How's my Luck now?

Reflections, views and descriptions during my stay at IIM Lucknow from July 2004 to March 2006

Location: India

Monday, August 01, 2005

An operations problem

Daily life for me here is becoming a live operations management problem, the key resource in scarcity being: time. Here's how:

I consider myself (as most human beings) akin to a flexible manufacturing system (FMS) machine, which is capable of doing multiple tasks (mostly one at a time, though). This is done simply by retooling myself with new jigs and fixtures appropriate for different tasks, and effecting this changeover quickly. The key raw material to be processed is information, which is to be converted into a form as close to knowledge as possible, and to be consumed immediately. One of the problems is undercapacity. The workload on this machine is overwhelming its limited capabilities, and operating for two shifts daily does not seem to be enough. Operating a third shift is impossible. This is the only station in the processing system, and it is the bottleneck.

A part of the demand is being generated by the same physical entity (my mind), which is demanding not only more quantity, but also more variety in the kind of knowledge it wants. This is resulting in large inventories - both raw materials (unread newspapers, magazines, and a book I borrowed today) and work-in-process (two books I am reading currently). Another part of the demand is being generated by the academic workload. This demand is of a more regular nature, with brief spurts near the exams and submissions :). Each day, both regular and irregular demands have to be met, and regular demand gets a priority over the other one. Production scheduling is done daily. I have adopted a mixed-model sequencing approach (like the Toyota Production System :) ), in which very small lots of a variety of products are introduced into the processing system one after the other.

But this daily firefighting approach is not optimal. A lot of stockouts are happening because of inability to meet the demand. And still, the inventories remain large. Of course, adding to the complication is the fact that the mobile plant in which this machine is housed (my body), has to be transported daily to various places for specific demands (attending classes, going for a walk, going to the mess four times a day :) ). If not meeting certain demand is not very desirable, where lies the solution?


Blogger Samrat said...

Brilliantly written Ted. Shows your lateral thinking.
Very pertinent, surely much more can be written on this.
Can we structure our life just like a FMS. Essentially it is about reducing the complexity and number of variables to a manageable level and make a model to analyze and then optimize the process for maximum efficiency.
We also have to figure out our economic lot sizes for different types of inputs and outputs and prioritize the work.

1:08 PM  
Blogger ASHOK VAISHNAV said...

I have sent an article on Time Management. Trust this would be of some more use.However, what you have narrated is a perennial Hamlet dilemma for which there would be n-number of theories available and applicable , but an optimal solution has to be worked out by the individual concerned nad that too in dynamic conditions of shifting sands.

12:56 AM  
Anonymous Wolverine said...

"Daily life for me here is becoming a live operations management problem, the key resource in scarcity being: time"

I don't think 'time' is a valid resource as far as accusations regarding scarcity are concerned...because time is always a scarce resource if u r facing any resource constraint....time (or rather, delay) is effect rather than cause..

Let me illustrate...If your target is to make 100 products per day, and this can be met, if, say, you have two press machines operating in parallel (and take this as the bottleneck operation....)...

However, you have just one press machine. The true resource which is scarce here is the press machine...But then you could always claim that given 2 days (and not one day), you could make 100 parts, and that, therefore, 'time' is the constraint....

Time is nearly always the effect; not the cause. The root cause is usually something else...

In your example, the resource in scarcity is probably your brain capacity (somehow I feel this doesn't sound very good....but I don't mean it in an insulting way!!), or may be the fact that you have just two hands....

The fact that you have just 24 hours in a day is not a valid resource constraint....

Just my thoughts....

By the way, the post is amazing!! Very good analogy!!

12:39 PM  
Blogger Tadatmya Vaishnav said...

Technically, you have a valid point that it will always be your physical (or mental) resources that will constitute the resource constraint, and not time.

But it is especially useful to think of time as something to be made best use of, rather than your other resources (directly), especially when these other resources can't be augmented easily (I may not have the budget for a new press machine, and I am stuck with my brain and can't upgrade it easily). This is the essence of time-based competition. Certainly, the changes you will be making would be to somehow use your resources more profitably or in a better way, or introduce some disruptive innovation. But the driver of all this would be time.

It is in this sense that I said that time is scarce, which means that devising resource usage policies to fit things into that time is difficult.

1:09 AM  

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