are to organize


Why exactly is this a problem, please?


You said you didn’t want a math lesson. The good news is that you don’t need a math lesson to see that large batch sizes and long queues slow response speed.


The bigger the batch, the longer between opportunities to catch problems. The longer the queues, the greater the uncertainty in your overall predictability.


Let’s not neglect all the other pieces that interact with the individual parts. That is, the impact of work in one area on the batch size and queue length of other areas.


At this point a visceral analogy helps. Imagine it’s 2019 and you’re stuck in traffic goin’downyocean waiting to get over the Bay Bridge on a Friday in July.


Getting across the bridge is the work that needs doing. The road, the toll, and the bridge are the workflow. And you and everyone around you are the batches.


The problem and how it can be “fixed.”

We all get the simple problem: there’s too many of you and not enough capacity of the rest. You, obviously, can’t “work harder” (drive faster). It’s not helping that everyone was ‘told’ to “go” at the same time (weekend). It’s not helping that no one can easily coordinate among all of the vehicles (coming soon). And it’s not helping that the workflow can’t magically expand (because, violation of physics).


Ironically, the pandemic has demonstrated several real-world solutions to this scenario that also work in our businesses.


Eliminating the concept of working in a specific time and place has alleviated traffic (forever?). This spreads out the batches (shorter queues) and also makes each batch smaller (fewer vehicles at once).


How does “Waze” get you to your destination faster? It takes you out of the queue and replaces your workflow. In our products and services world, in order to increase our speed of response and therefore our speed of delivery (and getting paid), we need do the same to see progress by making our batches smaller and queues shorter. Smaller batches don’t mean less work, they just mean working on as much as we can measure with relevant value and timeframes. This typically involves breaking larger pieces of work into smaller pieces. Each piece then gets through the work faster, which results in shorter queues because faster work increases overall flow (which keeps queues short).


Start here.

Locating where batches are big and queues are long is fairly easy. Find the slowest part of your operation—which can also be the part of your operation with the biggest pile of incomplete work. Your problem is likely not there. Your problems are more likely before that spot. What’s causing the batch size to be so big? Why is the work piling up?


No one is nostalgic for traffic. Eliminating traffic jams in your delivery workflow, thankfully, doesn’t require a Congressional budget allocation or a pandemic. The benefits of smaller batches and shorter queues will be immediate. Promise.

2 views

Recent Posts

See All

Commenti


bottom of page